On November 25, 2004, Danish troops were much more heavily involved in the Danish-Iraqi detention operation Green Desert, than has previously been disclosed.
A hitherto secret report from Denmark’s battalion CO in November 2004 shows that Danish soldiers were directly involved in operations south of Basra, and, among other issues ‘became involved in the raid and arrest phase itself’.
Verified to Politiken by two of the 36 civilian Iraqis who were arrested during the operation, the men said that Danish soldiers had arrested them.
“Everyone in the town was used to seeing soldiers. And the soldiers who arrested me had a Danish flag on the shoulders of their uniforms and the fact that they were from Denmark could be seen on the side of their vehicles,” says one of the Iraqis.
The men say that they and the other arrestees were later handed over to the Iraqi police, who abused and tortured them, using among other methods, beatings, hanging them on hooks and using electric shocks. The men are to demand compensation from Denmark.
The two Iraqis were examined last week by Medical Examiner Prof. Jørgen Lange Thomsen, head of the Forensic Institute at the University of Southern Denmark.
“My conclusion is that they in all probability have been subjected to torture. Their descriptions are credible and I am convinced they are telling the truth,” Prof. Thomsen says.
In December 2004 an Iraqi newspaper claimed that Danish soldiers had taken part in arrests and were responsible for the men bring tortured. At the time, Danish defence forces denied the claim saying that Iraqi soldiers had carried out the arrests and were therefore responsible for the fate of the arrestees.
“It was an Iraqi operation which we assisted. They carried out the arrests and afterwards we and the British searched for weapons. My men may have been in the houses, but I am sure that they did not arrest anyone. Nor did we interrogate anyone. The British did, before the Iraqi forces took over the prisoners,” says Col. John Dalby, who at the time was CO for the Danish battalion.
Dalby says the Danish battalion itself had proposed that Iraqi forces should carry out arrests in operations such as Green Desert.
The result was that Danish soldiers were not responsible for detained Iraqis and their fates. As Iraq had the death penalty, Danes were not allowed to hand Iraqis over to the Iraqi police.
Peter Vedel Kessing, an expert in international law at the Institute for Human Rights says, however, that the Danish model may not be legally safe.
“(The 2001 UN convention) says that if a state controls and gives instructions regarding the concrete detention of a person, that state can be held responsible, even if another state carries out the physical arrest,” Kessing says.
Defence Minister Nick Hækkerup (SocDem) is not prepared to comment on the case at hand as it is on its way to the courts, but in general says that one of the reasons that the government has decided to set up a commission of inquiry into the Iraq War is precisely to find out what took place in connection with the handover of prisoners.
“Handing over prisoners, where there is a suspicion that they may be tortured, contravenes the convention. And if you develop an arrangement under which you place responsibility for an arrest in the hands, for example, of an Iraqi soldier, it seems to be a technical circumvention of the rules,” Hækkerup says.
Five Iraqis to sue
Five Iraqis are now to sue the Danish Defence Ministry in the case, including the two men Politiken has interviewed.
“We have proof that my clients were treated more than roughly when they were detained by the Danish soldiers. My clients are Sunni Muslims, and we also have proof that the Danish forces knew that the Shia militia the prisoners were handed over to was infamous for torturing Sunnis,” says Lawyer Christian Harlang, who is to represent the five men.
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Edited by Julian Isherwood