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Red Cross warned UK of abuse

By CNN's Eden Pontz

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The Red Cross told British officials as early as February that British troops had been accused of mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a government spokesman said Sunday.

"The International Red Cross showed the report to the government in February so that the government could make comments on the report, and the government has taken action on those parts of the report in question," a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday morning.

The spokesman would not discuss what action had been taken, "because it's a confidential report."

But he added: "We've made it absolutely clear that where there are allegations of abuse by British soldiers they must be taken seriously and investigated by the military police."

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is expected to make a statement in the House of Commons "regarding the situation concerning Iraq" on Monday, the Ministry of Defense said.

Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the treatment of Iraqi prisoners "is not acceptable, and we are very worried that this might have been done in the full knowledge of the people in charge, and eventually condoned."

"This has to be investigated and responsibility has to be taken," he added.

The agency's February report covered treatment that "goes back the whole year," he said.

A Defense Ministry spokesman would not confirm a Sunday Telegraph report that soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment had been ordered to hand in all photographs taken in Iraq following published reports that its members had beaten and abused Iraqi prisoners.

And it dismissed as "speculation" a story in the Sunday Times that troops from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers would face charges relating to the sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

"The Royal Military police have completed their investigation and forwarded their recommendations to the Army prosecuting authority," the defense spokesman said. "So the case is currently with them, and they will decide whether or not charges will be brought."

The Sunday Times reported that military police recommended the prosecution of three soldiers following a year-long investigation of photos appearing to show Iraqi prisoners in British custody being forced to engage in homosexual acts.

Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC that it was "intolerable" that the British public learned of the Red Cross report through American news outlets.

"It's only confidential because the standard practice of the Red Cross is, when you're dealing with regimes -- like Saudi Arabia, for instance, family business -- they know they can't get any advice across if they make it public because the regime will go ballistic," said Cook, who resigned from Blair's government in protest on the eve of the Iraq war.

"But we're a democracy, we're just implementing the freedom of information act."


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