LONDON (Reuters) - An Iraqi man who says his nephew was tortured and executed by British troops was told at a public inquiry in London on Thursday he had “convinced himself” of those accusations.
Khudur Al-Swaiedi told the inquiry, which is investigating alleged crimes by British soldiers after a battle in southern Iraq in 2004, that he had seen the evidence with his own eyes.
Swaiedi, 48, is considered an important witness because he has for years led efforts to have the allegations investigated.
But a lawyer for the inquiry suggested that in his zeal to obtain justice for men he describes as martyrs, Swaiedi may have allowed his recollection of events to be influenced by what he was trying to achieve.
“It is a reality and not an illusion,” Swaiedi countered.
The inquiry is named after Swaiedi’s nephew Hamid Al-Sweady, 19, one of those who died during the events of May 14 and 15, 2004.
It is one of three major British inquiries into events in Iraq which have helped keep alive a public debate about why Britain got involved in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, how it conducted itself there and what it achieved.
The inquiry, which has already cost British taxpayers 16.6 million pounds, is trying to establish the disputed circumstances of 28 deaths during or after fighting at the Danny Boy checkpoint.
A large number of Iraqis say a group of men captured alive were murdered or tortured in detention at the British army’s Camp Abu Naji.
The military say the only people who died were those killed on the battlefield and their injuries were consistent with fierce close combat. They say all the allegations are false and stem from propaganda against the occupation of Iraq.
If the inquiry, expected to publish its report by the end of 2014, confirms the allegations, the Danny Boy events would be one of the worst atrocities of the war, on par with the abuse of prisoners by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
But Thursday’s hearing suggested the Iraqi witnesses had a hard task to convince the inquiry of the truth of their account.
In a number of statements over the years, Swaiedi has said he saw evidence that his nephew Hamid was tortured and hanged in detention, and that he saw other bodies with injuries including a severed penis, a missing eye and a freshly amputated arm.
Giving oral evidence to the inquiry on Thursday through an interpreter, he was repeatedly challenged over inconsistencies between his previous statements and that of other witnesses.
Jonathan Acton Davis, counsel to the inquiry, pressed Swaiedi to explain why his description of the injuries on Hamid’s body contradicted those given by Hamid’s father and by other witnesses.
“You have convinced yourself, Mr Al-Swaiedi, that your dear nephew was tortured and executed at Camp Abu Naji, haven’t you?” Acton Davis asked.
Swaiedi denied this and blamed errors by other witnesses or by translators for the gaps between the stories.
In another exchange, Acton Davis challenged Swaiedi’s assertion that he had seen a body with a severed penis and was able to establish it had been cut off while the man was alive.
“It is a very serious allegation to make, Mr Al-Swaiedi, that some unknown soldier cut off a man’s penis while he was alive, isn’t it?” Acton Davis said.
“This is the truth, and it is very serious,” Al-Swaiedi said.
Editing by Jon Hemming