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British ministry probes torture claims

LONDON, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- The British Defense Ministry said it is investigating a secret military unit accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners, The Independent reported Friday.

Fourteen new claims of torture against the British army include accounts military and intelligence interrogators who allegedly authorized the abuse of Iraqi detainees, the newspaper first reported. The new allegations bring to 47 the number of cases being investigated.

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Many of the Iraqis claimed they were abused 2004-07 at the Joint Forward Intelligence Team unit housed at the British army's base 13 miles from Basra. Nearly all of the complaints said the men were beaten, deprived of sleep and dragged around the compound before undergoing multiple interrogations, the Independent said.

Phil Shiner, a human rights lawyer representing the detainees, said the British government must be forthcoming about the role of the JFIT interrogators, and the alleged unlawful detention and abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

"The forms of ill-treatment suffered by the claimants include physical beatings, deprivation of food, exposure to the cold and excessive heat, threats of rape and violence, sexual humiliation and solitary confinement," Shiner said in a letter to Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth. " It is manifestly clear that the extent and culmination of the above amount to a clear and egregious breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights."

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A Defense Ministry spokeswoman confirmed to the Independent that all 47 cases are or will be investigated. She also said the JFIT is part of the army's intelligence operation.

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