- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

LONDON — Two British commandos imprisoned by Iraqis last month had been spying on a senior police commander who was torturing prisoners with an electric drill, according to British army sources.

The sources said the elite Special Air Service (SAS) had been asked to carry out surveillance operations against several members of the Iraqi police, who were thought to be responsible for torturing prisoners at the notorious Jamiyat prison in Basra.

The operation was ordered by senior officers after the body of an Iraqi, who had been arrested by the police for smuggling and gunrunning, was found on the outskirts of the city in April, the military sources said. An examination of his body revealed that an electric drill had been used to penetrate his skull, hands and legs.

Iraqi sources later gave information to the British army that suggested the torture had been carried out by a senior police officer who is a member of one of the most powerful tribes in southern Iraq.

It had been reported previously that the SAS had been monitoring the activities of police officers thought to be members of Mahdi’s Army, a militia that has tried, at times, to force Britain to withdraw from southern Iraq.

Sources within the army now think hundreds of people who have been arrested by the Iraqi police might have been tortured at the prison, a two-story complex that houses the Basra police’s major-crimes unit and once was nicknamed “Gestapo HQ” by British officers.

Brig. John Lorimer, the officer who ordered the raid to rescue the two SAS men after they were taken prisoner, described the jail in an interview as a “very nasty place.”

The SAS detachment in Basra was instructed to try to find out who was behind the reign of terror at the jail. They were also warned to tread carefully because the Iraqi police were meant to be allies of the coalition.

“The finger of suspicion started to point in the direction of a senior officer inside the Jamiyat,” said a senior army source. “We believe victims were strapped into a chair and then the torture would begin. We think it was more to do with intertribal warfare than clamping down on terrorist activity. This is a very corrupt society.”

As part of the investigation, two SAS men were ordered to monitor the movements of the Iraqi police officer, but the operation was compromised Sept. 19 when the SAS team became involved in a shootout with four plainclothed police officers just as they were about to withdraw from the surveillance operation.

To try to avoid a shootout with the police, the SAS men decided to surrender.

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