Britain’s Sexual Abuse in Iraq

FIT soldiers interrogate an Iraqi man, ‘Hanif’, detained at Shaibah Logistics Base in 2007. Image from footage shown in the England and Wales High Court, 2010. The footage shows Hanif being forced to stand to attention as the soldiers scream abuse at him and threaten him with death. They also ignore his complaints that he is being deprived of food and sleep.

On 16 November 2006, Ali Zaka Mousa was at home with his family in southern Iraq, when British soldiers suddenly smashed the door down. They beat him up, slammed him against the wall, and forced him into a stress position, standing on his knees and back. Mousa’s son was 11-months-old at the time; a soldier stamped on the baby’s arm and broke it. The soldiers confiscated business documents, computers, licensed guns, and money. Mousa was forced to urinate on himself in front of his family, before being hooded, handcuffed, and transported to Basra Air Station, where he was beaten, forced into stress positions, and threatened with being sent to Guantanamo Bay. The worst abuses, however, occurred when he was subsequently transferred to Shaibah Logistics Base, in the Basra Province, which was being operated by a secretive team of specialist British Army interrogators known as JFIT (Joint Forward Intelligence Team). Upon arrival at Shaibah, Mousa was stripped naked in front of a female soldier; a grave humiliation for an Iraqi Muslim man. From then onwards, he was subjected to constant sexual abuse. British soldiers watched him while he was using the toilet and showering. They exposed themselves, groped each other, and masturbated in front of him, and twice even had sexual intercourse in front of him. They forced him to listen to pornographic movies, which were played loudly for detainees, and left pornographic magazines out for him to see. They repeatedly fondled him. In mid-2007, he was transferred to Basra Airport, where he was subjected to sensory deprivation, beatings, and deprivation of food and water, before finally being released in November 2007. He was never charged with anything, and never received an explanation for why he had been detained. The property that British soldiers stole from his home during the initial raid was never returned.

This testimony was presented to Justice Stephen Silber in the England and Wales High Court in 2010, as part of a collection of testimonies from around 100 Iraqi men alleging very similar abuse. Silber’s conclusion was that “The claimants’ allegations taken as a whole raise a credible case of systemic ill-treatment of Iraqi civilians by British soldiers”. In 2017, Justice George Leggatt presided over four further cases in the High Court wherein Iraqis alleged abuses at the hands of British soldiers; two claimants (MRE and KSU) alleged abuses of a sexual nature. Leggatt determined that the cultural context within Iraq renders such allegations of sexual abuse credible; a judgement relevant for the testimonies in this article:

“[T]he mistreatment at the heart of their complaints is not mistreatment of a kind which someone in their position who was making a false claim would be likely to invent. There is substantial evidence, including the expert evidence given by Dr George on conditions in Iraq, that being a victim of any form of sexual abuse is associated in the claimants’ culture with a high degree of shame and social stigma. I see no reason to suppose that MRE and KSU would have chosen to expose themselves to such stigma by falsely alleging mistreatment of a sexual nature”.

Ali Zaka Mousa’s testimony regarding sexual abuse carried out by JFIT at Shaibah Logistics Base bears striking similarities to other testimonies provided by Iraqi men who were detained at Shaibah between 2003 and 2007. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) represented a number of Iraqi victims of British Army abuses, and recorded in a document published in 2014 how 24 of their clients who were detained at Shaibah made allegations “about various sexual acts, or the use of sex as a means of humiliation”. The acts of sexual abuse appear to have been carried out systematically between 2006 and 2007. The ECCHR and PIL further noted that “every victim in these tables is a male Muslim”, and argued that “the use of sexual acts and sexually-oriented humiliation at the JFIT interrogation facility” in Shaibah could not be “anything other than a carefully designed system targeted at the male Muslim”. The techniques were consistent: “acts of masturbation in front of detainees; sexual intercourse between male and female soldiers in front of detainees; the audible sounds of sex (out of sight of detainees); sexual suggestion by female soldiers/medics; revealing of the breasts and/or genitalia of female soldiers/medics; the playing of loud pornography; touching of detainees‘ genitalia; and females watching detainees in the toilet or shower”. There is a pattern here of the same repertoire of sexually abusive techniques being used against male Muslim detainees, with female soldiers playing a prominent role in much of the humiliation.


Multiple Iraqi men made consistent allegations about one female soldier in particular – an army medic known as ‘Katy’, or ‘Katie’. One former detainee, who was detained at Shaibah Logistics Base in August 2006, described how “Katie” regularly exposed herself to detainees:

“There was also a medic called Katie in general population who used to show us her breasts all the time. In the outside yard, she would shout to us to look at them, saying they were really nice. We used to turn our faces away so that we didn’t look. One day she fully pulled up her t-shirt and exposed her breasts. We constantly told her that we were Muslims and that this was totally against our religion. We asked her not to do this in front of us. She often exposed other parts of her body as well as her breasts, including her back”.

Another former detainee – Hussain Hashim Khinyab, a father-of-three – described how after being detained at Shaibah Logistics Base in April 2006, he witnessed the same army medic (“K”) constantly exposing herself and having sexual intercourse with other soldiers in front of detainees; once, she gave Hussain a drug overdose and then tried to sexually assault him:

“A nurse called ‘K’ used to expose herself and make love to other soldiers in front of us. Once she administered to me 15 tablets when I complained about my stomach. She asked me to swallow them all at once… While in the clinic [after falling ill from the tablets], ‘K’ stripped completely naked and tried to have sex with me. I was so shocked and disgusted, I pleaded with her not to do that, she even tried to use what I thought was anaesthetic to make me sleep. I started shouting. Then she dressed quickly and pleaded with me not to tell the duty doctor who came to see what was the matter. I was told the dose that was given to me was the reason for my condition and the nurse would be transferred somewhere else as a punishment. I was told that half of my heart had stopped working and they had resuscitated it using electric shocks. I still suffer from my stomach ulcer which is preventing me from even fasting in the month of Ramadan”.

In 2010, The Times of London reported that at least five former detainees had made specific allegations that they were sexually abused by a female JFIT soldier who they knew as “Katy”, while The Guardian also reported in 2010 that one soldier who consistently appeared in the witness statements of former detainees was “a young woman, “Katie”, alleged to have been involved in the sexual humiliation of inmates”. The Guardian subsequently reported in 2012 that a large number of Iraqi men (possibly hundreds) who were detained by JFIT were compensated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for abuses that they suffered. I sent a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to the MoD, inquiring as to whether any of these victims received compensation specifically for sexual abuse by ‘Katy’/’Katie’, and if so, how much was paid out. The Common Law Claims and Policy responded that it “can confirm that the MOD may hold some of the information requested”, but that public authorities are permitted “to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600”. This “represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting it”; I was told that “To extract information in scope of your request would involve manually reviewing a large number of claims and would far exceed this limit”. Thus, my FOI request was refused; It is unclear whether the pretext provided for the refusal is the actual reason, or (more likely) a cover for the fact that the MoD is reluctant to reveal anything regarding not just JFIT, but British Army abuses in Iraq more generally (shown by its previous handling of FOI requests).

Sadistic Free-For-All

The testimonies provided by Iraqi men who were detained by JFIT paint a picture of wanton and systemic sexual abuse, perpetrated for the enjoyment of the interrogators. One Iraqi man described to the ECCHR and PIL how “a tall, fair-haired soldier came to my cell with a pornographic magazine”, and “showed me a big picture in the magazine which covered a full page and was of a naked western woman”. He stated: “[The soldier] began to masturbate on top of his clothes and was doing this so that I could see him. He was singing something that sounded like “I like coffee, coffee”. I didn’t understand this but this is what is [sic] sounded like. He was doing this while masturbating through his clothes and was also singing “jiggy jiggy”… to see this soldier doing this to himself and showing me the picture of the lady was deeply humiliating”. This Iraqi man then described how interrogators showed him images of child sexual abuse, including one of a little girl being anally raped; the interrogators told him that this girl was his sister, and that they would do to his sister what was being done to the girl in the photograph. Another photograph featured another girl being sexually abused, with the detainee’s face superimposed onto the face of the abuser. The interrogators threatened to distribute this doctored image around Basra. It should be noted that in the International Criminal Court’s 2020 report on British war crimes in Iraq, it is confirmed that British police investigated a former interrogator and “decided that an offence under the Protection of Children Act (possession of indecent images of children) should be referred to the SPA [Service Prosecuting Authority], because a soldier had in his possession an indecent image of a child which he produced during an interrogation”. The case was dropped, however, “on the basis of public and service interest given the passage of time and the non-custodial sentence that would have applied”. The fact that this soldier still had the indecent image in his possession, while living in Britain and years after the event, suggests that this was not about trying to obtain information; it was about self-gratification.

Some time after this episode, the Iraqi man was put in an interrogation room with a female British soldier, who was around 38-years-old and had blonde hair. He stated: “she was wearing a skirt and a white t-shirt without a bra. The t-shirt was very transparent and I could see her nipples if I looked at her”. The woman claimed to be a lawyer, and he told her that he did not need a lawyer. He stated that in response to this, “She leant over the desk a couple of times and told me to look at her. She showed me her breasts twice by leaning so far forward that her t-shirt exposed them. Then she leant back in the chair and opened one of her legs, lifting it onto the desk so that I could see straight up her skirt and to the top of her inner thigh. She didn’t have any pants on but I turned away before I saw anything else and didn’t focus on her. She was trying to embarrass and humiliate me and if I had looked at her properly, I would have been able to see her genitals”. This humiliation continued for around 30 minutes, with the soldier continuously trying to show the detainee her breasts and opening her legs to him. The final interrogation was bizarre and nightmarish. An Iraqi interpreter who worked for the British interrogators entered the room and began dancing. The interpreter brought in images of child sexual abuse, and once again the interrogators told the detainee that they were of his sister. The victim stated: “They all began to dance together and asked me to join in. I told them that I didn’t know how to dance and they began doing Michael Jackson moves. The interpreter said they wanted to see me dance but I refused to do this”. He told the ECCHR and PIL that he felt “really humiliated and uncomfortable in this situation”. It is noteworthy that in the report of the official judicial inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa (an Iraqi civilian who was tortured to death by British soldiers in 2003), one of the abuses confirmed in the report is that detainees were forced to “dance like Michael Jackson”. The same tactic was apparently being used by JFIT, years later.

Another former detainee described how a female interrogator removed her shirt, so that she was only covered by a pink bra, and that she then told him: “I came to help you, and tonight you’re going to have a lot of fun”. She told him he would sleep with her that night, before going behind him and massaging his shoulders. During another interrogation session, a “black soldier” told the detainee to take his trousers off. When the detainee refused, saying that this is against Islam, the soldier replied: “Fuck you and fuck Islam”. The soldier then came over to the detainee and tied his hands behind his back with plasticuffs, before unbuckling the detainee’s trouser belt, while saying: “now jiggy jiggy”. This is the same phrase that the previous victim reported a soldier saying, while the soldier masturbated in front of the victim; indicating that it was a popular taunt used by soldiers in the facility.

The detainee then tried to get away from the soldier, but the soldier put his boot on the detainee’s chest, and pulled down the detainee’s trousers. The other soldiers in the room laughed as this happened. When the detainee asked the soldier, “please, what do you want from me?”, the soldier shouted: “I need good jiggy jiggy”. The soldier then lifted the detainee up into the air and pulled his underwear down, while saying “jiggy jiggy”. The detainee asked the Iraqi interpreter what “jiggy jiggy” meant, but the interpreter was silent. The soldier then took out his own penis, and forced the detainee to look at it, hitting him and grabbing him by the hair. The soldier was saying, “look, it’s big”, and “very nice”. The detainee began crying, and pleaded with the soldier: “we are Muslims, you cannot do this”. The interpreter told the detainee that he had to do whatever he was asked. The soldier flipped the detainee over onto his stomach, and as the detainee wept, the soldier started rubbing his own penis on the detainee’s back, as the other soldiers in the room watched. The soldier ejaculated onto the detainee’s back, while another soldier pinned the detainee’s legs to the floor with his boot. The victim stated that in the aftermath of this horrific assault:

“[T]he soldiers left the room, apart from the black soldier, who sat on a chair. I shuffled back against the wall. He asked me, “was it nice? good?”. I was so upset, but he spat in my face. He kicked me, and started slapping me. He was swearing at me. He said to me “now I know that you are shamed forever, now you have done the most shameful thing”. He said that “I have videoed everything I’ve done, I’m going to spread this on CDs in your area”. Then he left the room”.

Other former detainees described being stripped naked in front of female soldiers, as well as female soldiers stripping naked in front of them and insulting Islam during interrogations.

Was This Abuse Authorised?

While much of this abuse appears to have been carried out for the sadistic amusement of the perpetrators, there is evidence that the JFIT interrogators were operating within a framework that was at least partly authorised from above. In 2003, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, the British Army’s chief legal advisor in Iraq, witnessed JFIT interrogators subjecting detainees to hooding, stress positions, and loud noises; when he told them to stop what they were doing, they replied: “We don’t answer to you, we answer to London”. JFIT was composed of soldiers from F Branch – the training wing of the British Army’s Intelligence Corps – and The Guardian revealed in 2010 that F Branch had been training soldiers in a variety of abusive interrogation techniques, including “enforced nakedness”. One PowerPoint training aid used by F Branch in 2005 recommended that interrogators strip detainees naked prior to questioning, and that this also be done for punitive purposes: “Get them naked. Keep them naked if they do not follow commands”. An F Branch manual from April 2008 similarly recommended that “Cpers” (captured personnel) be stripped naked.

A training document used by F Branch at their headquarters in Chicksands, Bedfordshire, listed a variety of different pressures that could be used against detainees in order to maintain their “shock of capture”; these included: “Unaccustomed discipline”, “Atmosphere of ruthless efficiency”, “Feeling of failure”, “Inferiority complex”, and “Sexual frustration”. While F Branch emphasised in this training document that interrogators had to abide by the Geneva Conventions and the laws of armed conflict, it was never articulated what this would mean in practice, and this emphasis was inconsistent with the simultaneous encouragement of abusive techniques (including sexual techniques) against detainees. The only limit that was apparently implemented was that interrogators were not trained to use direct physical violence against detainees, but a framework of degradation and psychological/emotional abuse, including through sexual means, was given the green light. The in-house lawyer at Chicksands, Brigadier David Yates, told the Baha Mousa Inquiry that he did not “have the capacity” to check the training materials that were being used there between 2003 and 2005. Thus, F Branch seemingly operated devoid of oversight or scrutiny, and they had apparent authorisation from very high in the chain of command to bypass the Army’s own lawyers (such as Brigadier David Yates and Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer).

The US Army and the CIA carried out very similar sexual abuse of detainees during the War on Terror, particularly involving female personnel sexually humiliating male Muslims. These techniques were first developed at Guantanamo Bay; the Schmidt-Furlow Report, authored by the FBI into allegations from FBI agents that they witnessed detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay, confirmed that “female military interrogators performed acts designed to take advantage of their gender in relation to Muslim males”. This included detainees being stripped naked in front of female interrogators, as well as female interrogators behaving seductively towards detainees by massaging them, rubbing perfume on them, whispering in their ears, running fingers through their hair, and holding them down and straddling them. The Schmidt-Furlow Report further confirmed that these were all “authorized” techniques. Kristine Huskey, an American lawyer who represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay, reported that her clients “have been forced to strip naked in front of female guards; some have had their private parts touched and squeezed”, and that one of her clients “was forced to lie across a table with his legs spread while a female pulled down his pants”. These techniques were then transferred to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003, after Major General Geoffrey Miller, the camp commandant of Guantanamo Bay, was sent to Abu Ghraib in order to “Gitmo-ize” the place. One result was the horrific sexual abuse documented in the photographs from Abu Ghraib that leaked in 2004 and 2006: detainees piled on top of each other in a human pyramid, naked and hooded; detainees being forced to simulate oral sex; detainees being forced to masturbate; a detainee being led around naked on a dog leash. Many of these photographs featured female soldiers either carrying out the abuses, or grinning in the background. Detainees were also sodomised by male soldiers. Similar sexual techniques were used against detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and at CIA black sites around the world. Alongside sexual humiliation by females, another technique used at Guantanamo Bay that JFIT also used against detainees was forced exposure to pornography.

Brigadier Ewan Duncan, the then head of the British Army’s Intelligence Corps, told the Baha Mousa Inquiry that the US was concerned that “UK interrogation was not producing results in Iraq”. Given the similarities between the US interrogation techniques against male Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, and the interrogation techniques subsequently used by JFIT against male Muslims at Shaibah Logistics Base, it is possible that the MoD made a decision to allow for some of these techniques to be copied from the US playbook in order to satisfy the US. It is noteworthy that none of the JFIT interrogators have been prosecuted for any of the abuses that they carried out – even when British police discovered an image of child sexual abuse in the possession of a former interrogator – and the MoD has demonstrated great reluctance to reveal anything at all about JFIT. Thus, these abuses have been almost entirely swept under the rug, leaving the victims to deal with their lasting trauma without justice having been served, and without any real acknowledgement within Britain of the injustices that were carried out at this time.

Comments (4)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Thanks for that Irfan. Doubt we’ll see any of it in the British gutter press. Tory MP Johnny Mercer will be along shortly to defend his “comrades”.

  2. mark leslie edwards says:

    Sickening, & there’s our great Scottish Government fully committed to an independent Scotland pledging its allegiance to NATO! MoD personnel based in Moray get off with murder, they can rape a local lad or lass & get nowt more than a rap o’er the knuckles before being posted elsewhere. Local law, council & wider government turn a blind eye. All they’re interested in is throwing up housing schemes for the assholes.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    British state terrorism. I suppose sexual abuse and deviancy increases proportionally to power imbalances between individuals and groups.

  4. dab says:

    It was obvious to me the person onscreen must have been compromised, otherwise why would they condemn themselves so utterly, humiliate themselves for the edification of unseen others, unless it was in denying their own humanity, they found some solace in denying the humanity of everyone watching, & believe me, all were watching, it was fascinating to see the universe embodied in one bold bodily form be degraded in the name of all that humanity had thus far offered that very same universe to which one would be wise to acknowledge one was merely a guest upon prior to dismissal.

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