Allegations of a policy of systemic torture by the British in Iraq uncomfortably echo the infamous scandal at Abu Ghraib, the American facility at a prison in Baghdad, from which appalling pictures emerged in 2004.
US soldiers at Abu Ghraib were shown to have part in acts of sexual depravity, other deliberate humiliations and illegal interrogations. In all, 17 soldiers and officers were suspended from duty in the wake of the scandal, and 11 were charged with maltreatment and other offences, court-martialled, sentenced to military prison, and dishonourably discharged. Two soldiers who appeared in the photos, Lynndie England and Charles Graner, were sentenced to three and 10 years respectively.
In the main, senior ranks were untouched: the highest-ranking soldier to be charged, Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, was acquitted on all charges, while full colonel Thomas Pappas received a "non-judicial" fine of $8,000. Brigadier-general Janis Karpinski, who was in command of detention facilities, was reprimanded for dereliction of duty and demoted to the rank of colonel. In 2006, she told a Spanish newspaper she had seen a letter from then secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld authorising the use of sensory deprivation and other illegal methods, but there were no ramifications.
The US Supreme Court declined to hear claims of abuse by 250 Iraqis at various facilities. The following year, insistence by the US government that the abuses were isolated instances was tested by similar pictures from Afghanistan.
For her part, England became something of a heroine on American patriotic websites; she emerged from prison and proceeded to give an interview to the New York Daily News last year saying of the prisoners: "Their lives are better. They got the better end of the deal. They weren't innocent. They're trying to kill us, and you want me to apologise to them? It's like saying sorry to the enemy."