Australian scientist concerned about U.S. investigation of Iraqi prisoner abuse suspicions

An Australian chemical weapons expert on Tuesday accused the United States of failing to properly investigate his suspicions that Iraqi prisoners had been abused in a military detention camp in Baghdad, where an Iraqi government scientist died in custody.

Rod Barton, a microbiologist who had been involved in the hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, told a parliamentary inquiry that he had reported to Australian and U.S. military officials his concerns about the treatment of prisoners at Camp Cropper.

Camp Cropper is a U.S. military detention center for "high-value detainees" at the Baghdad airport.

Barton said he had seen photographs that suggested prisoners had been beaten shortly after their arrests. He added that he had also seen documented allegations by prisoners of burn marks on their backs, bruises and kidney pain, but he didn't specify what that documentation was.

Barton also told the inquiry that he was concerned by the suspicious death in custody of Iraqi weapons scientist Mohammad Munim al-Izmerly. The U.S. Army recently said it had reopened an investigation into the suspected bludgeoning of the 65-year-old scientist early last year.

Barton had said in a television interview last month that while he was told al-Izmerly had died of a brain tumor, he suspected the scientist had been beaten to death in prison.

In response to his concerns, a U.S. military police officer interviewed Barton at his home in the capital, Canberra, in August last year, he said.

But an Australian defense official told Barton in November that the investigation would not continue because he had not directly witnessed prisoner abuse.

"I didn't have proof that they had been abused, but I had been suspicious and I think fairly, based on what I'd seen and heard," Barton said.

Answering questions from the senators, Barton said he was not satisfied that the alleged abuse had been properly investigated or stopped at Camp Cropper.

"I can't say I'm satisfied on either account," Barton said.

Australian's opposition convened a Senate inquiry into Australians' role in questioning prisoners in Iraq after Barton made a series of allegations in the February television interview.

In the interview, Barton said he had interrogated an Iraqi general in Camp Cropper, contradicting Canberra's stance that Australians were not involved in questioning Iraqi prisoners.

The government has said while Barton might have been involved in an interview, he had not interrogated a prisoner.

Barton said he had been asked to interrogate Cropper inmates in September last year as part of his work with the U.S. weapons hunting Iraq Survey Group but he refused because he wasn't sure about the legal status of the prisoners.

Barton said the prisoners at Camp Cropper had a "peculiar status" because they were held by the United States even though they were officially prisoners of the Iraqi interim government since June 2004.

His concerns about the treatment of prisoners at Camp Cropper included the extensive use of solitary confinement, small cells and the withholding of privileges to encourage cooperation.

The United States said in September last year about a dozen Iraqi weapons scientists remained in custody.

The Senate committee will report on its investigation by June.

ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press Writer

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