LONDON - Britain's military is investigating allegations that 22 detainees died in its custody and nine others were tortured after a battle in Iraq, officials said Thursday.
Britain's Royal Military Police began its investigation in December into allegations of human-rights abuses after fighting between British forces and suspected insurgents in Majar on May 14, 2004.
The battle began after insurgents ambushed a British convoy in the area, said Paul Starbrook, a spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defense. An estimated 28 Iraqis died in the fighting and nine Iraqis were detained by British forces. Three British soldiers were injured, he said.
A previous investigation by Britain's Royal Military Police found no wrongdoing by British forces there, he said.
During the 2004 investigation, an independent pathologist examined photographs of the Iraqis killed and confirmed their wounds were consistent with injuries sustained in combat, Starbrook said.
But two attorneys representing Iraqi claimants from the fighting said witnesses told them that 22 Iraqis died in detention and nine survived after being tortured and abused.
The lawyers, Phil Shiner and Martyn Day, have requested a public inquiry into the aftermath of the battle and compensation for detainees who survived and for the families of Iraqis who died.
The nation's High Court had imposed a gag order barring the media from reporting the case. On Thursday, a new High Court ruling lifted the ban.
"Phil and I are clear that what took place in Majar is of massive consequence, not just for the British army and the British government but for the British people," Day said. "Today is the first step in ensuring what happened in Majar is brought out into the open."
In its original order in December, the court barred the naming of any of the Iraqi claimants or descriptions of their accounts until a final decision had been reached on whether any British soldiers would face prosecution.
But Thursday, the High Court said there was no reason the legal proceedings should be withheld from the public.
Starbrook said the Ministry of Defense had not requested the gag order but wanted the identities of the soldiers involved kept private until a final decision had been reached about whether any would be prosecuted.
The application to have the gag order lifted was filed by the Iraqi claimants and by the British Broadcasting Corp. and two British newspapers, The Guardian and The Times.