-- The British government Thursday denounced as fakes photographs purporting to show abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British troops, stating that the pictures were "categorically not taken in Iraq."
Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told the House of Commons that the pictures, originally printed in the Daily Mirror newspaper, showed a style of truck that had never been used by British troops in Iraq.
The Mirror rejected the finding, saying that the government had not presented "incontrovertible proof" that the photos were fakes.
The photos, whose authenticity has been questioned by the government since their publication May 1, are a central part of a prisoner abuse scandal that has unfolded in Britain in parallel to the one in the United States. The British government is also facing claims that its troops killed Iraqis unjustly in military operations and beat up Iraqi prisoners.
Ingram said that the Royal Military Police, which conducted an investigation, and independent experts had concluded separately that the pictures were a hoax. He said he could not give more detail, because people involved in taking the pictures "may have committed criminal offenses under military law, which are the proper subject of ongoing investigations."
It is "deeply disturbing that there are those prepared to casually vilify our armed forces without first establishing the facts," he said.
The Mirror's editor, Piers Morgan, has repeatedly accused the British government of refusing to face up to issues of abuse by its soldiers.
In a statement issued Thursday, the newspaper said that Ingram had not "satisfactorily answered the very serious charge of why he failed to act on information about this abuse presented to him last year.
"There is of course a much bigger issue here that we make no apology for highlighting -- which is that the pictures accurately illustrated the reality about the appalling conduct of some British troops." The newspaper has followed an antiwar editorial policy since the beginning of the Iraq conflict.
The pictures purport to show soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment kicking and urinating on an Iraqi prisoner.
While the findings are good news for the army and the government, the damage has already been done in the Arab world. Allegations of abuse by British troops have been limited compared to those facing U.S. troops, but they have still generated widespread revulsion in the Middle East.
The British government also continues to face pressure at home on the issue. In the House of Commons on Thursday, Ingram fielded questions about whether he had misled lawmakers last week when he claimed he had not received reports of abuse from "external agencies" such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International.
Opposition politicians jeered the minister with cries of "disgraceful" when he said he meant that he had received a letter from Amnesty International last year that he felt did not fit the description of a full report and was "hardly a dossier."
Michael Ancram, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, later told the BBC, "Being a lawyer, I know semantic arguments when I hear them, and I thought that was the most extraordinary bit of semantics I have heard for a long time."
Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair by hardening the party's stance on Iraq. He said that no more British troops should be sent to Iraq to support President Bush's "failing strategy" and called U.S. military actions in the Iraqi city of Fallujah "unacceptable and counterproductive."