British Army soldiers to be court martialled for war crimes

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A patrol of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment in Iraq in 2003.

Three British Army soldiers are to be court martialled for alleged war crimes in Iraq, United Kingdom Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, announced yesterday in the House of Lords.

They are among eleven British soldiers charged with the ill treatment of two Iraqi civilians in separate incidents in September 2003. Seven, including the three accused of war crimes, have been charged with incidents that took place in September 2003. Four have been charged with the manslaughter of Ahmed Kareem in May 2003. They are alleged to have forced Mr Kareem — who was detained as a suspected looter — into the Shatt-al-Arab canal in Basra, where he subsequently drowned.

The three — Corporal Donald Payne, 34; Lance-Corporal Wayne Crowcroft, 21; and Private Darren Fallon, 22 — have been charged under the International Criminal Court Act 2001, and will be tried domestically, along with the other eight, rather than by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

They are from the 1st Battalion, Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR). The regiment has been at the centre of previous accusations of abuse in Iraq. The Daily Mirror published in May 2004 photographs purporting to be of soldiers of the QLR abusing Iraqi prisoners. The photographs were later proven to have been fabricated, and the newspaper's editor, Piers Morgan, resigned.

Charges

Lance-Corporal Payne has been charged with manslaughter, inhuman treatment of persons, and perverting the course of justice. He is alleged to have killed Baha D'oud Salim Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel receptionist from Basra. Lance-Corporal Crowcroft and Private Fallon have also been charged with inhuman treatment of persons.

Sergeant Kelvin Stacey, 28, also of the QLR, is alleged to have assaulted an Iraqi detainee and now faces a charge of actual bodily harm.

Colonel Jorge Mendonca, 41, the former commanding officer of the QLR; Major Michael Peebles, 34; and Warrant Officer Mark Davies, 36, both of the Intelligence Corps, have been charged with negligence of duty contrary to the Army Act 1955.

All four charged with the manslaughter of Ahmed Kareem (as well as the alleged beating of other detainees) are from the Foot Guards, the British Army's élite infantry of the Household Division. They are: Sergeant Carle Selman, 38, then of the Coldstream Guards (now with the Scots Guards); Guardsmen Martin McGing, 21, of the Irish Guards; Guardsman Joseph McCleary, 23, of the Irish Guards; and an unnamed 21-year-old lance-corporal was later disclosed to be that of James Stephen Cooke, also of the Irish Guards.

Response

The Secretary of State for Defence, John Reid, responded to the charges in a statement. In it, Mr Reid said, "Today the independent Army Prosecuting Authority has brought charges under British military law that will be heard in a British Court-Martial. Anyone accused is innocent until proved guilty and it is for the Courts Martial to consider the evidence in any case and reach a verdict."

In February, three British soldiers were jailed and dismissed from the army when they were found guilty of abusing Iraqis near Basra. The Chief of the General Staff, Sir Mike Jackson, condemned those convicted, and apologised to the victims and the people of Iraq.

Allowing the prosecution of British soldiers for war crimes has, however, been criticised by former chiefs of the defence staff. Just last week, some former chiefs in the House of Lords said that prosecutions can be demoralising for the British Armed Forces, and can place the lives of soldiers at risk if the fear of prosecution prevents them from opening fire.

In May 2005, Lord Boyce, who held the post as an Admiral during the Iraq War, said in an interview with the British newspaper The Observer that he did not believe he had complete immunity from the International Criminal Court.

In the interview, he said: "If my soldiers went to jail and I did, some other people would go with me."

After being asked whether Prime Minister Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith would be with him if he was ever brought to account, Lord Boyce said: "Too bloody right!"

The honorary Colonel-of-the-Regiment, Brigadier Geoffrey Sheldon, has said in a statement: "From the moment that Mr Mousa lost his life while in our custody, the regiment has made clear that this was an isolated, tragic incident which should never have happened, and which I and every member of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment bitterly regrets."

The brigadier did, however, state he found it "particularly difficult" to understand why charges had been brought against the former CO of the QLR, saying that: "It was Colonel Jorge Mendonca, then the commanding officer, who, as soon as he learned of Mr Musa's death, initiated the formal inquiry which has now resulted in these charges being brought."

Colonel Mendonca was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in Iraq, and was promoted to full colonel shortly afterwards. He is now on the Army's General Staff.

Sources

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