Surprise! UK absolves itself of guilt


Richard Moore

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Soldiers cleared over Iraq abuse

A court martial has cleared two UK soldiers of failing to ensure their men did 
not abuse Iraqi civilians in Basra.

Maj Michael Peebles and Warrant Officer Mark Davies had denied charges of 
negligently performing their duties.

In all, six soldiers were acquitted at the hearing in Bulford, Wiltshire. A 
seventh soldier had previously admitted one charge of inhumane treatment.

The allegations arose after the death of an Iraqi prisoner, Baha Mousa, in 
British custody during September 2003.

Cpl Donald Payne, who admitted treating Iraqis inhumanely, is the only soldier 
to have been convicted at the end of the six-month hearing. He is awaiting 

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence pledged that if "lessons need to be 
learned, we shall do so".

"Today's judgement has been an important one and we will need time to consider 
fully the serious implications," the statement said.

The MoD added that they needed to "maintain both operational effectiveness and 
the public's trust and confidence".

'Come unstuck'

Senior soldiers and defence lawyers hit out at the court martial system 
following the Tuesday's acquittals.

Gilbert Blades, solicitor for Maj Peebles, said the case "exposed the weaknesses
and gaps" in the system.

"If charges are brought, the case should be capable of standing up to scrutiny 
by the court," he said.

But Mr Blades claimed that none of the soldiers who faced court martial should 
have been charged - with the exception of Cpl Payne.

"[Prosecutors] have come unstuck every time they have dealt with this type of 
case," he added.

The seven soldiers were all from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.
'Extraordinary ordeal'

Col David Black, of the QLR's Regimental Council, said that British servicemen 
needed to operate without being "inhibited by the fear of such actions by over 
zealous and remote officialdom".

Col Black labelled the trial an "extraordinary ordeal" for the soldiers, their 
families and the regiment as a whole.

"We are relieved that today, after three and a half years, there is a sense of 

But Phil Shiner, who represented the Iraqis at the court martial, labelled the 
outcome a "travesty".

"It gives the victims nothing. It raises more questions than it answers."

Hotel raid

Among those charged but later acquitted was Col Jorge Mendonca - the most senior
UK soldier in recent history to face a court martial.

The accusations against the Col Mendonca and his men stemmed from an Army raid 
on a Basra hotel in September 2003, where they found weapons and suspected 
bomb-making equipment.

The soldiers detained a number of Iraqis and took them to the Darul Dhyafa 
military base for questioning.

The prosecution said some of the Iraqi suspects were hooded, beaten and deprived
of sleep.

Baha Mousa, 26, was among the group of detainees. After his death, his body was 
found to have 93 separate injuries.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/03/13 17:58:38 GMT


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