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British soldier admits war crime

BBC | September 19 2006

A British soldier has become the first to admit to a war crime after pleading guilty to inhumanely treating Iraqi civilians, at a court martial.
Cpl Donald Payne, 35, of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, pleaded guilty to the charge at the start of a court martial involving seven UK soldiers.

But Cpl Payne denied manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.

Six others have pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the death of Baha Mousa, 26, in custody in Basra in 2003.

The charges also relate to the alleged ill-treatment of other detainees.

Mr Mousa, a hotel receptionist, was among a group of detainees arrested following a counter-insurgency operation.

Julian Bevan QC, prosecuting, said the detainees had been arrested on 14 September 2003 at the Haitham Hotel, where the army had found weapons including rifles, bayonets and suspected bomb-making equipment.

They were subsequently taken to a temporary detention centre where they were held for 36 hours and repeatedly beaten while handcuffed and forced to wear sacks on their heads, Mr Bevan said.

He told the seven-man judging panel: "One civilian, Baha Musa, died as a result, in part, from the multiple injuries he had received.

"There were no less than 93 injuries on his body at the post-mortem stage, including fractured ribs and a broken nose."

Other prisoners received serious kidney injuries consistent with being kicked and punched, Mr Bevan added.

The court was not dealing with "robust or rough handling, which is bound to happen in the theatre that existed in Iraq" but with something "far more serious", he said.

"We are not dealing with the actions of a soldier or soldiers in the heat of the moment whilst on patrol in a hostile environment whose conduct is questionable.

"We are dealing with systematic abuse against prisoners involving unacceptable violence against persons who were detained in custody, hooded and cuffed and wholly unable to protect themselves over a very long period of time."

War crime

Earlier, as the case opened, Cpl Payne admitted a charge of inhumane treatment.

L/Cpl Wayne Crowcroft, 22, and Pte Darren Fallon, 23 - both also of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment - deny the same charge.

The inhumane treatment of persons charge faced by the three is being brought as a war crime charge under the International Criminal Court Act (ICCA) 2001.

The court martial, at the Military Court Centre at Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, is the first time British military personnel have been prosecuted under the act.

The charge of inhumane treatment already existed in normal British military law before the Act was introduced in 2001.

Assault charge

All other charges against the men are being brought under the British Army Act 1955.

Sgt Kelvin Stacey, 29, of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, is accused of assault occasioning actual bodily harm with an alternative count of common assault.

Maj Michael Peebles, 35, and Warrant Officer Mark Davies, 37, both of the Intelligence Corps, face charges of negligently performing a duty.

And Col Jorge Mendonca, 42, formerly commander of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment - which is now renamed as the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment - is charged with negligently performing his duties.

The case was adjourned until Wednesday morning.


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