British soldier is first to admit war crime

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The Independent Online

A British soldier has become the first person to plead guilty to war crimes. Cpl Donald Payne admitted inhumanely treating civilians in Basra four months after the official end of the war.

But Cpl Payne, 35, formerly of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, now of the renamed Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and perverting the course of justice at the start of the first court martial of British troops accused of war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act (ICCA) 2001.

The court heard yesterday that captive Iraqis were beaten with iron bars, kicked, starved, and forced to drink their own urine during a catalogue of abuse which led to the death of one prisoner.

The dead man, Baha Mousa, 26, had 93 injuries to his body. Two other Iraqis were severely wounded in the "systematic mistreatment" meted out to them in 36 hours of incarceration, the hearing was told.

Cpl Payne's six co-defendants pleaded not guilty to crimes relating to the death of Mr Mousa.

Among the seven soldiers in the dock in connection with the death and the alleged assaults is the most senior officer to face charges over Iraq war, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, who is accused of negligence in performing his duties by failing the halt the ill-treatment by his men.

The Military Court Centre, at Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain, heard that the beating of the prisoners took place "for no apparent reason, sometimes, it seems, for the entertainment of others" among the British contingent.

Julian Bevan QC, for the prosecution, told the court that the case against the seven defendants centred on the alleged ill-treatment received by Iraqi civilians held for a period of about 36 hours at a temporary detention facility in Basra on 14 and 15 September 2003.

The abuse began, the court was told, after a battalion of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment raided a number of hotels in Basra following intelligence that they were being used as bases by insurgents.

Most of the Iraqis allegedly mistreated were arrested at the Haitham Hotel where the soldiers found an arms cache including rifles, grenades, bayonets and timers which they believed to be proof of bomb-making activity.

Mr Bevan said the Iraqis were moved to a detention facility where they were repeatedly beaten, kicked and punched while handcuffed and hooded with sacks, made to maintain a stress position for prolonged periods and deprived of sleep. They were kept hooded with hessian sacks while the temperature rose to 60C. Some who pleaded thirst had water poured on their heads instead of being given drinks. "One civilian, Baha Mousa, died as a result, in part, from the multiple injuries he had received ­ there being no less than 93 injuries on his body at the post-mortem stage, including fractured ribs and a broken nose," Mr Bevan told a seven-man judging panel.

Mr Bevan said another detainee suffered serious kidney problems which were found to be caused by injuries consistent with being punched and kicked. A third suffered injuries that resulted in kidney failure which could have killed him had it not been for urgent medical treatment. "In short, it is the Crown's case that these Iraqi civilians were treated inhumanely," Mr Bevan said.

"We are not dealing in this case with robust or rough handling, which is bound to happen in the theatre that existed in Iraq, but something far more serious. 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."

The court was told that the men were released without charge over the next few months. What they had been subjected to, said the prosecution, " fuels hatred and hostility against all the soldiers there, and can cause untold damage".

L/Cpl Wayne Crowcroft, 22, of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, and Pte Darren Fallon, 23, of the same regiment, deny accusations of inhumane treatment. Sgt Kelvin Stacey, 29, of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, denies assault occasioning actual bodily harm and an alternative count of common assault.

Major Michael Peebles, 35, and Warrant Officer Mark Davies, 37, both of the Intelligence Corps, each face a charge of negligently performing a duty. Colonel Jorge Mendonca, 42, formerly the commander of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, is also accused of negligently performing a duty.