Court martial to inspect Iraqi site of civilian death

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The Independent Online

The unprecedented visit will involve a major security operation to protect up to 50 members of the court. The site is in one of the most dangerous areas of south-east Iraq, Maysan province.

It will be the first time a court martial has taken evidence in Iraq. The contingent for the visit is expected to include military legal advisers, a seven-strong jury, court officials, the seven defendants and their lawyers, plus a small group of journalists.

The seven soldiers are alleged to have murdered Nadhem Abdullah in May 2003 during an incident at al-Uzayr in Maysan, beside a dangerous road, Route 6, which is a notorious route for opium traffickers. The area was reputed to be one of the most lawless in British-controlled Iraq. Their court martial, one of a series of high-profile and controversial military prosecutions over the alleged abuse of Iraqis, is due to begin at Colchester in early September.

The case has already been hit by controversy because Mr Abdullah's family had twice refused, in line with local customs, to allow his body to be exhumed for forensic examination. But it is understood army prosecutors have won the family's agreement to exhume the body and examine it in the graveyard.

There are also doubts over whether some Iraqi witnesses are now prepared to travel to Britain to give evidence. The judge advocate has agreed to authorise the visit to Iraq to ensure the jury and lawyers can see at first hand where the incident took place.

The move follows continued speculation that other cases may be heard partly in Iraq because of the costs and problems getting local witnesses to the UK.

One other major trial into alleged abuses will begin early next year, after seven troops were charged over the death in custody of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist.