Eleven UK soldiers face war crimes trial

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The Independent Online

Up to 11 British soldiers and officers are under investigation for alleged war crimes over the death of an Iraqi civilian in British custody, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Up to 11 British soldiers and officers are under investigation for alleged war crimes over the death of an Iraqi civilian in British custody, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Military lawyers are considering the charges as part of a major inquiry into allegations that members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment beat Baha Mousa, a hotel worker, to death in September 2003. As the IoS disclosed last week, the officers include the regiment's commander, Col Jorge Mendonca, 41, who has been warned he could be tried for allegedly failing to control his troops effectively. There is no allegation that he took part in any abuse.

At least four QLR members, thought to be privates and NCOs, face specific charges of murder and abuse over Mr Mousa's death from heart failure and asphyxia, allegedly due to multiple injuries, on 15 September 2003. But alongside another seven soldiers and officers, the four alleged assailants also face wider war crimes charges.

Whitehall sources have insisted that no final decisions have yet been taken on who to prosecute, or on what charges. They indicated yesterday that not all the suspects are expected to stand trial, but believe as many as nine men could face a court martial.

Army sources yesterday indicated there was disquiet throughout the service at the charges. One source added: "Military law already exists to deal with these kinds of charges. Why the apparent push to bring them under this draconian new war crimes legislation?" He said many soldiers suspect these charges were considered only after the court martial of three soldiers in February, for abusing alleged Iraqi looters at Camp Breadbasket, led to criticism that no one above the rank of corporal was charged.

Another eight Iraqis arrested with Mr Mousa are preparing to sue the UK after claiming they were systematically abused and tortured by British troops. Another detainee, Khifah Taha, was also hospitalised and narrowly escaped death after suffering acute kidney failure allegedly as a result of a sustained beating while in British custody.

Army prosecutors and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, are under intense legal and political pressure to investigate properly Mr Mousa's death, after the High Court ruled last December the UK had broken the Human Rights Act by failing to prevent his death or prosecute his alleged assailants quickly.

The UK is facing a formal investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague over allegations that the UK broke international law in Iraq by using cluster bombs in urban areas and by attacking power stations. The ICC is also studying war crimes claims based on the Mousa case and the deaths of other Iraqi civilians.

The ICC has written formally to the Ministry of Defence, asking for comments on allegations raised in a detailed legal dossier submitted by the British legal group PeaceRights, and earlier complaints by the Athens Bar Association.

A QLR spokesman said yesterday: "We are full square behind the Baha Mousa investigation and if individuals are found guilty of being involved in the tragedy, the regiment wants them out more quickly than anybody else does."