The soldiers, among 11 charged over two cases in which detainees died, have been charged with "inhuman treatment of persons" under the International Criminal Court Act 2001. Lord Goldsmith announced the charges in a House of Lords statement last night. It is thought to be the first time the Act has been used, although inhuman treatment has been a crime under English law since the 1950s.
In total, seven men were charged over incidents in September 2003 when a detainee, Baha Mousa, was killed, including the unit's commanding officer, Col Jorge Mendonca, 41, who was charged with negligently performing a duty.
In another case, four men have been charged with the manslaughter in May 2003 of Ahmed Kareem, who drowned after he was allegedly punched and kicked and forced into a canal.
The men were formally told of the charges yesterday and will stand trial at a British court martial. Officials said that none of the men charged under the International Criminal Court Act would stand trial in The Hague.
In the first case, Cpl Donald Payne, 34, of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, but now attached to the King's Regiment, is alleged to have inhumanely treated and killed Mousa, who died in September 2003. He is also charged with inhumanly treating eight other Iraqi civilians, and with perverting the course of justice.
Another six servicemen have also been charged over incidents between 13 and 15 September 2003 when detainees were arrested after an army operation.
L/Cpl Wayne Ashley Crowcroft, 21, and Pte Darren Trevor Fallon, 22, both of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, are charged with inhuman treatment of detainees, while Sgt Kelvin Stacey has been charged with causing actual bodily harm.
Col Mendonca, and an Intelligence Corps officer, Major Edwin Peebles, 34, are charged with negligently performing a duty. WO Mark Davies, 36, also of the Intelligence Corps, is charged with neglecting to perform a duty.
In the second case, four men were charged with manslaughter over the death of Kareem, who drowned after allegedly being forced into the Shatt al-Basra canal. Sgt Carle Nicholas Selman, 38, Guardsman Martin McGing, 21, and Guardsman Joseph McCleary, 23, are charged with manslaughter. A 21-year-old lance corporal with the Irish Guards is also charged with manslaughter. He has yet to be informed of the charges, and has not been named.
Lord Goldsmith said that the cases were reviewed by Army prosecutors who were satisfied that there was "a realistic prospect of convicting all defendants and that the prosecutions are in the public interest".
The three servicemen charged under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 will not face trial in The Hague, where the court is based, unless the British authorities decline to put the men on trial in the UK.
Lord Goldsmith has made it clear that the courts martial system is the most appropriate place for the offences to be tried. Under the terms of the legislation the men could be sent to prison for a maximum of 30 years.
The International Criminal Court is the first permanent, treaty-based international criminal court established to ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished.
The court is supposed to be complementary to national criminal jurisdictions and is governed by the provisions of the Rome Statute, adopted by 120 countries at a UN conference in 1998 and signed by the British Government in 2001.
Deaths under investigation
Baha Mousa's death is recorded blandly in the army logbook. Timed at 22.42 on 15 September 2003, the three-line note reads: "Prisoner died in custody deceased at 2205 after CPR [resuscitation] from 2150 - Baha Nashen Mohamed - one of suspects from hotel raid yesterday." But the 26-year-old son of a colonel in the Iraqi police force died three days after he was seized by soldiers of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. He was arrested with six others in a raid on a hotel. The men were taken to a military interrogation centre, where they claim they were beaten for three days.
AHMED JABBAR KAREEM
The 17-year-old was allegedly beaten by four servicemen from the Scots Guards and Irish Guards, before drowning in a canal in Basra on 8 May 2003. He was one of four suspected looters who were allegedly kicked and punched by the soldiers before being forced into the Shat al-Basra canal. Mr Kareem, who could not swim, drowned. His father, Jabbar Kareem Ali, says his son's body was exhumed by army investigators. "The officer told me that they have arrested four soldiers who were responsible for my son's death," he said last year. Mr Ali said a key witness to the incident, Ayad Salim Hannon, was allegedly kept at British army headquarters to be questioned about the death. He was shown a video of the suspects but could not identify them.