Iraqis wanted me to shoot looters, major tells hearing

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The Independent Online

An army major at the centre of the trial of British soldiers accused of torturing and sexually humiliating Iraqi civilians was portrayed at a court martial yesterday as an "irresponsible renegade" who gave troops illegal orders encouraging them to commit the offences.

An army major at the centre of the trial of British soldiers accused of torturing and sexually humiliating Iraqi civilians was portrayed at a court martial yesterday as an "irresponsible renegade" who gave troops illegal orders encouraging them to commit the offences.

Major Dan Taylor, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, told the hearing in a base in Osnabrück, Germany, that local Iraqis had wanted him to open fire on food looters.

Cpl Daniel Kenyon, 33, and L/Cpls Mark Cooley, 25, and Darren Larkin, 30, are accused of abusing detained Iraqis in Iraq in 2003. They were guarding an army supply base outside Basra in May 2003. The civilians had been caught looting supplies and detained. The three have pleaded not guilty to all but one of the nine charges.

Photographs used as evidence against them showed laughing British soldiers abusing an Iraqi tied in a cargo net and hanging from the prongs of a fork-lift truck driven by L/Cpl Cooley. Other photographs showed naked Iraqi civilians being forced to simulate oral and anal sex with each other and them being taken on forced runs carrying crates of powdered milk on their heads.

Defence lawyers said Major Taylor had given the men an illegal order to make the detained looters "work hard", in breach of the Geneva Conventions and contrary to the Army's code of conduct. They said the order had encouraged the soldiers to commit the offences.

Joseph Giret, the defence counsel, said: "Did you not realise that your order contravened the Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians?"

Major Taylor said: "I did not think so in this context. These were not normal civilians. They were looters."

He denied that he had not properly informed his commanding officer, Lt-Col David Paterson, of his orders to make the looters work. "I told him of my plan to work the looters at a briefing on the evening before," he said. Mr Giret told him: "He had not the faintest idea that you intended to make looters do unremunerated work."

The court martial heard that Major Taylor's commander, Brigadier Nick Carter, had considered formally charging him for issuing the order but dropped the idea after ruling that he had acted out of "misguided zeal" but had done so for the benefit of the Iraqi population by trying to stop the looting.

Major Taylor said he was quartermaster in charge of Camp Bread Basket. He launched "Operation Ali Baba" to detain hundreds of Iraqis who were looting the camp nightly.

He said Iraqi guards at the camp had requested that his soldiers shoot the looters, but he had rejected that and decided to deter them from returning to the supply depot instead after military police declined to take them into custody.

"We were facing a situation in which the same looters were being found back in the supply depot up to three times a day after being released," he said, "There did not appear to be any other way of stopping it."

Major Taylor said he gathered between 40 and 50 soldiers dressed in PT kit and armed with rifles to hunt looters. He said he told his men the thieves "were to be arrested, detained, worked hard for a short period, then released". He gave the go-ahead for the soldiers to photograph the looters so they would have a record of their identities.

The soldiers rounded up 20 to 30 looters who had stolen crates of baby food, made them take the goods back, then put them to clearing rubbish near the entrance of the compound. They were later released. "There did not appear to be any other way of stopping it, short of doing what the locals wanted us to do, which was shooting people," Major Taylor said. "But what we did failed because afterwards, the looting got worse."

The accused face charges which include assault, disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind and prejudicing military order. The court martial continues on Monday.

Raj Persaud, page 43