Major treated troops like sacrificial lambs, court told

Click to follow

The major at the centre of the trial of British soldiers accused of torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi civilians was an officer who did not care about his troops and was prepared to treat them as "sacrificial lambs" to save his own career, a court martial was told yesterday.

The major at the centre of the trial of British soldiers accused of torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi civilians was an officer who did not care about his troops and was prepared to treat them as "sacrificial lambs" to save his own career, a court martial was told yesterday.

Major Daniel Taylor, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was giving evidence at an army base in Osnabrück, Germany, where Cpl Daniel Kenyon, 33, L/Cpl Mark Cooley, 25, and L/Cpl Darren Larkin, 30, are accused of abusing civilians detained in Iraq in 2003. The alleged incidents happened at a supply depot known as Camp Bread Basket outside Basra. Soldiers under Major Taylor's command deployed on an operation codenamed Ali Baba to detain looters.

Defence lawyers described Major Taylor yesterday as an officer who had given an illegal order to ensure the detained looters had "a hard time", which was in breach of the Geneva Convention and contrary to the Army's code of conduct.

Joseph Giret, defence counsel for Cpl Kenyon, said of Major Taylor: "You didn't care about those soldiers under your command." He added: "You have been prepared to let those soldiers be the sacrificial lambs, so your career could be saved."

Citing statements from a witness named as L/Cpl Coxswain, Mr Giret claimed the major's orders had been for the detained Iraqis to be "given a good kicking then chucked over the wall". Major Taylor denied the suggestion.

The officer said he gathered 40 to 50 soldiers in PT kit and with rifles and camouflage net support poles,"cam poles", to hunt looters who were stealing items including baby food.

He said his aim had been to deter the thieves by making them work collecting litter. He said he also gave the go-ahead for the soldiers to photograph the looters to record their identities. But Mr Giret, again citing evidence from other soldiers, claimed the detained Iraqis were forced to run about the camp with boxes of powdered milk on their heads while being struck on the legs with cam poles to make them go faster. "Iraqis were being 'beasted' [an army term for being harassed] as soon as they were arrested and trophy photographs were being taken of them," he said. Major Taylor denied the claim.

The court martial was told that the three accused soldiers belonged to a Milan anti-tank unit that had been at the camp, but had helped only to round up of the looters and not the process of "working them hard".

Major Taylor said he released the men shortly after the round-up. He said they were based in a separate part of the camp and he had had no idea they were mistreating civilians. Stephen Vullo, for the defence, asked if they were, "off on a frolic of their own"? Major Taylor replied: "I believe they were."

The three accused face nine charges including assault, disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind and prejudicing military order. They have denied all but one of the charges. If convicted they face a maximum sentence of 10 years and dismissal in disgrace from the Army.