Soldier accused of abusing Iraqi has record for assault

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The Independent Online

One of the British soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners has a previous conviction for violence, a court martial has been told. L/Cpl Mark Cooley, 25, was charged with common assault after he attacked another soldier in November 1999. The court heard yesterday that L/Cpl Cooley had pleaded guilty and was fined £500.

One of the British soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners has a previous conviction for violence, a court martial has been told. L/Cpl Mark Cooley, 25, was charged with common assault after he attacked another soldier in November 1999. The court heard yesterday that L/Cpl Cooley had pleaded guilty and was fined £500.

He told the court martial that the incident happened after he tried to break up a fight between fellow soldiers after a night of drinking at a British Legion club in Londonderry.

L/Cpl Cooley, of Newcastle upon Tyne, is one of three soldiers facing court martial in Osnabrück, Germany, accused of mistreating captured Iraqi looters at Camp Bread Basket in Basra in May 2003.

Among the charges L/Cpl Cooley faces is "disgraceful conduct of a cruel kind" after driving a forklift truck with an Iraqi prisoner suspended from the prongs. He says he was trying to move the man on to a raised ledge, out of the sun, but the man fell off after L/Cpl Cooley either "braked too hard" or "accidentally hit the wall".

L/Cpl Cooley admitted he initially found the incident "quite amusing" but he now accepted that it was "not funny, one bit". He said: "No one wanted to hurt anyone for the fun of it."

He said a group of six or seven soldiers had gathered around the forklift and were laughing at his attempts to move the man. Asked how he felt, he said: "Embarrassed, it really did seem a good idea at the time but afterwards it was like, 'what are you doing?"'

L/Cpl Cooley is also charged with being photographed while posing as though about to punch a prisoner. He denies that this is conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. He told the court that he destroyed the trophy photographs, but not the negatives, immediately after he had them developed.

He said: "When I seen what it looked like, it wasn't something I would want to keep or show anyone, so I got rid of it."

He added: "It's a stupid thing to do. It doesn't show me. I know it shows me, but it doesn't show what I am like. It just shows a stupid second in time and predicts something that didn't happen." The court heard that L/Cpl Cooley resigned from his post at the beginning of 2003 but is still in the Army because of the court proceedings.

L/Cpl Cooley told the court that, when he returned from Iraq, he was suffering from nightmares and depression and had begun drinking heavily. He said: "I was having to drink a lot to get through the days, to get us to sleep. I was tearful, tearfully angry. I just wasn't me, I was someone else." After his mother made him see a doctor for help, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

During cross-examination, L/Cpl Cooley admitted he had lied in his interview with the Royal Military Police because he did not want to be "a grass" and out of a sense of loyalty.

Major Russell Clifton, prosecuting, asked why he failed to tell police about the Iraqi prisoners having the "fear of God put in them" by senior soldiers, about which he had since given evidence to the court.

L/Cpl Cooley responded: "Loyalty." Major Clifton asked: "Loyalty to who?" "My battalion. In an infantry battalion if you do not have respect, people die," said L/Cpl Cooley. Major Clifton asked: "Who was going to die?" L/Cpl Cooley replied: "It's not like that. In an infantry battalion everyone is loyal to everyone, everyone has respect for everyone ... and that's why we are a great regiment."

L/Cpl Cooley and Cpl Daniel Kenyon, 33, deny all the charges. L/Cpl Darren Larkin, 30, has admitted one assault and faces no other charges.