Soldier says Army 'hung him out to dry'

The experience was to prove disastrous. It landed Guardsman McGing before a court martial jury charged with killing an Iraqi boy who drowned after being forced into a river within six months of his arrival in Basra. Now cleared of killing Ahmed Jabar Karheem, aged 15, Guardsman McGing reflected yesterday on how Iraq had destroyed the career he cherished. "The biggest problem for us was that there was no law and order and we were soldiers, not policemen," he said. "We hadn't been trained to do this."

For a time, the Army had offered brighter prospects for a teenager who attended cadets without fail and left the Britannia High School in Rowley Regis, near Birmingham, with minimal qualifications. He had aspired to be a soldier since boyhood and he passed over the Grenadier Guards - the regiment of choice for many West Midlands boys - in favour of the Irish Guards.

Guardsman McGing is reluctant to discuss the May 2003 incident for which he was tried. (He, Guardsman Joseph McCleary and Colour Sergeant Carle Selman were accused of forcing the boy, who could not swim, into the Shatt al-Basra canal at gunpoint to "teach him a lesson" for suspected looting.

In evidence, the boy's friend, who was also thrown in, claimed they were pelted with stones. But, like the soldiers who were tried and convicted over abuse at Camp Breadbasket two years ago, Guardsman McGing insists that by "wetting" insurgents he was carrying out new army policy. "The idea was that once they were wet they had to walk home to change their clothes," he said. "It stopped them looting. We were doing what we were told to do and being led to do."

At his home in Bootle, Merseyside, Guardsman McCleary provided a similar explanation this week. "Looters were everywhere, there were too many of them for us and it was difficult to know how to handle them," he said. "We were told to put them in the canal. I was the lowest rank. We were always told we weren't paid to think. We just followed orders. We had a job to do, and it was so hectic."

The National Gulf War Veterans Association (NGWVA) said the case had demonstrated how junior soldiers were being blamed for decisions taken by senior officers in a theatre of conflict where insurgency was out of hand.

"The generals seem to give the orders, the men carry them out and the men carry the can when it all goes wrong," said Charles Plumeridge of the NGWVA.

"I disagreed with a lot of orders, but you always carry them out anyway. We never see the senior brass in the dock. It was the same after Breadbasket. They're just the ones who come home to be decorated."

Guardsman McCleary is through with Army. "It's like being in a tunnel," he said. He plans to go to college and follow a civilian career. Guardsman McGing will join the police. "The Army hung me out to dry," he said. "They put me in court and led to this hanging over me and my family for three years. They just wanted to put me into prison."