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Last two UK troops cleared in Iraq death trial

Peter Graff, Reuters

March 14, 2007 04:00am


TWO British soldiers were cleared over the death of an Iraqi prisoner at the end of a six-month trial, the third long and costly court martial in a row to collapse.

A panel of senior officers cleared Major Michael Peebles and Warrant Officer Mark Davies of neglecting their duties, three weeks after the judge ordered charges to be dropped against five other defendants.

The only conviction secured in the longest British court martial in living memory was against one of those five, Corporal Donald Payne, who had admitted at the outset to abusing prisoners.

But manslaughter charges against him were among those dropped, meaning no one will be punished directly over the death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Musa who died after receiving 93 injuries during two days of beatings in British custody.

The trial at Bulford in Wiltshire was the last and biggest of three high-profile courts martial of British soldiers accused of killing Iraqi detainees.

Both the other cases collapsed with no convictions, infuriating human rights groups - which accuse the government of failing to bring soldiers to justice - and supporters of the military who say it has pursued weak cases.

The Musa case, which has gone on for more than six months, has also raised questions over whether senior British commanders approved severe treatment of prisoners which Britain considers illegal under the Geneva conventions.

Among those cleared was the former commanding officer of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Mendonca, who had been the highest-ranking British officer to face a court martial in modern times.

Judge Stuart McKinnon said this week he had ordered Mendonca cleared because both prosecutors and the defence agreed that Mendonca's commanders had sanctioned the abuse, known as "conditioning".

Prisoners were kept in "stress positions" and hooded for long periods to "condition" them for interrogations, practices which Britain considers illegal.

The others who were cleared were Lance Corporal Wayne Cowcroft and Private Darren Fallon, each charged with inhuman treatment, and Sergeant Kelvin Stacey, charged with assault.

During the trial, surviving victims flown in from Iraq described two days of near-constant abuse while prisoners of the British unit in 2003. But they were unable to identify the soldiers who attacked them, because they were hooded during the beatings.


:: Article nr. 31361 sent on 14-mar-2007 11:48 ECT

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