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British judge says government okayed Iraq abuse
Yahoo News/Reuters
By Peter Graff
March 12, 2007

BULLFORD (Reuters) - A judge said on Monday the reason he had ordered charges dropped against the most senior British officer to be tried for prisoner abuse in Iraq was because headquarters had approved some of the abuses.

The British military has denied that its commanders approved abusing prisoners.

But a witness, Major Anthony Royce, testified during a court martial of seven other soldiers over the death of an Iraqi hotel receptionist that some abuse was approved by higher-ups at British brigade headquarters.

Three weeks ago Judge Stuart McKinnon ordered cases dropped against five of the soldiers, including the former commander of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Mendonca. They were part of a group charged with prisoner abuse that led to the death of one inmate in custody in 2003.

McKinnon did not allow his reasons for dropping the case to be published at the time, but alluded to them in court on Monday while summing up the case against two of the defendants.

"It is now effectively common ground that brigade did indeed sanction the use of hooding and stress positions," he said.

"That obviously contributed to the favorable result for Colonel Mendonca."

He added that placing prisoners in stress positions is "generally accepted to be contrary to the Geneva Conventions and the law of armed conflict," and that hoods are permitted only when necessary for security reasons.

Hotel receptionist Baha Musa died in British custody after receiving 93 separate injuries during two days of relentless beatings in September 2003.

Other prisoners held with him testified that they too were beaten, but were unable to identify their attackers because they had been kept hooded.

One of the soldiers guarding Musa, Corporal Donald Payne (news, bio, voting record), pleaded guilty at the start of the trial to abusing prisoners. His guilt under the 2001 law that backed the International Criminal Court made him officially Britain's first war criminal.

But all other charges against Payne, including a charge of manslaughter, were dropped on McKinnon's order, along with charges against Mendonca and three others.

The case, which has run for more than six months, is the longest and costliest of three high profile courts martial against British soldiers for killing Iraqis in their custody.

The other two collapsed with no successful prosecutions, causing embarrassment for the military justice authorities.

Two soldiers, Major Michael Peebles and Warrant Officer Mark Davies, still face charges of dereliction of duty relating to Musa's death. McKinnon is expected to finish summing up early on Tuesday and then dispatch the jury to reach its verdict.

Original Text