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War crimes charges tossed for 5 soldiers

THOMAS WAGNER, Associated Press Writer

February 14, 2007

LONDON - A judge dismissed charges Wednesday against five British soldiers accused of mistreating Iraqi civilian detainees but said the court-martial would continue against two other servicemen. The trial has tarnished the image of Britain's military because it marked the first time a British soldier pleaded guilty to a war crime under international law. Cpl. Donald Payne, 35, admitted he inhumanely treated Iraqi civilians in September. He has not yet been sentenced on the charge.

The nine Iraqi detainees, who had been taken into custody as suspected insurgents, allegedly were handcuffed, hooded, beaten, held in stress positions and deprived of sleep for about two days in extreme heat at a British army barracks near the southern Iraqi city of Basra in September 2003.

The prosecution said one of the men, Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel worker, died after being restrained by soldiers when he tried to escape. The eight other detainees were released without charge.

Justice Stuart McKinnon ruled the two other charges against Payne Ś manslaughter and perverting the course of justice Ś should be dismissed, along with the charge of inhumanely treating detainees against two of Payne's co-defendants: Lance Cpl. Wayne Ashley Crowcroft, 22, and Pvt. Darren Trevor Fallon, 23.

The judge also dismissed a common assault charge against Sgt. Kelvin Lee Stacey, 30, and a charge of negligently performing duties against Col. Jorge Emmanuel Mendonca, 43.

McKinnon said the prosecution did not have the evidence it needed to convict the five men of the charges.

One reason was that the hooded Iraqi civilians were unable to identify the soldiers who had allegedly mistreated or beat them. McKinnon also described as unreliable the testimony of one British soldier who had acted as a prosecution witness.

Prosecutor Julian Bevan told the court that the defendants suspected the Iraqi detainees had been involved in the slaying of six British military police officers in August 2003 and the death of a soldier in a bombing on a military ambulance in Basra.

Ahmad Taha Musa al-Matairi, the only Iraqi detainee to testify at the court-martial, said the defendants laughed as they beat one of the detainees in a sweltering detention facility and took bets on which soldier could knock him down first.

Al-Matairi testified that he was detained because he was part-owner of a hotel suspected of being an insurgent base. Soldiers found rifles, ammunition, grenades and timers they believed were to be used for bomb-making equipment in a search of several hotels. They also found forged identity documents and large amounts of money.

McKinnon said the court-martial at the Bulford Camp army base, 85 miles southwest of London, would continue against Warrant Officer Mark Lester Davies, 37, and Maj. Michael Edwin Peebles, 35, on the charge of negligently performing their duties. It is scheduled to resume Monday.

The judge first gave his ruling on the other charges Tuesday after the prosecution rested its case and the defense said the charges against their clients should be dismissed or reduced for lack of evidence. He read the verdict to a board of military officers acting as a jury Wednesday.


:: Article nr. 30642 sent on 15-feb-2007 03:09 ECT

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Link: news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070214/ap_on_re_eu/britain_court_martial



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