Saturday, February 26, 2005

Fifty more British soldiers face trial on Iraq 'war crimes'

Via the Telegraph: - Almost 50 British servicemen are facing prosecution for murder, assault and other crimes committed in Iraq, according to secret military documents seen by The Telegraph.

The allegations include two cases in which Iraqi civilians were allegedly deliberately drowned by soldiers and an incident that could lead to the first member of the SAS being charged with murder.

On Friday, Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff, announced that a senior officer would conduct a wide ranging inquiry into the crimes committed by troops in Iraq. This followed the sentencing at a court martial in Germany of three soldiers who abused Iraqi detainees.

The documents, marked "Restricted - Investigations Not For Disclosure. Ministerial Update of Service Police Investigations", show that almost three times as many soldiers face charges than had been admitted by the Ministry of Defence. They disclose that until September 13, 2004, the Royal Military Police had carried out 137 investigations into incidents - including shootings, road accidents, and allegations of corruption, murder and manslaughter - involving troops in Iraq.

Some cases have been investigated and the soldiers cleared, but many investigations continue. The documents indicate that at least 12 soldiers face charges of murder, manslaughter or assault.

It is understood that since the documents were produced the number of investigations into the actions of British service personnel has increased to more than 164.

The documents reveal that the SAS, Britain's elite fighting force, faces the damaging prospect of having one of its men charged with murder after he shot dead an Iraqi during a military operation in Basra in January 2004.

It is understood that the SAS's commanding officer and the Director of Special Forces are trying to dissuade military prosecutors from charging the soldier because they believe no crime has been committed and fear that such an action might undermine the operational effectiveness of the unit.

The documents reveal that at least three RAF members face charges for murder, manslaughter, negligence and corruption following the death of an Iraqi prisoner.

Senior officers have told this newspaper that they believe that legal advisers have been "gripped by a distorted sense of political correctness" which has led to an unprecedented number of soldiers facing charges.