British officers face war crimes probe

Up to 11 British soldiers and officers are under investigation for alleged war crimes over the death of an Iraqi civilian in British custody, the UK Independent revealed May 29. Military lawyers are considering the charges as part of a major inquiry into allegations that members of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment beat Baha Mousa, a hotel worker, to death in September 2003. The officers include the regiment’s commander, Col Jorge Mendonca, 41, who has been warned he could be tried for allegedly failing to control his troops effectively. Another eight Iraqis arrested with Mousa are preparing to sue the UK after claiming they were tortured by British troops. Another detainee, Khifah Taha, was also hospitalised and narrowly escaped death after suffering acute kidney failure allegedly as a result of a beating while in British custody.

Army prosecutors and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, are under intense legal and political pressure to investigate properly Mousa’s death, after Britain’s High Court ruled last December the UK had broken the Human Rights Act by failing to prevent his death or prosecute his alleged assailants quickly.

The UK is also facing a formal investigation by the International Criminal Court at The Hague over allegations that the UK broke international law in Iraq by using cluster bombs in urban areas and by attacking power stations. The ICC is additionally studying war crimes claims based on the Mousa case and the deaths of other Iraqi civilians.

Meanwhile, AP reported May 27 that US Army Staff Sgt. Shane Werst was acquitted of murder in the death of an unarmed Iraqi he said he shot to save a fellow soldier. A jury of four soldiers and two officers at Ft. Hood, TX, deliberated for less than three hours before finding him not guilty. He had faced a maximum of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors said the killing of Naser Ismail, a suspected insurgent confronted in a house raid, was in retaliation for an Army captain’s death earlier that day. Werst said he only shot Ismail because he was lunging for an unsuspecting soldier’s weapon–but admitted he had doctored the evidence by putting Ismail’s fingerprints on the gun. “It was wrong. I have no idea why I did that,” Werst said.

The US, of course, refuses to recognize the International Criminal Court, and has even passed legislation that permits military action to “liberate” any US citizen held by the court, causing wags at Human Rights Watch to dub it the “Hague Invasion Act.”

See our last post on the ongoing controversy over war crimes and torture in Iraq, Afganistan and US military detainment centers.