British Colonel Cleared of Iraq Abuse Charges; [Pounds Sterling]20m Cost of Hearing 'Could Have Bought Armour for All Troops'

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL CHESTON

THE highest-ranking British soldier to be court-martialled over war crimes was cleared today.

All the charges against Colonel Jorge Mendonca, who had been accused of overseeing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, were dismissed by the judge hearing his trial.

Col Mendonca and four of his men from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, which he commanded, were cleared of mistreating the civilians shortly after the 2003 invasion.

It was claimed that suspected insurgents were kept hooded and handcuffed over a 36-hour period while depriving them of sleep and beating them - preinterrogation "conditioning" that is banned under international law. One of the prisoners, hotel receptionist Baha Musa, 26, died.

Col Mendonca was said to have failed to ensure that the detainees were treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention and the Laws of Armed Conflict.

But five months into the trial at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire, judge advocate Mr Justice McKinnon ordered the colonel's acquittal after "no case to answer" submissions were made by his defence team.

The reasons for his ruling cannot be published until two other soldiers who still face charges have been tried.

But the judge's decision will cause further embarrassment to Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, who had insisted that Col Mendonca should face a court martial over the alleged actions of his men.

The legal proceedings have already cost [pounds sterling]20 million because of the cost of translators and gathering evidence in Iraq.

The other men to have their names cleared were Sergeant Kelvin Stacey, 30, accused of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and common assault; Lance Corporal Wayne Crowcroft, 22, and Private Darren Fallon, 23, both accused of treating Iraqis inhumanely; and Corporal Donald Payne, 35, who was charged with Mr Musa's manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.

The judge dismissed "no case" applications made by Major Michael Peebles, 35, and Warrant Officer Mark Davies, 37, both of the Intelligence Corps.

They both deny a charge of negligently performing the duty of ensuring the Iraqis were not ill-treated by men under their command. …