Peter Beaumont / Guardian & Steven Morris / The Guardian – 2006-09-22 22:11:03
Civilian Deaths Soar to Record High in Iraq
Peter Beaumont / Guardian
BAGHDAD (September 22, 2006) — Nearly 7,000 civilians were killed in Iraq in the past two months, according to a UN report just released — a record high that is far greater than initial estimates had suggested. As American generals in Baghdad warned that the violence could worsen in the run up to Ramadan next Monday, the UN spoke of a “grave sectarian crisis” gripping the country.
With known Iraqi deaths running at more than 100 a day because of sectarian murders, al-Qaida and nationalist insurgent attacks, and fatalities inflicted by the multinational forces, the UN said its total was likely to be “on the low side” because of the difficulties of collecting accurate figures. In particular, it said that no deaths were reported from the violent region covering Ramadi and Falluja.
The report from the UN assistance mission in Iraq’s human rights office reported evidence of torture, unlawful detentions, the growth of sectarian militias and death squads, and a rise in “honour killings” of women. The increasing incidence of discovery of the bodies of women and teenage girls, shot in the chest rather than in the head, has been attributed to the establishment by both extremist Sunnis and Shias of secretive sharia committees, which locals say carry out killings.
In a separate development, Manfred Nowak, the UN’s special investigator, said torture was “totally out of hand” and might even be worse now than under Saddam Hussein. “You have terrorist groups, you have the military, you have police, you have these militias. There are so many people who are abducted, seriously tortured and finally killed,” he told reporters at the UN’s Geneva headquarters.
The US military had initially claimed a dramatic drop in the Iraqi death toll for August, but the estimate was revised sharply upwards after it revealed that it had inexplicably left out figures for people killed by bombs, mortars, rockets and other mass attacks.
The latest fatality figures have been disclosed amid emerging criticism from Iraqi and US officials – quoted anonymously in the New York Times – of the prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ability to prevent the country sliding into civil war.
The violence again has risen most sharply in Baghdad, despite a massive joint Iraqi government and US operation to “clear” no-go areas of fighters. The report raises serious new questions about the ability of US and Iraqi forces to bring peace to Baghdad, where the bulk of the violent deaths occur.
Critically, the report states that the country’s government, set up in 2006, is “facing a generalised breakdown of law and order which presents a serious challenge to the institutions of Iraq”.
According to the UN, which releases the figures every two months, violent civilian deaths in July reached an unprecedented high of 3,590 people, an average of more than 100 a day. The August toll was 3,009 people, the report said. In the previous period the UN had reported just under 6,000 deaths – 5,106 from Baghdad.
It added: “Bodies found at the Medico-legal Institute often bear signs of severe torture, including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones (back, hands and legs), missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails.”
On other issues, the report said that about 300,000 people had been displaced in Iraq since the bombing of a shrine in Samara in February.
The potential for even more violent instability came as two senior aides to the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Militia has been blamed for much of the sectarian killing, were detained early yesterday by US forces in the southern city of Najaf.
In the capital the violence continued. Insurgents killed six policemen and wounded two others when they attacked a police station in western Baghdad, while a car bomb killed two people and wounded eight in the capital’s mainly Shia Hurriya district. Gunmen also killed three policemen after attacking their patrol in the city.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
British Soldier Admits to War Crime
Court Martial Told of Iraqi Civilian’s Brutal Death
Steven Morris / The Guardian
(September 20, 2006) — A corporal in the Duke of Lancaster’s regiment became the first British soldier ever to be convicted of a war crime yesterday as a court martial heard that he and his colleagues systematically abused prisoners at a detention centre in southern Iraq.
One civilian was killed and others tormented brutally while officers, including the most senior to be brought before a court martial in modern times, did nothing to stop the abuse, it was claimed.
Corporal Donald Payne, 35, pleaded guilty to the charge at the start of a court martial involving seven British soldiers. But Cpl Payne denied manslaughter and intending to pervert the course of justice. Six others have pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the death of Baha Mousa, 26, a hotel receptionist being held in custody in Basra in 2003.
The historic court martial heard that the prisoners were forced to maintain a “stress position” – backs against a wall, arms stretched out in front – which has been banned by the British army for more than 30 years. If they dropped their arms they were beaten, it was alleged.
One prisoner alleged he was threatened with lighted petrol and another said he was forced to urinate into a bottle which was then tipped over him.
The violence culminated with the killing of Baha Mousa, who died after being so badly beaten that he suffered 93 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose, the hearing was told.
Opening the court martial, Julian Bevan QC, said: “We are not dealing with robust or rough handling, which is bound to happen in the theatre that existed in Iraq, but something far more serious.
“We are dealing with systematic abuse against prisoners involving unacceptable violence against persons who were detained in custody, hooded and handcuffed and wholly unable to protect themselves over a very long period of time.”
Mr Bevan said what happened was “only made possible by the negligence of three people” – the commanding officer, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, Major Michael Peebles, the battle group internment review officer, and Warrant Officer Mark Davies, in charge of tactical questioning.
The incident began at 6am on September 14 2003 when members of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment raided hotels in Basra which they believed were being used by insurgents. In one they found ammunition, grenades, bayonets, a sniper scope, timers, forged identity documents and a large amount of money.
A number of people, including the receptionist, Baha Mousa, were arrested, handcuffed and driven to the battle group’s headquarters.
Mr Bevan claimed that over 36 hours from the Sunday morning to Monday evening they were badly mistreated. “They were repeatedly beaten when handcuffed and hooded with hessian sacks, deprived of sleep, continually shouted at and generally abused.”
Baha Mousa died on the Monday. Another suffered such serious kidney injuries that he had renal failure and almost died.
In immediate charge of the Iraqis was Cpl Payne. According to Mr Bevan, he was “largely responsible for meting out the inhuman treatment”. But others also took part. “Some of them, it seems, just did it for fun or feelings of hostility.”
In temperatures which soared to almost 60C, the detainees were kept in the stress position. “No one can maintain that position for long without suffering pain and stress,” said Mr Bevan. If they dropped their arms they were punched and kicked and shouted at. They were kept awake by being shouted at or having an iron bar banged next to them, the court was told. Some were also struck with the iron bar.
Cpl Payne denies manslaughter and intending to pervert the course of justice by telling colleagues to say that Baha Mousa had died accidentally after banging his head. But he admitted inhumanly treating Iraqi civilians – a war crime under the International Criminal Court (ICC) Act 2001. Col Mendonca, Maj Peebles and WO Davies denied negligently performing a duty by not ensuring that the prisoners were not ill-treated.
But Mr Bevan said the detention centre was only 60 metres from the main operational and living quarters. “The close proximity is highly relevant when you come to consider how openly these Iraqis were abused and how the shouting, bawling, screaming from that facility must have been heard by numerous soldiers and officers in that camp and yet no one appears to have raised it as a concern.”
Two others, Lance Corporal Wayne Crowcroft, and Kingsman Darren Fallon, denied a joint charge under the ICC Act of inhumanly treating Iraqi civilians. Sergeant Kelvin Stacey, pleaded not guilty to assault causing actual bodily harm.
The court martial, held at the military court centre at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire, is expected to last for up to 16 weeks.
Legal history was also made when the judge, Mr Justice McKinnon, ruled that images of the soldiers’ faces could not be shown for fear that they could become terrorist targets. Nor can their addresses be given in even the vaguest terms.
All soldiers from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (formerly the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment) unless stated otherwise
• Corporal Donald Payne, 35 — Manslaughter of Baha Musa, inhuman treatment of Iraqi civilians, a war crime under the International Criminal Court Act 2001, intending to pervert the course of justice
• Colonel Jorge Mendonca MBE, 42 — Negligently performing a duty by failing to take such steps … to ensure Iraqi civilians being held … under his command were not ill-treated
• Lance Corporal Wayne Crowcroft, 22 — Inhuman treatment of Iraqi civilians under the ICC Act
• Kingsman Darren Fallon, 23 — Inhuman treatment of Iraqi civilians under the ICC Act
• Sergeant Kelvin Stacey, 29 — Assault causing actual bodily harm, alternatively common assault
• Major Michael Peebles, 35 Intelligence Corps — Negligently performing a duty by failing to ensure that miliary personnel under his effective control did not ill-treat Iraqi civilians
• Warrant Officer Mark Davies, 37, Miliary Intelligence Section — Neglecting to perform a duty by failing to take steps to ensure that Iraqi civilians were not ill-treated.
All men pleaded not guilty to all charges save that Cpl Payne admitted inhuman treatment of Iraqi civilians
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