The Army 'approved abuse of
By Michael Evans, Defence Editor
Times" -- -- THE Army’s high command was
accused last night of officially sanctioning the hooding and
mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in direct contravention of
the Geneva Convention.
The claims were made by a witness in the court martial of
seven soldiers charged in relation to the abuse and
ill-treatment of nine Iraqis in Basra in 2003.
Major Antony Royce, called as a witness by the judge in the
case, told the court that he was instructed by those higher
up the chain of command in Basra to use “conditioning
techniques”, including putting prisoners in stress positions
and hooding them, to prepare detainees for tactical
He said that the advice had come from a senior army legal
adviser. Such techniques are against both the Geneva
Convention and the Army’s own rules of engagement.
Major Royce told the court that, after being put in charge
of internment, he was told by Major Mark Robinson, a brigade
intelligence adviser, to “condition” prisoners. Fearing that
this might contravene prisoner-handling tuition he had
received in Britain, Major Royce said that he then checked
with Major Russel Clifton, the brigade’s legal adviser, and
was again told that “ conditioning” and hooding were
“He [Robinson] instructed me to use conditioning as part of
the tactical questioning process,” he said. “I then
contacted Major Clifton to make sure that what I had been
told was right.”
Julian Bevan, QC, for the prosecution, put it to Major Royce
that both men deny having said that conditioning was
acceptable. Of Major Robinson, Major Royce replied: “But he
did [say so].” And of Major Clifton he countered: “Yes, he
He added: “They washed their hands of it, and left us to
Major Royce, formerly The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment’s
internment review officer, said that Colonel Jorge Mendonca,
the former commanding officer of the QLR who is one of the
soldiers on trial, had himself seen the Iraqi prisoners
being “conditioned” at the regiment’s detention centre. “He
asked why it was taking place,” Major Royce said. “I
explained that I had cleared it with the chain of command.
He was happy that the chain of command and legal advisers
had given us that clearance.”
Five members of The QLR and two from the Intelligence Corps
are on trial. One of the prisoners, Baha Musa, died after 36
hours of being hooded, handcuffed, beaten and deprived of
The accusations against the British soldiers have alarming
parallels with the abuse by some US troops of Iraqi
prisoners, notably at the infamous Abu Ghraib detention
centre in Baghdad.
A senior British army officer is investigating whether there
was any evidence of widespread systemic abuse of Iraqi
prisoners in Britain’s area of responsibility in southern
Brigadier Robert Aitken, director of army personnel
strategy, has been examining the conduct and reputation of
officers and soldiers from May 1, 2003, to the end of that
year, when many accusations were levelled. His report to
army chiefs is due to be handed over after the end of the
court martial of the seven soldiers.
The trial, which has been running at Bulford Camp in
Wiltshire for eight weeks, will not be completed until the
Colonel Mendonca has pleaded not guilty to the charge of
negligently performing a duty by failing to ensure that the
Iraqi civilian prisoners under his authority were not
ill-treated. Three of his soldiers are charged with a war
crime of inhumane treatment of prisoners.
The trial has already heard that hooding prisoners was
banned by a government directive as far back as 1972 after
accusations of abuse of suspected Irish terrorists in a
Northern Ireland detention centre.
Under cross-examination, Major Royce said that it would have
been “complete madness” for him to have told Colonel
Mendonca that conditioning of prisoners was cleared legally
if it had not been the case.
Corporal Donald Payne, 35, has pleaded guilty to inhumanely
treating the detainees. He has denied two further charges of
the manslaughter of Mr Musa and perverting the course of
The six other defendants have pleaded not guilty to all
charges. The trial, before a “jury” panel of senior military
officers, continues on Monday.
The Geneva Convention on handling prisoners bans:
Physical and mental torture
Humiliating and degrading treatment
Outrages upon personal dignity
Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.