Tuesday, 14 September 2010


Said Shabram, who drowned after British soldiers allegedly pushed him from
a jetty into the Shatt al-Arab waterway near Basra.

British servicemen suspected of murdering Iraqi civilians

Soldiers and airmen are suspected of killing significant number of
civilians, but have not been put on trial

Sunday 12 September 2010

Said Shabram, who drowned after British soldiers allegedly pushed him
from a jetty into the Shatt al-Arab waterway near Basra. British
soldiers and airmen are suspected of being responsible for the murder
and manslaughter of a number of Iraqi civilians in addition to the
high-profile case of Baha Mousa, defence officials have admitted.

The victims include a man who was allegedly kicked to death on board
an RAF helicopter, another who was shot by a soldier of the Black
Watch after being involved in a traffic incident, and a 19-year-old
who drowned after allegedly being pushed into a river by soldiers
serving with the Royal Engineers.

Military police recommended that some of the alleged killers be put
on trial for murder and manslaughter, but military prosecutors
declined to do so after concluding that there was no realistic
prospect of convictions. The Ministry of Defence and the Service
Prosecuting Authority (SPA) have repeatedly declined to offer
detailed explanations for those decisions. The MoD has also been
reluctant to offer anything other than sketchy details of some of the

In the case of the man said to have been kicked to death aboard an
RAF helicopter by troops of the RAF Regiment, the MoD has admitted
that the allegation was investigated by RAF police, who decided not
to conduct any postmortem examination of the body. After the case was
referred to the RAF's most senior prosecutor, a decision was taken
not to bring charges, apparently because the cause of death remained
unknown. MoD officials are refusing to say whether any of the alleged
killers were ever interviewed as part of the investigation. They did
admit, however, that the British military has made no attempt to
contact the man's family since his death.

The disclosure that British servicemen are suspected of being
involved in the unlawful killing of a significant number of Iraqi
civilians comes after the high court gave permission for a judicial
review of the MoD's failure to establish a public inquiry into the
British military's entire detention policy in the wake of the 2003

An army investigation into a number of cases – including that of
Mousa, who was tortured to death by British troops – conceded in 2008
that they were a cause for "professional humility", but concluded
that there was nothing endemic about the mistreatment.

In July, however, after reviewing evidence submitted by lawyers
representing 102 survivors of British military detention facilities,
the high court ruled: "There is an arguable case that the alleged
ill-treatment was systemic, and not just at the whim of individual
soldiers." The court also cast doubt on the ability of military
police to conduct independent investigations.

The abuse documented by a team of lawyers led by Birmingham solicitor
Phil Shiner includes 59 allegations of detainees being hooded, 11 of
electric shocks, 122 of sound deprivation through the use of ear
muffs, 52 of sleep deprivation, 131 of sight deprivation using
blackened goggles, 39 of enforced nakedness and 18 allegations that
detainees were kept awake by pornographic DVDs played on laptops.

The incidents which led to British servicemen being suspected of
murder or manslaughter came shortly after the invasion, at a time of
growing chaos and lawlessness in Iraq.

The RAF case concerns the death of a man called Tanik Mahmud, who was
detained at a checkpoint at Ramadi in western Iraq on 11 April 2003
for reasons that the MoD has repeatedly declined to disclose. He and
a number of other detainees were put aboard a Chinook helicopter, and
guarded by three men from the 2nd Squadron of the RAF Regiment.

The MoD says that Mahmud "sustained a fatal injury" while on board
the aircraft, but maintains that it does not know what sort of injury
this was. On the Chinook's arrival at a US air base, Mahmud's body
was examined by a US military doctor, who declared the cause of death
to be unknown.

The MoD says that an RAF police investigation was opened two months
later following a complaint that the three men from the RAF Regiment
"had kicked, punched or otherwise assaulted" Mahmud. According to the
MoD's account, the RAF investigators waited a further 10 months
before asking a pathologist whether it was worth conducting a
postmortem examination. According to the RAF investigators, this
pathologist advised them that Mahmud's body would be too decomposed
for an examination to be worthwhile. The MoD would not say whether
the pathologist was an RAF officer.

That view is disputed by an experienced forensic pathologist, who has
told the Guardian that an examination could still reveal evidence of
an assault, particularly if any ribs or facial bones had been
damaged. Derrick Pounder, professor of forensic medicine at the
University of Dundee, who has experience of exhumations and
postmortems in the Middle East, said: "That advice would be contrary
to the advice that any UK forensic scientist would offer to any
police in the UK who were investigating an allegation of assault
leading to death." When the Guardian asked the MoD if it could see a
copy of the pathologist's advice that it says the RAF police
received, a spokesman said no copy could be found in its files.

Three weeks after Mahmud was killed, a man called Ather Karim Khalaf,
a newlywed aged 24, was shot dead, allegedly after the door of his
car swung open at a checkpoint and struck a soldier of the Black
Watch. An eyewitness has told the Guardian that after being shot at
close range Karim Khalaf was dragged from the car and beaten. He died
later in hospital. The MoD confirmed that Karim Khalaf had been
sitting at the wheel of his car when he was shot, and that witnesses
have complained that he was then taken from the vehicle and beaten. A
spokesman said the Royal Military Police (RMP) recommended that the
soldier be prosecuted for murder, but military prosecutors declined
to do so.

Four weeks after Karim Khalaf was shot dead, Said Shabram, 19,
drowned after British soldiers allegedly pushed him and another man,
Munaam Bali Akaili, from a four-metre-high jetty into the Shatt
al-Arab waterway near Basra.

In a statement that Akaili made during a claim for compensation, he
described the moments before his friend died. "The soldier with the
gun then started pushing us towards the edge of the jetty," he said.
"Said and I were very afraid and started begging the soldier to stop.
The soldier continued to push us towards the edge. He seemed to get
agitated that we would not jump in and, at one point, I thought he
was getting so angry he would shoot us. The soldiers were laughing.
The soldier with the gun suddenly pushed us into the water."

Akaili was dragged from the water by passersby. Shabram's body was
recovered after his family hired a diver to search the water. An MoD
spokesman said the three Royal Engineers were reported by the RMP for
manslaughter, but military prosecutors declined to bring charges.

The MoD evaded a series of questions about prosecution decisions in
these cases for more than three months, before deciding they should
be addressed by the Service Prosecuting Authority, which was formed
last year from the merger of the armed services' prosecuting bodies.

Brigadier Philip McEvoy, deputy director of the SPA, said the name
Ather Karim Khalaf meant nothing to him; when asked how many cases
there could be in which military police had recommended a soldier be
prosecuted for murder, he replied: "God knows."

McEvoy also said he knew little about the Tanik Mahmud case because
the file had been retained by the RAF's directorate of legal
services. He then maintained that he had no idea where that
directorate was based.

McEvoy issued a statement in which he said there had been too little
evidence to justify a prosecution in the Mahmud or Shabram cases. He
added that "the presumption of innocence can only be undermined" if
the SPA were to release information allowing the public to determine
why an individual had fallen under suspicion.

A small number of soldiers alleged to have killed Iraqi civilians
have faced prosecution.

A court martial cleared four soldiers who were accused of the
manslaughter of a 15-year-old, Ahmed Jabbar Kareem, who drowned after
he was allegedly pushed into a canal in Basra two weeks before the
death of Shabram. The court heard that British troops had a policy of
"wetting" suspected looters by forcing them into canals and rivers.

In a separate case, seven soldiers were cleared of the murder of
another Iraqi teenager, Nadhem Abdullah, after a judge ruled that
there was insufficient evidence.

Six soldiers were cleared of the abuse of Baha Mousa. A seventh
pleaded guilty to inhumane treatment and was jailed for a year.

In a number of other cases in which Iraqi civilians have died in
British military custody, the RMP has not recommended criminal
charges. These include the case of Abdul Jabbar Musa Ali, a
headteacher aged 55, who was detained by soldiers of the Black Watch,
along with his son, after a number of firearms were found at their
home. Both men are alleged to have been beaten as they were being
detained, and the MoD concedes that "there is some corroborative
witness evidence to support allegations that they were assaulted"
when arrested.

In a statement that Musa Ali's son has given to lawyers, he said his
father was subsequently kept hooded and beaten repeatedly for several
hours, and that his screaming abruptly stopped. When his family
retrieved his body it was said to have been extensively bruised. The
MoD said it was not possible to establish whether a crime had been
committed because the family refused permission for an exhumation.

Another man died five days earlier after being detained by soldiers
of the Black Watch, apparently at the same detention centre. His
corpse was taken to a local hospital where his death was recorded as
being the result of cardiac arrest. The MoD admits that this
recording was made by a man with no medical qualifications. "The RMP
subsequently investigated and established that no crime had been
committed," the MoD said.

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