British Army officers stripped of veto powers over Iraq abuse cases

By Severin Carrell

The Independent

25 July 2004

Ministers have stripped Army commanders in Iraq of their power to veto criminal investigation of their troops after a string of cases alleging mistreatment of Iraqis.

The Independent on Sunday has also learnt that the Ministry of Defence is overhauling the controversial system of paying compensation to aggrieved Iraqis for alleged ill-treatment, deaths and damage to property. An MoD document seen by the IoS reveals that ministers have ordered a major review of the way unlawful killings and alleged abuses by British troops are investigated, as part of a wider review of armed forces procedures.

It could see a complete ban on the right of regimental commanders to stop the military police and Army Prosecuting Authority from charging soldiers. The change has already been made in Iraq, where responsibility for ordering a criminal inquiry was secretly passed in February to the Army's most senior officers.

The move follows the refusal of a commanding officer to let Army prosecutors charge a soldier for the alleged killing of an Iraqi called Hassan Abbad Said. Ministers were forced to ask the Crown Prosecution Service and Metropolitan Police to take over the investigation. The case is one of at least 13 alleged incidents of misconduct now close to going to trial.

This week the most controversial of these cases - the alleged murder of the hotel receptionist Baha Mousa by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment last September - will come before a British court for the first time.

Mr Mousa's death, first revealed by the IoS in January, will be at the centre of allegations in the High Court that the MoD has broken the Human Rights Act by failing to prevent the deaths and abuse of 29 Iraqi civilians by British troops, and failed to carry out independent investigations into these cases.