2 British soldiers convicted of abuses

Men mistreated Iraqis caught looting at Basra aid camp they guarded

February 24, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - Two British soldiers were convicted yesterday of abusing Iraqi detainees in a case that was widely known as Britain's "Abu Ghraib."

A military jury of seven British officers convicted Lance Cpl. Mark Cooley of disgraceful conduct of a cruel kind for driving a forklift with a bound Iraqi dangling from its prongs and for pretending to punch a detainee.

Cpl. Daniel Kenyon, the most senior soldier involved, was found guilty of three charges: aiding another soldier in an assault on a detainee and failing to report both the forklift incident and that soldiers under his command had forced prisoners to simulate having sex.

A third soldier, Lance Cpl. Darren Larkin, who had been photographed standing in his boxer shorts atop a bound Iraqi detainee, previously pleaded guilty to assaulting a detainee.

Several other charges against the men, all members of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, were dropped during the five-week court-martial at a British base in Osnabrueck, Germany.

Ultimately, no British soldier was directly held accountable for sexually humiliating prisoners. The soldiers who forced the Iraqis to strip and perform sex poses were never identified, despite an investigation that lasted 20 months.

The three soldiers are to be sentenced tomorrow.

The incidents all took place in May 2003 during an operation to stop looters at a humanitarian aid depot, Camp Bread Basket, near the city of Basra in southern Iraq. The abuse came to light after a fusilier, Gary Bartlam, dropped off a roll of film for processing at a local shop in his home town in Staffordshire. The photos showed naked Iraqi detainees in humiliating sexual poses.

An employee, outraged over the photos, contacted police, and the authorities picked up the fusilier when he went to collect the photos. He was tried separately after he pleaded guilty and testified against the others. In exchange, the most serious charges against him were dropped.

The scandal came on the heels of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal involving mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American forces and provoked widespread public outrage and the condemnation of Prime Minister Tony Blair, among others.

The soldiers' commander, Maj. Dan Taylor, testified during the court-martial that the situation at Camp Bread Basket had become so chaotic from looting that desperate local residents were urging British troops to shoot the looters.

Taylor testified that he instead ordered his soldiers to "round up as many men as we could, work them for an hour or so, and then release them," according to a report by the British Press Association.

When asked by a prosecutor why he gave the order, Taylor replied: "In an effort to stop looting that was rife within the Bread Basket camp, and there did not appear to be any other way we could prevent that looting, short of doing what the locals wanted us to do, which was shoot people. I have to say what we did failed because, if anything, the looting got worse."

But Taylor, pressed by a defense lawyer, persistently denied that he had intended for any of his men to torment the Iraqi prisoners. He also denied that he was responsible for their actions in abusing the prisoners.

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