More stories and revelations are surfacing every day about the alleged torture of prisoners by British service people in Iraq. Former corporal Donald Payne of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (QLR) has already been convictedÂ of these offences (actually he was the first ever) and has now claimed that every member of his unit had been involved in prisoner abuse. He says he did not come forward with this information when interviewed in 2003/2004 out of misguided loyalty to his service friends.
He now freely admits that he used excess violence as did all the other service people around him. On 15th September 2003 hotel receptionist Baha Mousa died in the custody of the QLR after suffering 93 injuries. The injuries included fractured ribs and a broken nose. Payne and his ex comrades in arms are now involved in a bitter argument over blame and involvement. At the time the presiding judge, Mr Justice McKinnon said "none of those soldiers has been charged with any offence, simply because there is no evidence against them as a result of a more or less obvious closing of ranks." Senior officers and NCOs were subsequently cleared.
How sad that these men were put in this position. Sent to fight a questionable war they should arguably not have been there. However they were and should have conducted themselves accordingly, so goes the pronouncement through the perfect vision of hindsight. Payne now claims to have seen the then CO, Lt Col Jorge Mendonca and ex Lt Rodgers also engaging in prisoner abuse. If this is true then Payne does have some defence for his actions in that he thought this behaviour sanctioned by his seniors. He was however in his early thirties at the time so should have had the maturity to have been more able to control himself than a younger soldier.
What it does highlight though is the need for proper prisoner handling training for our soldiers. Just because they are soldiers does not mean they are instantly qualified at guarding prisoners. This seems to have received scant recognition as a cause for these types of events. With proper training would have come proper organisation and clear accountability. But this may be an expense the MOD would rather not have to incur.
One thing we should always remember though is that no-one is perfect. That includes nurses, doctors, policemen and soldiers. Of all of these soldiers may be the ones at the greatest moral risk. We must ensure they get the leadership in their tasks that they deserve and the country requires.