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U.K. soldier: Troops kicked and punched Iraqis

A British soldier convicted of a war crime says some troops in Iraq frequently punched and kicked prisoners.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A British soldier convicted of a war crime said Monday some troops in Iraq frequently punched and kicked prisoners.

Former Cpl. Donald Payne, who was jailed for a year in the death of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa and is now free, said that he had downplayed some of the abuses allegedly committed by his unit out of a sense of "misguided loyalty."

Mousa was held by British forces in the southern Iraq city of Basra and died of more than 96 separate injuries in 2003.

Payne's testimony at a public inquiry into Mousa's death comes in the wake of Britain's Ministry of Defense saying Saturday it was investigating 33 allegations of rape and abuse against British soldiers — male and female — who were stationed in Iraq.

Payne said he saw several soldiers, including unit leader Lt. Craig Rodgers, kick and punch the detainees in September 2003.

First convicted war criminal
Payne became Britain's first convicted war criminal during a court martial hearing that began in 2006 and ended a year later. Payne was on trial with six other soldiers, who were all cleared due to a lack of evidence.

He now admits he didn't disclose some of the worst abuses as he knew they would harm the reputation of his regiment and the British army.

"After prolonged consideration and after discussions with members of my legal team, I now realize this has amounted to misguided loyalty," he said in a written statement given to lawyers at the inquiry.

"The degree of force I applied (to the prisoners) was greater than I have so far admitted," he said, adding that he had "seen each one (soldier), including Lt. Rodgers, forcefully kick and or punch the detainees."

Payne was later questioned at the inquiry by lawyer Gerard Elias, who asked if Payne used gratuitous violence against the prisoners. Payne replied, "Yes."

Payne also said Rodgers had pretended to set a young boy alight by placing a can of petrol in front of him and lighting a match.

Rodgers, who has since left the army, said in a statement he did not hit, punch or physically assault any of the detainees.

Judge Jeff Blackett and Judge Stuart McKinnon, who presided over Payne's court martial, ordered the press not to show images of Payne's face or publish any details about his job, address or family. They said the restrictions were put in place because of security risks associated with anyone who might be perceived to have taken part in operations in Iraq.

The reporting restrictions still apply in the current inquiry into Mousa's death.

The British government set up the inquiry into the circumstances around Mousa's death in 2008. Witnesses have already told how British soldiers covered prisoners' heads with hoods and made them stand in uncomfortable positions.

Criminal or civil proceedings
The inquiry chairman, retired judge William Gage, can demand that criminal or civil proceedings begin against those involved.

The Ministry of Defense also said it will act on any recommendations Gage makes about the way the British army is trained.

Last week, the government announced that former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be publicly questioned about the Iraq war in another public inquiry to investigate what if any mistakes were made before and during the US-led operation.

The inquiry chairman John Chilcot released a longer list Monday of other officials who will also be called on to testify.

They include former British ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer and Peter Ricketts, former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advises the government on national security issues.