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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 July 2005, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
Q&A: UK soldiers' Iraq charges
Baha Mousa with his family
Baha Mousa was a Basra hotel receptionist
Eleven British soldiers are facing courts martial over two separate incidents in which two Iraqi civilians died.

All eleven face criminal charges - some are accused of manslaughter - while three are also accused of war crimes.

The BBC's chief diplomatic correspondent, Paul Adams, answers some of the questions raised by the cases.

Why will the soldiers charged with war crimes not be tried at the International Criminal Court in the Hague?

Because the UK, having adopted the International Criminal Court Act into its law in 2001, has the right to conduct trials and courts martial through its own civil and military courts.

Only in a situation where the UK refuses to prosecute might the International Criminal Court chose to do the job itself.

Why has it taken so long to reach this stage?

These cases have taken a long time. It first became clear more than a year ago that members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR) were likely to face a court martial over the death in custody of Baha Mousa.

Part of the complication has been the question of whether or not the regiment's commanding officer, Col Jorge Mendonca, would face charges - and if so, what charges.

How has the Army reacted to the war crimes case?

Brigadier Geoffrey Sheldon, of the QLR, has expressed sorrow on behalf of the regiment at the death of Baha Mousa. He told the BBC he hoped this affair would soon be over, both for the regiment and for Baha Mousa's family.

The defence secretary, John Reid, said in a statement it was vital that "justice is allowed to take its course".

Responding to the suggestion that the 2001 ICC Act had altered the legal framework under which British soldiers operate, he said that "inhuman treatment of a person protected by the Geneva Conventions has been an offence under English law since 1957".

What are the broader implications of these prosecutions?

The introduction of the 2001 Act is, in some sense, a technicality as it doesn't change the nature of the charges, or the possible sentence if found guilty.

But the term "war crime" carries with it all sorts of historical baggage, including echoes of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia and the search for such men as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

It's these associations that cause unease in the military, where officers describe the term "war crime" as unnecessarily emotive and ask what was wrong with the previous British legislation.

But the fact remains that the alleged offences are crimes committed in a time of war, so it's hard to argue with the term - whatever its current connotations.

Are there any other similar ongoing investigations?

Yes. The Army Prosecuting Authority is still investigating a number of other cases, and at least one other case is due to come before a court martial in the autumn.

Would the prosecutions have been initiated before the International Criminal Court Act?

Yes, for the reasons explained above.




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