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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 17:32 GMT
Colonel considered a rising star
Col Jorge Mendonca
Col Mendonca was called "the best commanding officer by some way"
With his exemplary service record and reputation for leadership, Colonel Jorge Mendonca was considered one of the British army's rising stars.

He was also the highest-ranking British serviceman to face court martial - in a case about alleged abuse of Iraqi civilians.

He was cleared of a charge of negligently performing a duty.

Col Mendonca won the Distinguished Service Order for the gallantry he had shown while commanding troops in Basra.

But the 43-year-old former commander of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment saw his career stall when he was accused of failing to ensure his men did not ill-treat Iraqi detainees in September 2003.

Although he was not present at 26-year-old hotel receptionist Baha Musa's death, he was charged.

They gave you a DSO and now they are charging you with war crimes
Louise Mendonca

Col Mendonca, who had been awarded the MBE as a young officer, knew the trial could mean the end of his service within the armed forces.

In November 2005, four months after the charges were brought, his wife, Louise, wrote to the Daily Telegraph about the couple's ordeal - she said she did this "for the sake of my sanity and my marriage".

She told of her frustration, adding: "At first I laughed, thinking it was a joke. But then I said, 'They gave you a DSO [Distinguished Service Order] and now they are charging you with war crimes'."

The protests which followed the charges forced Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to issue a statement denying the colonel was being made a political scapegoat.

Duty

When the case against him opened last September at Bulford, Wiltshire, he became the highest-ranking British military officer to face a court martial.

The prosecution insisted that the buck stopped with him.

Julian Bevan QC told the court martial: "As CO (commanding officer) he was responsible for the conduct of his soldiers and a CO had a duty to ensure that these detainees were not ill-treated."

However, other high-ranking officers described Col Mendonca as a conscientious and first-rate leader.

One witness, Hugh Eaton, a now-retired lieutenant colonel who was chief of staff of Mechanised Brigade in Basra in 2003, told the court: "He was the man universally considered as being the best commanding officer by some way."

Mr Justice McKinnon, sitting as judge advocate, instructed the jury to acquit the colonel. His reasoning for coming to this decision cannot yet be reported for legal reasons.






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