Army: We let down Iraq troops

By Mark Townsend in The Grauniad:

Army: 'we let down Iraq troops'

Mark Townsend, defence correspondent
Sunday November 6, 2005
The Observer

Senior defence chiefs have admitted for the first time that they failed to look after soldiers at the centre of Iraq abuse allegations. Troops say the army left them hanging 'out to dry' once they had been accused.

As a result, Defence Secretary John Reid will unveil an 'action plan' this week offering a new support and counselling network for service people facing prosecution over claims that they abused Iraqi civilians. Drawn up by the Chief of the Defence Staff, general Sir Michael Walker, the scheme will seek to offer constant guidance for soldiers facing charges that can sometimes take more than two years to reach court.

Regiments will also be briefed on the workings of the military judicial system to demystify the complex legal arguments behind abuse cases. Welfare officers who have dealt with previous Iraq abuse allegations will help explain charges and the nature of investigations.

The move follows the acquittal at a court martial last week of seven paratroopers accused of murdering an Iraqi civilian. A senior defence source said: 'It is true that the army and the Ministry of Defence could have done things better. 'The Secretary of State appreciates that we needed to learn the lessons from this, and that it is a particularly testing time for soldiers.'

One of those cleared, Corporal Scott Evans, 32, spoke bitterly yesterday about the way he was treated by the army. He plans to leave it, claiming he even felt betrayed by the regiment he had regarded as a family. He lost more than a stone during his ordeal and claims all the accused had to wear green uniforms, and not their desert kit, making it clear they were under suspicion.

The revelation comes as concern rises among senior lawyers about how the army investigates allegations against its soldiers, and in particular the role of commanding officers who can decide if allegations require further investigation and whether a case should go to trial.

Although the MoD wants the COs 'at the heart of the military justice system' it is understood the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is not convinced of their ability to handle complex cases involving claims of sexual or physical abuse. The tension between the two is likely to intensify in the next few weeks ahead of the Armed Forces Bill which is expected to focus on changes to the military justice system, including the role of the COs. Experts believe the bill will transform the way future Iraq abuse cases are investigated.

Talks about the CO's role are going on between Goldsmith's office and MoD officials. One key aspect is whether civilian police should be brought in to oversee the investigations. The Attorney General has already intervened in one Iraq case by having the Metropolitan Police commandeer an investigation being carried out by the Military Police.

Defence officials, however, remain adamant that military police are best equipped to carry out problematic inquiries in hostile environments such as Iraq.

Chief among the concerns of the military judge, Jeff Blackett, who stopped last week's case against the paratroopers, was an 'inadequate' military investigation.

Goldsmith has expressed his frustration over the quality of initial investigations by the army into a number of Iraq abuse cases.

Classified documents obtained by The Observer last month revealed his long-standing concern over the quality of such inquiries. Goldsmith's views were aired in letters he wrote to the last Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon. It is understood Goldsmith's position has not altered. One letter from Goldsmith to Hoon even said: 'There is evidence which could be taken to show a concerted attempt by the chain of command to influence and prevent an investigation into this matter.' In that case, the Attorney General allowed the Met rather than the army to investigate the shooting of Sergeant Steven Roberts in Iraq. Roberts was killed while on patrol in the town of az-Zubayr, near Basra, without wearing protective body armour.
Too little, too late. The damage has been done, and morale has taken a knock accordingly.

How about actually fulfilling certain promises about 'duty of care', 'innocent until proven guilty' and other well-worn aphorisms?

Or is it that this government of mealy-mouthed hypocrites and back-stabbers only kowtow to criminals and anti-social elements - probably because they're the sorts of people they most closely resemble.

I also take issue with the byline claiming it is 'the Army' that has admitted fault and culpability - it isn't - it's more hot air and white noise from the lickspittle Reid - a civilian who vcould never cut it in a green (or sandy) baggy suit.
I am struck by the hypocrisy of the Attorney General's lack of confidence in COs dealing with inquiries, whilst his experience of military matters is, like so many of the government, nil.
Hm, I see a door bolted shut, but hark a horse galloping across the field!!!

The army is very well able to look after it's own, as long as civvies with agendas keep they're noses out.

The only reason why any of these cases was brought was to offer the soldiers up as examples that we are a fair and just nation. Like a member of this site has said already, if they don't get you killed, they'll do you for war crimes.
Why do you think that the sole occupation of our wonderful Members of Parliament is 'Barrister' / 'Solicitor'. You can count on the fingers of one foot how many aren't.

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