LONDON, (AP) — A former commanding officer of a British army unit has denied that he knew about allegations Iraqi prisoners were abused by troops under his command in 2003.
But Colonel Jorge Mendonca admitted responsibility for the death of an Iraqi civilian in his troops’ custody, telling the public inquiry into the incident Monday that as commander it was his duty.
Mendonca said that officers may have decided not to tell him about alleged abuse by his men in Basra, southern Iraq, preferring that he be “kept out of the loop.”
“There is, of course, the possibility that because I had, I think, a very clear reputation for doing things properly that some officers might have thought that was a reason for me to be kept out of the loop on things,” he said.
Allegations of abuse include an officer telling junior soldiers to beat up detainees, and an Iraqi prisoner being left with a broken wrist and concussion after being assaulted by British troops, the inquiry was told.
Mendonca admitted responsibility for the death of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, 26, who died on September 15, 2003.
Father-of-two Mousa died after 36 hours in British military custody, having suffered 93 separate injuries.
Asked Monday whether he was ultimately accountable for Mousa’s death, Mendonca said: “As the commanding officer of that unit, yes, I do accept that responsibility.”
Mendonca was cleared of charges relating to the case in February 2007 by a military court but left the army in anger at his treatment.
The officer also denied Monday that he had punched an Iraqi prisoner in the side of the face in front of more than 100 soldiers. A former member of the unit made the allegation to the inquiry last month.
But Mendonca said: “I was the commanding officer of the battalion and if I punched someone I would expect the battalion to be talking about it and the brigade commander would have found out.”
The inquiry has heard that 11 soldiers from the unit under Mendonca’s command have admitted assaulting Mousa and the Iraqis arrested with him, but only one has been convicted over the incident.
Corporal Donald Payne was dismissed from the army and sentenced to one year in a civilian jail after pleading guilty to the war crime of inhumane treatment in September 2006.
Britain provided the second largest contingent of troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, with a deployment that peaked at 46,000. Many of the troops were based in Basra.
It ended combat operations in Iraq in April 2009, when all but a handful of British soldiers started returning home.