Thursday, July 21, 2005

War crimes and command responsibility

On 14th September 2003, British soldiers of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment raided a hotel in Basra and detained eight men after weapons were found. The men were hooded and handcuffed and taken to a former Mukhabarat torture centre once used by the notorious "Chemical Ali". There, they were subjected to sustained abuse and beating. One man, Kifah Taha, was beaten so badly he suffered renal failure and had to be hospitalised. Another, Baha Mousa, died.

Now seven British soldiers are facing charges in connection with the incident. One faces a charge of manslaughter in connection with the death. He and two others also face charges of inhumanely treating prisoners - a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. A fourth man faces assault charges. Most interestingly, their commanders all the way up the chain of command face charges of negligence for failing to properly oversee their men. As noted before, the British believe in command responsibility...

The charges against Col Jorge Mendonca, who initiated an investigation into Mousa's death, have reportedly angered the regiment. But command responsibility does not just apply to commanders who know of crimes and look the other way - it applies to commanders who should have known and who failed "to take the necessary and reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war". Col Mendonca is charged with negligence not because he condoned or abbetted the crimes, but because he did not know what was going on in his own command, and failed to impress upon his men the requirement that they act in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and British military law at all times. His behaviour since discovering the crimes may have been exemplary, but it is only proper that the question of his former negligence be tested in a court.