Britain's first war criminal jailed

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The first British serviceman ever to be convicted of war crimes has today been jailed for 12 months.

Corporal Donald Payne has been reduced to the ranks and dismissed from the army over the abuse he subjected Iraqi prisoners to in Basra four years ago.

Today's sentencing at a military court in Wiltshire follows his guilty plea last September to charges that he inhumanely treated people protected under the Geneva Conventions.

One of the Iraqi civilians abused at a hotel in Basra, Baha Musa, died during the detainment after suffering asphyxiation and 93 separate injuries.

Six other British soldiers have already been cleared by military courts in relation to Mr Musa's death.

Colonel Jorge Mendonca, among those cleared earlier this year, is the highest ranking UK soldier to ever be prosecuted for war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act 2001.

The head of the British army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, today reflected that the trial of Cpl Payne had shed light on many "uncomfortable facts".

"Those facts concern me and all those who are involved in sustaining the operational effectiveness of the army, and consequently its reputation," said the chief of general staff.

"The facts are that a number of civilians were arrested by the army on September 14th 2003 and detained in our custody.

"One of them, Mr Baha Musa, died after being held in army detention; post mortem examination show that he had suffered asphyxiation and some 93 injuries to his body.

"Others held in our detention centre at that time suffered similar treatment."

In a statement Gen Dannatt insisted that it had always been the policy of the British army that military personnel were left in "no doubt" about their duty to the law.

But he went on to say: "This was not a case of misjudgment in the heat of battle or the heat of the moment.

"Nobody who knows anything about the facts has ever suggested that it was.

"Credible allegations of serious wrongdoing have to be investigated and, where evidence is independently assessed as justifying a prosecution, the principled application of a robust, fair and efficient system of military justice must follow.

"Discipline and the rule of law are core to everything we do, and are not optional extras appended to the functions of our armed forces," Gen Dannatt continued.

"They are vital for command and operational effectiveness, as well as underpinning the very essence of our values and standards."

And the general added that the conclusion of Cpl Payne's trial did not mean the case was closed, as a court is yet to determine who was responsible for Mr Musa's death.

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