10 November 2005 Edition

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Getting away with murder - again?

The court-martial of seven British paratroopers accused of murdering an Iraqi youth in May 2003 collapsed last Thursday when the British military judge ordered that charges be dropped and, controversially, accused Iraqi witnesses of lying and seeking "bloody money".

The case has once again aroused concerns that British soldiers who kill civilians in Iraq are being protected by the machinery of the British state, as they were protected over the past 30 years in the Six Counties. Similarly to the experience here, the British authorities have instead attacked those seeking justice for those killed or injured.

Judge Advocate Jeff Blackett, a former British naval officer, accepted submissions by defence teams for the soldiers that there was no case to answer over the beating to death of 18-year-old Nadhem Abdullah. He said he was dismissing the case on the grounds that there was no evidence of a "premeditated attack". This suggests that unpremeditated, but equally lethal attacks, on civilians are considered lesser offences or have a different status in law.

The court martial had heard the teenager was subjected to a vicious, and unprovoked, attack by the paratroopers when they entered the village of al-Ferkah, 60 miles north of Basra.

All seven men, Corporal Scott Evans, 32, and Privates Morne Vosloo, 26, Billy Nerney, 24, Daniel Harding, 25, Samuel May, 25, Roberto Di-Gregorio, 24, and Scott Jackson, 26, denied the charges.

In his ruling, dripping with colonial contempt, Blackett said that witness statements were "corporate recollections discussed by the family or tribe" and their evidence was "too inherently weak or vague for any sensible person to rely on it".

He added that: "In their own admission these Iraqis saw an opportunity to seek financial advantage from the British Army. They frequently spoke of fasil, or blood money, and compensation in relation to what were patently exaggerated claims."

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