British soldier tells al-Sweady inquiry he cannot be sure Iraqis were abused

Mark Keegan, who has given detailed allegations about abuse by comrades in the past, says he is now not sure if it happened

A British soldier who made some of the most detailed allegations about alleged abuse by comrades in southern Iraq in May 2004 has told an inquiry into the incident that he now cannot recall whether any of it happened.

Mark Keegan, at the time a lance corporal in the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, told the long-running al-Sweady inquiry that he could no longer vouch for graphic allegations made to a BBC Panorama programme in 2008, or even for a witness statement to the inquiry given in January this year.

Keegan had described seeing a young Iraqi detainee, who was hooded with a sandbag, being repeatedly pushed face-down into a water-filled ditch, punched repeatedly in the head and being hit with a rifle butt.

But under cross-examination from Jonathan Acton Davis QC, the main counsel for the public inquiry, Keegan repeatedly said he did not remember what had happened as the alleged abuse had taken place after he was injured by a grenade and was thus disoriented. Large amounts of the Panorama interview had been “exaggerated”, he said.

Asked why he could seemingly recall the events so clearly as recently as January, but not now, Keegan said: “I have given so many accounts and statements about this over a long, long time that I don’t believe what is true and what is not.”

The inquiry into allegations that British soldiers killed 20 unarmed civilians and abused others detained after a battle with Shia insurgents north of Basra in 2004 opened in March. Named after the family of Hamid al-Sweady, an alleged victim aged 19, the inquiry was forced on the Ministry of Defence in 2009 after high court judges accused it of “lamentable” behaviour and serious breaches of its duty of candour over the claims.

Keegan, who left the army in 2007, had been expected to be a significant witness given his Panorama interview in which he described seeing a young Iraqi detainee suffer serious and sustained abuse following a bloody battle which began when Keegan’s patrol came under fire from guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Keegan told the programme he saw the young man “nearly get drowned” after British troops repeatedly knocked him into a water-filled ditch with his hands tied behind his back. He said of other abuse towards the same detainee: “All the blokes were running past and punching him in the head … I see him have massive rocks thrown at his head, and yeah, his face must have been pissing out with blood underneath that sandbag.”

In his January witness statement to the inquiry, Keegan said he might have exaggerated some of these incidents “to make them more interesting” for Panorama, but did recount seeing the detainee being hit with a rifle butt while being taken away in a Warrior armoured vehicle.

Asked about this incident, Keegan told the inquiry: “I can’t remember now.” Asked why his recollection had changed from …read more  

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