Duncan Aston tells al-Sweady public inquiry how sergeant stamped on head of dead Iraqi after firefight in Iraq in 2004
A British soldier engaged in a fierce gunfight in Iraq described on Wednesday how his colleagues punched and kicked a prisoner and stamped on the head of a dead Iraqi, and how he saw his sergeant empty a full magazine into the "twitching" bodies of fatally wounded insurgents.
He described the actions of the sergeant as "a bit sick and degrading".
Duncan Aston, a soldier in the 2nd Battalion of Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, gave a graphic description of what came to be known as the Battle of Danny Boy, a British checkpoint in southeast Iraq, in May 2004.
In evidence to the al-Sweady inquiry into the incident – named after one of the alleged victims of abuse by British soldiers – he said two soldiers, Privates Steven Wells and Scott Barlow – punched and kicked an Iraqi on "different parts of his body, including his face, shins and ribs". However, he said it was not hard enough to cause him serious injury.
He said he saw Wells enter a ditch where one of the dead Iraqis lay. "Pte Wells stamped on his head two or three times and screamed and shouted. I thought he was letting some anger go after the firefight." Aston added: "What I saw shocked me."
He told the inquiry that he later saw twitching bodies. "I assumed because they were twitching this meant that there must be some life there. One of them had his eyes open which were just staring straight ahead without moving. There was also a squelching sound from his chest where he had a major open wound from being shot."
Aston, the first British soldier at the inquiry to accuse his colleagues of abuse, added: "I had never seen anyone dead before and do not know whether in fact they were dead but I wouldn't describe them as alive either in the sense that to me they looked past the point of first aid and drifting somewhere between life and death."
He continued: "Having thought about it since, I believe they were probably close to death if not dead already. It was a very unpleasant sight."
Aston told the inquiry that Kelly asked to borrow his SA80 automatic rifle after angrily throwing it on the floor because it did not fire.
"He put a full magazine of bullets into both bodies that had been twitching but he also fired into the bodies of the other dead gunmen in the ditch. The bodies of the two twitching gunmen stopped twitching."
Describing the intense gunfight – for many of the young soldiers it was their first experience of being shot at – Aston said at one point in his evidence to the inquiry in London: "I was crapping myself to be fair." After he returned to Britain he discussed the incident involving Kelly with his colleagues. "For all I knew", he said in a witness statement to the inquiry, the Iraqis in the ditch "may well have been dead already but they were certainly going to die given the horrendous wounds to their chests where blood was squelching in and out of their chests. My thoughts therefore were that what he [Kelly] had done was a bit sick and degrading but not something worse."
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