An inquiry into the killing of an Iraqi hotel worker, twenty six year old Baha Mousa, has heard he was arrested along with a number of other civilians by soldiers of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment in Basra in 2003. It is a horrible and devastating story which should bring tears to the eyes of anyone reading it, tears of shame and humiliation at what was done to him in our name.
These Iraqi civilians were subjected to brutal and vicious abuse from British troops, were subjected to sensory deprivation techniques, kicked and beaten repeatedly. The inquiry saw video footage of hooded and bound prisoners being beaten and abused by Corporal Donald Payne of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment. In his opening address to the inquiry, Rabinder Singh QC, representing Mr Mousa’s family, said:
Baha was a human being, yet to his guards he was known as “fat boy” or “fat bastard”.
Mr Mousa’s father is a colonel in the Iraqi police. While being tortured for 36 hours on the floor of a filthy toilet at a holding facility, Baha Mousa was heard to scream for respite, and say he thought he would die. Mr Singh read out the statement of another detainee, describing what were Mr Mousa’s last moments on the evening of the second day:
I heard Baha Mousa screaming, “Oh my God, I’m going to die, I’m going to die. Leave me alone. Please leave me alone for five minutes”.
After he had been tortured to death, Mousa’s body was released. He had suffered 93 separate injuries. Neither Mousa nor any other of the civilians detained had been tried or convicted of anything. He had recently lost his young wife to cancer and had been left working in a war zone with two motherless, and now fatherless, children.
Solicitor for the detainees Phil Shiner said the responsibility for Mr Mousa’s death rested at the highest level. He said the inquiry must establish:
How it came about that senior politicians, civil servants, lawyers and senior military personnel knew—or ought to have known—that British soldiers and interrogators were using coercive interrogation techniques in Iraq and thought these were permittable and lawful.
The use of hooding and other torture techniques were banned under the Geneva Convention, and outlawed by the UK Conservative Heath government, in 1972, following the use of sensory deprivation techniques during internment in Northern Ireland. Mr Singh wondered whether the use of these techniques had ever ceased:
In 2003, the so-called “conditioning” techniques were used in Iraq on civilians in the name of the people of Britain. Stress positions, hooding, sleep deprivation, food deprivation and noise all came back. Perhaps they never went away.
It is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that this case was simply one of indiscipline. This case is not just about beatings or a few bad apples. There is something rotten in the whole barrel.
For the abuse and murder of Baha Mousa and the indignities and outrages perpetrated on countless numbers of Iraqi victims, only one man has been found guilty of war crimes and that man, the only one who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to only a year in prison and dismissed from the service. Defence Secretary, Des Browne, admitted “substantive breaches” of parts of the European Convention on Human Rights that protect the right to life and prohibit torture, still no one in the army’s hierarchy has been identified as responsible and punished, though the Ministry of Defence agreed to pay out £2.83 million to those who were mistreated, accepting some culpability.
The Baha Mousa inquiry may provide some answers to what went wrong in the army’s chain of command. It may expose ignoble and immoral conduct among British soldiers, including senior officers, in wartime. And all three of the major parties supported the war. Though the Liberals made a token protest, it was not enough to exonerate them. The British public ought to recognize that politicians from all parties carry the guilt of the wounding and deaths of myriads of Iraqis.
But the army’s political masters, the Blair-Brown neo-Nazi concoction called the New Labour government, remain in power, the personal guilt of ministers unacknowledged, their draconian laws still on the statute book, and their own crimes still unpunished. We need to remove these criminals from office, and to send them to the law courts for judgement. We are supposed to know, from our experience of Naziism that military might ought not be used to achieve political objectives.