Hearings into Iraqi's death in British custody near end

19th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

A former senior British army officer's evidence to an inquiry probing the death of an Iraqi man in custody in 2003 was questioned by lawyers Monday as hearings draw near to a conclusion.

Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel receptionist, died in September 2003 after 36 hours in British military custody, having suffered 93 separate injuries.

The inquiry has previously heard evidence that British soldiers used banned conditioning techniques on Iraqis in custody, including hooding, sleep deprivation and forcing them to stand in stress positions.

Colonel Jorge Mendonca, ex-commanding officer of 1st Battalion the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, told the probe earlier this year he saw nothing unusual when he visited Mousa and several others after they were arrested in Basra, southern Iraq.

But lawyer Rabinder Singh, representing Mousa's family and several others, questioned whether he had been to see him as closing submissions got under way.

"There is reason to doubt, frankly, his evidence to this inquiry," Singh said.

"Either of two conclusions may be possible. The first is that he has not told the full truth about what he saw because he must have seen a horrific scene and he should have done something about it.

"Or perhaps what happened was that he never went, as he claims to have done, and realised after the event that he should have done."

Singh agreed with the probe's chairman, Sir William Gage, that the second scenario was more likely.

Mendonca was cleared of negligently performing a duty after a court martial in 2007 but left the army shortly afterwards.

Five other soldiers were also cleared in the case but another admitted inhumane treatment, was jailed for a year and dismissed from the army.

Britain provided the second largest contingent of troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, with a deployment which peaked at 46,000.

It ended combat operations in Iraq in April 2009, when all but a handful of British soldiers started returning home.

Hearings in the inquiry, which got under way a year ago, are expected to conclude Thursday and the inquiry will report early next year.

© 2010 AFP

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