Iraqi died after 'gratuitous violence' by UK soldiers: probe

8th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

An Iraqi civilian who died in British custody in Basra in 2003 suffered "serious gratuitous violence" at the hands of British soldiers, an independent inquiry found Thursday.

Hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, 26, was hooded, assaulted and held in stress positions along with nine other Iraqi detainees following their detention by 1st Battalion the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (1QLR), it said.

The inquiry chaired by a retired judge found numerous soldiers were involved in the abuse in September 2003 and accused others of a "lack of moral courage" in failing to report what was happening.

It also said the Ministry of Defence was guilty of a "corporate failure" to prevent such abuse, saying it had no proper doctrine on interrogation methods at the time of the British and US invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox described the events detailed as "deplorable, shocking and shameful", saying there were no excuses.

Lawyers representing Mousa's family called for the soldiers responsible to face prosecution, after all but one were cleared in a court martial in 2006-07.

"In light of the cogent and serious findings by Sir William Gage, we now expect that the military and civilian prosecuting authorities of this country will act to ensure that justice is done," said Sapna Malik of Leigh Day and Co.

Mousa, a father of two, died about 36 hours after being detained, after sustaining 93 separate injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose.

The inquiry found his death was caused by a combination of his injuries -- some of which were sustained during a final violent assault by one soldier, Donald Payne -- and his weakened physical state due to his detention.

Mousa and the other Iraqi detainees were hooded, handcuffed and held in stress positions, and they were also subjected to a "dreadful catalogue of unjustified and brutal violence" by Payne, the inquiry said.

This included a "particularly unpleasant" method of assault which included punching or kicking detainees to make them groan in an orchestrated "choir", according to inquiry chairman William Gage, a retired judge.

Payne pleaded guilty during a court martial to inhumanely treating civilians, becoming the first member of the British armed forces to be convicted of a war crime. Six others accused over the abuse were cleared.

Although the use of hooding and painful stress positions were banned by the British government in 1972, Gage found a lack of knowledge of this prohibition, which he blamed on "corporate failure" by the Ministry of Defence.

The inquiry chairman said such practices were "standard operating procedure" among Payne's regiment in Iraq, but said they were "wholly unacceptable".

Gage concluded that the abuse "constituted an appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence on civilians which resulted in the death of one man and injuries of others".

"They represent a very serious breach of discipline by a number of members of 1QLR," he continued, adding that the events were "a very great stain on the reputation of the army".

The inquiry strongly criticised 1QLR's former commanding officer, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, one of those cleared at the court martial.

While accepting his claim that he did not know about the abuse of Mousa and the other detainees, Gage said: "As commanding officer, he ought to have known what was going on in that building long before Baha Mousa died."

He added: "Several officers must have been aware of at least some of the abuse. A large number of soldiers, including all those who took part in guard duty, also failed to intervene to stop the abuse or report it up the chain of command."

"My findings raise a significant concern about the loss of discipline and lack of moral courage to report abuse within 1QLR."

© 2011 AFP

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