“Serious and gratuitous” violence by British soldiers caused the death of an Iraqi hotel worker and injuries to nine other innocent civilians, a landmark public inquiry ruled yesterday.
Baha Mousa, 26, a widower and father of two, died after enduring 93 separate injuries as a result of being kicked, punched and restrained by soldiers in Basra in September 2003.
He was one of 10 innocent men rounded up as suspected insurgents after weapons were found in the hotel at which seven of them worked. In addition to the assaults and humiliation, which began almost upon arrest, soldiers from the 1st Battalion Queen’s Lancashire Regiment subjected the men to painful and inhumane interrogation techniques that had been banned for more than 30 years.
The three-year public inquiry concluded that the “unjustified and wholly unacceptable” use of hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, extreme noise and minimal food and water which contributed to Mousa’s death were routinely used against suspected insurgents by the 1QLR in Iraq. The Ministry of Defence was found culpable of corporate and systemic failings because information about the banned techniques had been “lost” which meant it was left out from all Army guidelines and training.
The MoD was also criticised for making inaccurate and misleading statements about the use of hooding and other interrogation techniques.
Four soldiers were singled out by Sir William Gage, the inquiry chairman, as those who “bear a heavy responsibility” for the “shameful events” that took place between September 14 and 16, 2003. This includes Corporal Donald Payne, who orchestrated the assaults and is the only soldier to have been punished for his actions after admitting to inhumane treatment of Mousa in the 2006 court martial. It lambasts Colonel Jorge Mendonca, the commanding officer, who “ought to have known what was going on in that building long before Baha Mousa died”, according to Gage. Mendonca and six others were acquitted by the same court martial of all charges.
The damning findings will add to pressure on the Government to order a much wider independent inquiry into allegations of torture and abuse by British armed forces during the Iraq conflict. The Government is currently facing several legal challenges on the behalf of hundreds of alleged Iraqi victims which could force it to hold public inquiries in order to investigate the actions of British armed forces between 2003 and 2009.
Lawyers representing the nine surviving victims and Mousa’s father yesterday said the 2006 court martial represented a “profound injustice”, and called for civil and military prosecutors to study the report, which runs to 1400 pages, and ensure justice is done.
Nineteen soldiers are named as responsible for assaults. Three out of the 19 individuals were senior non-commissioned officers. The soldiers were guaranteed immunity from their own evidence but could be charged using the evidence of others.
General Sir Peter Wall, head of the British Army, said the death of Mousa “cast a dark shadow” over the Army’s reputation. Sir Peter has been asked by Defence Secretary Liam Fox to consider what action could be taken against those still serving.