Robert Fisk: They might call them 'bad apples', but for me, it's all rotten to the core


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The Independent Online

It was Baha Mousa's dad I will remember. On an oppressively hot day in Basra, Daoud Mousa (pictured) spoke of his son's death, telling me how the boy's wife had died of cancer six months earlier, how Baha's children were now orphans, how – not long after the British Army had arrested Baha Mousa and beaten him to death, for that is what happened – a British officer had come to his home, stared at the floor and offered cash to say sorry.

"What do you think I should do?" Daoud asked me. Get a lawyer, I said. Tell Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Let me write about it. When I called the British base at Basra airport, one officer laughed at me. "Call the Ministry of Defence," he said, dismissively. He didn't care.

I spent years in Belfast, hearing the same kind of arrogant, vicious, indifferent reaction to the Army's brutality. It was always the same. Terrorists. Terrorist propaganda. The extraordinary discipline of British squaddies under enormous pressure, etc. Then – when the evidence was too fresh, too overwhelming – I used to get what we would today call the "Abu Ghraib response" – a "few bad apples". Always a "few bad apples". Hundreds of thousands of fine British soldiers behaving with exemplary courage and courtesy, in danger of their lives 24 hours a day – you will read this stuff in the usual newspapers today. They were the real victims of these "bad apples". The actual victims – the 14 Catholic dead on Bloody Sunday in Derry, Baha Mousa in Basra – were the sub-victims who had somehow got in the way. They could be lied about. Where did all these "bad apples" and their complacent, complicit officers come from, I used to ask. I recall the day the Gloucestershire Regiment ran amok in Belfast, smashing all the downstairs windows of a Catholic street just before they returned to Britain. Untrue, of course. Terrorist propaganda. Then a "few bad apples". Was I on the side of the IRA? And so it went on. And on.

It wasn't the brutality that was "systematic". It was the lying.

Even Baha Mousa's arrest has never been truly investigated. Colonel Daoud Mousa – for Baha's father was a senior police officer, permitted by the British to carry a pistol, hardly the father of a terrorist – actually saw his boy after his arrest, lying under orders on the floor of the hotel in which he worked. The soldiers had found some weapons – normal in Basra, where almost every household contained guns – but what the British didn't want to talk about just then was that Baha had told his father that several British troops had stolen from the hotel safe. That, Colonel Mousa believed, was the real reason he was killed. Baha had been a snitch.

The British officer in the hotel had told the colonel that his son would be returned to him safe and sound. Bull***t, of course.

The 1st Battalion, The Queen's Lancashire Regiment saw to that.