Iraqi man 'feared British soldiers would kill him'

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The Independent Online

Ahmad Taha Musa al-Matairi believed he was going to die as British soldiers beat him and laughed at his cries of pain, a court martial was told yesterday. The hotel owner was among nine suspected insurgents arrested in a raid on his Basra hotel and subjected to alleged "systematic abuse" during 36 hours of incarceration. One man, Baha Mousa, 26, died with 93 injuries to his body.

Seven men including the former commanding officer of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, now the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, Col Jorge Mendonca, 42, are on trial. Mr Matairi was the first prosecution witness to give evidence, claiming that from the start of his detention he was hooded and repeatedly beaten and kicked.

He said he felt betrayed at being ill-treated by troops that he had welcomed to Iraq after his brother was killed by Saddam Hussein's regime. "I put flowers in my children's hands to welcome the British soldiers when they came to free us from Saddam," he told the court with the aid of an interpreter. "I could not believe that these were criminals from Britain. According to our knowledge it was a civilised country so I could not believe it."

Coming face to face with his alleged attackers at Bulford Camp, Wiltshire, he said the soldiers guarding him celebrated the beatings, "like it was Christmas". They took bets, he said, on who could make him fall down.

It is alleged the nine Iraqis, arrested on 14 September 2003, were kept hooded, cuffed, deprived of sleep and beaten for failing to maintain stress positions - all pre-interrogation "conditioning" techniques the prosecution insisted are banned under international law. The hearing was told the prisoners were hit with iron bars, kicked, starved, and forced to drink their own urine. Mr Matairi told the court he feared his three children would end up fatherless. "We were hit all the time, continuously without knowing the reason why," he said. He warned staff at the hotel: "We are going to die". During interrogation by the British soldiers, he denied being a member of the Baath Party and insisted a cache of weapons found at the hotel was for protection. Nearby, he said, he could hear Mr Mousa's harrowing cries before he died. "His wife had cancer and had passed away six months earlier. He kept saying, 'my children are going to be orphans, I'm going to die, blood, blood.' The interpreter - helping the soldiers - was not interpreting that for him."

Tim Owen QC, for Cpl Donald Payne, the alleged leader of the abuse, insisted that Mr Matairi was "greatly exaggerating". He replied: "I told less than all that happened, maybe a quarter of all that happened."

Cpl Payne, 35, has admitted a charge of inhumanely treating civilians but pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.

His six co-defendants all pleaded not guilty to the charges facing them. L/Cpl Wayne Crowcroft, 22, and Pte Darren Fallon, 23, deny accusations of inhumane treatment. Sgt Kelvin Stacey, 29, denies assault occasioning actual bodily harm and an alternative count of common assault. Major Michael Peebles, 35, and Warrant Officer Mark Davies, 37, both of the Intelligence Corps, each face a charge of negligently performing a duty, as does Col Mendonca.