Soldiers joked as they beat Iraqis, court told

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The Independent Online

A British court heard for the first time yesterday allegations that British soldiers beat to death an innocent Iraqi citizen and shot dead five others.

A British court heard for the first time yesterday allegations that British soldiers beat to death an innocent Iraqi citizen and shot dead five others.

The test case could have far-reaching implications for the discipline of the British Army operating in foreign territories and eventually lead to compensation claims from Iraqi civilians.

Rabinder Singh QC, counsel for the Iraqi families, told the High Court in London of the dying moments of Baha Mousa, 26, a hotel receptionist, who was arrested by soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment in September last year.

Reading from the witness statement of Kifah al-Mutari, Mr Singh described how seven Iraqi men were taken to a British Army detention centre at Darul Dhyafa in south-east Iraq and beaten on the neck, chest and genitals.

Mr Mutari, who claims he was nearly beaten to death by the same soldiers, said: "Baha appeared to have much worse ill-treatment than the others ... The soldiers continued beating him even while he was on the floor. The soldiers used sharp, jabbing movements into the area beneath the ribs, which was particularly painful."

During the detention, Mr Mousa was taken to another room where he allegedly received more beatings.

Mr Mutari, who sat with the claimant lawyers in court yesterday, suggested in his statement that the reason Mr Mousa had been singled out for harsher treatment was because his father had caught some of the soldiers taking money from the hotel safe. It is alleged that their commanding officer "slapped" the soldiers and ordered them into an army personnel carrier.

Mr Mutari added: "On the third night, Baha was in a separate room and I could hear him moaning through the walls. He was saying that he was bleeding from his nose and that he was dying. I heard him say, "I am dying ... blood ... blood ...' I heard nothing further from him after that."

Mr Singh argued that European human rights laws, which protect the right to life and freedom from torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, applied to troops in Iraq, and that the Government was obliged to investigate.

He accused the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, of going wrong in law by refusing to act, and said: "This country should be proud to be a leader in the field of human rights, not a grudging follower."

He said this country should also be proud of its armed forces. "When our forces go abroad they not only carry the union flag but they also take with them this country's commitment to human rights."

But lawyers for Mr Hoon are arguing that the European Convention on Human Rights does not apply to British troops in Iraq. They also contend that the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the convention into UK domestic law, is "exclusively territorial" and can only be applied inside UK territory.

Lord Justice Rix, sitting with Mr Justice Forbes, also heard summaries of five other cases being brought under the same judicial review. These all concerned allegations of Iraqi civilians being shot by British soldiers during theoccupation.

Mr Singh told the court that the three-day hearing this week would not deal with the substantive question of whether the killings were unlawful or if Mr Mousa was tortured.

It was about whether the UK was "under a procedural duty to ensure that an independent and effective investigation is carried out into the circumstances of the deaths in order to see whether they were unlawful, and whether Mr Mousa's treatment before his death was unlawful".

Mr Singh said that even Turkey has acknowledged that it had "personal jurisdiction" in relation to the killing of Cypriots by Turkish soldiers.

The case is expected to end on Friday when the two judges will adjourn before they deliver their reserved judgement.

THE ALLEGED VICTIMS

Baha Mousa , 26, a hotel receptionist. Allegedly beaten to death in September 2003 after being arrested by soldiers of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.

Hazim al-Skeini , 23. Shot dead on 4 August 2003 by a British soldier who was responding to traditional rifle shots at an Iraqi funeral.

Hanan Schmailawi , 29-year-old housewife. Hit by machine-gun fire from C Company of the 1st King's Brigade while she was eating dinner at home on 10 November 2003.

Raid al Musawi , 29-year-old policeman. On 27 August 2003, he was fatally shot by a British patrol when he was on his way to a local judge's house.

Waleed Muzban , 43-year-old driver. Hit by a barrage of bullets fired by British soldiers on 24 August, 2003 when he was returning home from work.

Muhammad Salim , 45-year-old teacher. Shot during a raid on his home on 5 November 2003