Baha Mousa inquiry shown video of soldier abusing Iraqi detainees

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The Independent Online

A two-minute video of a British soldier abusing Iraqi detainees the day before one of the prisoners died from his severe injuries was shown at a public inquiry yesterday.

In the film, Iraqi detainees could be heard moaning and crying out as they were forced to sit in painful "stress positions" while the soldier screamed abuse at them. Baha Mousa, 26, a hotel receptionist from Basra, was so badly beaten by troops from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment that doctors who examined his body identified 93 separate injuries, the hearing in London was told.

Gerard Elias, QC, the counsel to the inquiry, said the video showed hooded and handcuffed detainees being "softened up" before interrogation. One of the men was Mr Mousa. Mr Elias identified Cpl Donald Payne as the soldier in the film who was abusing and manhandling each captive in turn as they dropped to the floor, struggling to maintain their crouched stress positions. Cpl Payne could be seen standing over one detainee, yelling: "Get up you fucking ape, now. Get up now."

Mr Elias said: "Even if one considers only the video that we have just looked at, it may be thought to be entirely apparent that these detainees were being subjected to stress positions and prolonged hooding."

Mr Mousa died at about 10pm on 15 September 2003 after a "struggle" with Cpl Payne and another soldier, Pte Aaron Cooper, the hearing was told. Mr Elias said Mr Mousa's injuries might have been inflicted "with a greater degree of deliberation" than was previously thought. The inquiry, led by Sir William Gage, was told that before Mr Mousa died, Cpl Payne restrained him by putting his knee on his back and pulling his arm back to attach plastic handcuffs to him.

Mr Elias said: "It has been suggested that Baha Mousa's head was banged on the floor or wall as this was happening. But statements to this inquiry now suggest perhaps a greater degree of deliberation than has hitherto been described." Further allegations of abuse of other detainees included sleep deprivation, withdrawal of food and exposure to loud noises. One prisoner claimed that a soldier urinated on him, while another said he was forced to dance like Michael Jackson.

In July last year, the Ministry of Defence agreed to pay £2.83m in compensation to the families of Mr Mousa and nine other Iraqi men who were mistreated by British troops. In September 2006, Cpl Payne became the first member of the armed forces to admit a war crime when he pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating civilians. He was dismissed from the Army and sentenced to one year in a civilian jail.

Six other soldiers also faced courts martial but all were cleared in March 2007. They included Colonel Jorge Mendonca MBE, the former commander of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, which is now renamed as the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment. Several senior officers later strongly criticised the decision of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to take the cases to court.

Mr Mousa was working at Basra's Ibn Al-Haitham hotel in September 2003 when it was raided by British forces looking for weapons. In a safe, the soldiers found assault rifles and pistols that hotel staff insisted were used for security, but Mr Mousa and several colleagues were taken to the British base at Darul Dhyafa in the custody of infantrymen from the Queen's Lancashires. Mr Mousa's 22-year-old wife died of cancer shortly before he was detained. Their two young sons were orphaned.

The inquiry will investigate beyond the circumstances of Mr Mousa's death and the ill-treatment of the other detainees. Mr Elias said: "In particular, the inquiry is tasked to discover whether, and to what extent, conditioning techniques were used on these detainees and, if used, what the consequences were. Who, if anyone, in authority approved, sanctioned or condoned their use?"

The hearing was told that such techniques were banned by the Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath, in 1972 after public disquiet about the treatment of IRA prisoners detained in Northern Ireland under the controversial internment policy.