Mousa death a 'stain on Army's character'

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The former head of the Army has declared that the death of Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa is "a stain on the character" of the British force.

General Sir Mike Jackson, who was Chief of the General Staff from 2003 to 2006, described the treatment meted out to Mr Mousa and fellow detainees as "inhumane" and contravening the Geneva Conventions.

Giving evidence at an official inquiry into the killing of the hotel worker in Basra, southern Iraq, on September 15 2003, the general presented a thinly veiled critique of the conduct of colonel Jorge Mendonca; who was in charge of the troops who held Mr Mousa before he died, having suffered 92 injuries.

Sir Mike stressed that a commanding officer was responsible for what happened under his control. He continued: "It is absolutely bedrock to the British Army's philosophy that a commanding officer is responsible for what goes on within his command."

Asked whether those below the commanding officer should have known what was going on, he said: "Those who were present in that place at the time of these dreadful events must answer that question... I am on record in the aftermath of the dreadful events that led to the death of Baha Mousa as saying this is a stain on the character of the British Army. It remains one until we have solved it."

Col Mendonca was cleared of all charges relating to the case in a court martial in 2007 but left the Army claiming that he had been unfairly treated. Giving evidence earlier at the inquiry he said that he accepted responsibility for what happened, but also claimed that officers below him had failed to keep him informed about what was going on.

The inquiry has heard that Mr Mousa was hooded for a total of nearly 24 hours during 36 hours in the custody of the 1st Battalion, Queen's Lancashire Regiment. Mr Mousa and the other prisoners were also subjected to "conditioning" methods such as sleep deprivation and being made to stand in painful positions.

Sir Mike maintained there should be no blanket ban on British soldiers hooding prisoners with sandbags, but said the practice should only be used for security reasons and not as a form of punishment.

So far the inquiry has heard from more than 230 witnesses. Geoff Hoon, the former defence secretary, is due to give evidence later this week.