Retired army chief criticises ex-colonel at deaths inquiry

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A retired head of the Army today criticised a former senior officer whose men are accused of beating to death an Iraqi hotel worker.

In an apparent sideswipe at Colonel Jorge Mendonca, General Sir Mike Jackson said it was a "bedrock" of the Army that a commanding officer is responsible for what happens under his control.

He told a public inquiry that the death of Baha Mousa, 26, in Basra, southern Iraq, remained "a stain on the character of the British Army".

The inquiry has heard that Mr Mousa was hooded for a total of nearly 24 hours during 36 hours in the custody of 1st Battalion the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (1QLR) before he died.

General Jackson, who was Chief of the General Staff from 2003 to 2006, argued that there should be no blanket ban on British soldiers hooding prisoners with sandbags.

But he insisted that the practice should only be used for security reasons while transporting suspects to a detention facility.

General Jackson was asked at what level military personnel should have known what was happening to Mr Mousa.

He told the inquiry: "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."

General Jackson did not name Col Mendonca, who was commanding officer of 1QLR at the time of the Iraqi's death and has since left the Army.

The inquiry has heard that British troops used "conditioning" methods on Iraqi prisoners such as hooding, sleep deprivation and making them stand in painful stress positions with their knees bent and hands outstretched.

These techniques were outlawed by the Government in March 1972 after an investigation into interrogation in Northern Ireland.

General Jackson was scathing about the treatment meted out to father-of-two Mr Mousa, who had suffered 93 separate injuries when he died on September 15 2003.

He said: "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."

The former Army head said the hooding of Mr Mousa and the other Iraqis detained with him was clearly inhumane and contravened the Geneva Convention.

But he rejected the idea of an outright ban on hooding, saying: "I would be very concerned. It would jeopardise security and our operational effectiveness."