Baha Mousa: Government apologises

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The Government will admit breaching the human rights of Iraqi Baha Mousa who died while in British custody in Basra, Defence Secretary Des Browne said today.

The Ministry of Defence will also admit breaching the rights of eight other Iraqi men who have brought a civil case in the British courts, he told MPs.

Today's announcement - more than four years after Mr Mousa's death - opens the door to unlimited compensation pay-outs to his family, and to the eight men.

In a written statement, Mr Browne said that in relation to the claim by Mr Mousa's family, the Government would admit "substantive breaches" of parts of the European Convention on Human Rights which protect the right to life and prohibit torture.

Armed forces minister Bob Ainsworth said "acts of abuse" had been carried out by a "very small minority" of British troops.

"I deeply regret the actions of a very small number of troops and I offer my sincere apologies and sympathy to the family of Baha Mousa and the other eight Iraqi detainees," he said.

"All but a handful of the over 120,000 British troops who have served in Iraq have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment.

"But this does not excuse that during 2003 and 2004 a very small minority committed acts of abuse and we condemn their actions. "

He added: "The Army has done a great deal since these cases to improve procedures and training.

"But we are not complacent and continue to demand the very highest standards of conduct from all our troops."

Mr Mousa, 26, a hotel receptionist in Basra, was detained under suspicion of being an insurgent.

Seven members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR), which is now the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, faced the most expensive court martial in British history over the case, but all were eventually acquitted.

The case took more than three years of investigation and cost more than £20 million.

A former commanding officer of the QLR said the prosecution was flawed and should never have been brought.

One soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, 35, became the first British serviceman to admit a war crime, that of treating Iraqi prisoners inhumanely. He was jailed for a year.

The six-month military trial at Bulford court martial centre, Wiltshire, involved 100 witnesses, including eight Iraqis.

Much of the trial rested on whether headquarters staff at 19 Mechanised Brigade sanctioned the use of what British troops called "conditioning".

The process involved the hooding, handcuffing and placing of terrorist suspects into stress positions, as well as depriving them of sleep, and was carried out to make suspects more likely to answer questions.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: "Baha Mousa is the Stephen Lawrence of Iraq.

"A direct legal and moral consequence of today's admission that Mousa and others were unlawfully tortured and killed in British custody is that there must be a wholesale independent inquiry into what went wrong.

"British soldiers should never be sent into post-conflict situations without adequate training and advice."