A new inquiry should be launched into the death of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi prisoner who suffered horrific injuries in British Army custody, the senior officer tasked with examining abuse by UK soldiers has said.
A report produced by Brigadier Robert Aitken said that serious flaws in the preparation of troops for dealing with prisoners were to blame for brutality against civilians in Iraq. British soldiers, it said, needed to be given "a better understanding between right and wrong".
As the report was published, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, announced that a review had concluded that "no further criminal lines of inquiry" would be pursued in the case of Mr Mousa, 26, who died with 93 wounds to his body.
But Brigadier Aitken, who was appointed by the then head of the Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, to carry out the review, said: "This does not mean that the incident is now closed. There has clearly been a breach of the Army's professional standards as a result of which a man died in the most appalling circumstances. We need to get to the bottom of it, and that will involve a further inquiry. The Defence Secretary is still considering what form that inquiry will take."
The Defence Secretary's office later confirmed that Mr Browne was prepared to look into holding a further inquiry into the case and senior military officials said "administrative action" could subsequently be taken against certain individuals, including those who have not yet been arrested over the killing in Basra in 2003.
Brigadier Aitken insisted there was no evidence of systematic and endemic abuse by British forces in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. The vast majority of the courts martial of soldiers for the killing of Iraqi civilians had resulted in acquittals.
Col Jorge Mendonca, who became the highest-ranking British officer to be charged in an abuse case when he was accused of war crimes over the death of Mr Mousa, said yesterday: "The fact that there were failures in Iraq is a direct consequence of too few troops being deployed to an impossible situation without the correct support, resources or plan. None of that is addressed in the report, which I find deeply disappointing. If you send a small group of soldiers into a difficult situation it seems to be pretty rich to then expect everything to go swimmingly and then blame a few commanders on the ground when things go wrong."
But Brigadier Aitken said lack of numbers was no excuse for some of the brutal acts that took place. "I don't buy that," he said. "Criminal activity is criminal activity. Disgraceful behaviour is disgraceful behaviour. That does not change. We have to teach soldiers that loyalty does not mean protecting your mates when the service police come asking questions. Courage does not mean just physical courage in battle it also means moral courage to stand up against injustice."
General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the Army, said: "The British Army has performed [to] the highest standards under extraordinary testing conditions in Iraq. But I take no pride in the conduct of a very small number of our people who deliberately abused Iraqi civilians ... The report is rightly critical of our performances in a number of steps we have already taken towards ensuring that such behaviour is not repeated."
In Basra, Mr Mousa's father, Daoud, a former colonel in the Iraqi army, said: "As a senior officer in the Iraqi army, I am clear that these terrible actions could not have taken place without support from senior officers within the British Army. They either knew or ought to have known what was happening. Either way, I hold them to account for what happened to my son. I do not accept this report for a moment."
Tim Hancock, campaigns director of Amnesty International UK, said any further inquiry must be fully independent. "Today's report is no substitute for such an inquiry. We would like to see Mr Mousa's family fully involved in a proper investigation to finally lay this matter to rest."
The tragic case of Baha Mousa
* September 2003
Baha Mousa dies while in British Army custody.
* October 2003
An investigation begins by the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police.
* June 2004
Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram says the investigation into the death is complete.
* March 2005
Brigadier Robert Aitken asks commanders in Iraq for information about prisoner abuse.
* July 2005
Colonel Jorge Mendonca and six others are charged in connection with the death of Baha Mousa.
* March 2007
The court martial ends with the acquittal of all defendants.Reuse content