Five new witnesses come forward to accuse QLR soldiers of violent abuse

The statements of men who say they were tortured for three days are at the centre of a High Court action by human rights groups
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Iraqi hotel workers say they were given a very simple choice: reveal the whereabouts of a suspected Iraqi insurgent, or face further violent abuse.

According to witness statements given by the five men, they were brought in front of a British officer in turn, but none of them knew where the suspect was. The hoods were shoved back over their heads and they were dragged away for another bout of beatings at the hands of soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR), they allege.

The men's graphic accounts ­ revealed in detailed statements given to The Independent on Sunday ­ include allegations of being punched, kicked, strangled, soaked with freezing water and hit with iron bars over three days.

The five were among eight men arrested during a raid by QLR troops on the Ibn al-Haytham hotel in Basra in September, following reports that the hotel was a base for Iraqi insurgents. Up to six QLR soldiers may face prosecution following the death of the hotel's receptionist, an Iraqi police colonel's son called Baha Mousa, after his arrest. The Ministry of Defence says it is rigorously investigating the allegations.

The claims of the five new witnesses will deepen the controversy surrounding the QLR which erupted this month over hoax Daily Mirror pictures that purported to show its members torturing Iraqi prisoners.

The latest allegations are potentially more serious, because the men say interrogations were overseen by an unnamed British officer at the Army's Basra headquarters. Rather than a few rogue soldiers being to blame, this implies more systematic abuse.

One of the men, Bahaa' Hashim Mohammed, 26, a labourer, said the officer "threatened me with severe torture if I did not talk". They said their injuries included damaged kidneys, broken ribs, a hernia, long-term breathing problems and scarring.

Baha Mousa's death ­ revealed by Robert Fisk in the IoS in January ­ has emerged as the most serious of nearly 40 cases of allegedly unlawful killings of Iraqi civilians and prisoners by British forces since the invasion.

These cases also involve the Royal Air Force Regiment, ministers admitted last week. RAF police are investigating the death of an Iraqi prisoner of war, who died in April last year as he was being transported in an RAF helicopter. In another case, soldiers face possible prosecution following the intervention last week of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.

Mr Mousa's death, from heart failure and asphyxia, has been at the centre of protests to the Government from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International about alleged abuses by coalition forces.

It will now be the subject of a July High Court hearing over demands by lawyers and civil rights campaigners for a full, independent inquiry into the behaviour of British troops during the Iraq occupation. Nearly two weeks ago, a High Court judge said there was an "arguable case" that British forces in Iraq were bound by the Human Rights Act and that these cases "could give rise to criminal proceedings".

The new witness statements, which will be submitted as part of the High Court action by Phil Shiner, the human rights lawyer involved, follow existing allegations from a seventh man arrested at the hotel, Kifah Taha, that the beatings were systematic.

Their testimony suggests the QLR raid on the hotel descended into chaos. One of the Army's chief suspects, the hotel's co-owner, Haitham Vaha, escaped through a side door. As soldiers searched the building, several were seen by hotel staff taking 4.5 million Iraqi dinars from the hotel safe. According to one witness, Radif Tahir Muslim, a 29-year-old labourer working for the hotel, the soldiers were "punched" by an officer and forced to hand back the money.

The new witnesses link their abuse directly to the QLR's attempts to find Mr Vaha. In all five cases, they say, the first day of beatings culminated in questioning by an officer who interrogated them about Mr Vaha's whereabouts.

Mr Muslim describes taking soldiers to Mr Vaha's home. Even so, he says, he was taken back to the Army's headquarters at Al-Hakimia in a hood, beaten with an iron bar, verbally abused and pinched "very hard". Several witnesses say they knew they were being taken before an officer because as each of them was taken in and out of the cell, soldiers saluted the man carrying out their interrogations.

One of the five, Ahmad Taha Mousa al-Mutairi, was the brother of Kifah Taha, the hotel's co-owner, who was also arrested and was later hospitalised with kidney failure. Mr al-Mutairi was called to the hotel to hand over the safe keys and was arrested. He says that after a day of being punched and kicked, he was taken before an officer who promised he would be released if he revealed Mr Vaha's location.

After telling them he did not know the man's whereabouts, he says, "the hood was put back on my head and I was tortured for three days with no sleep or food. I was beaten on my genitals which resulted in a hernia that I am still suffering from. I have also sustained broken ribs and concussions [sic] in my chest, legs and all over my body."

Bahaa' Hashim Mohammed, a labourer, claimed "soldiers took it in turns beating us non-stop with their hands and boots as well as an iron bar." When he fell to the ground in exhaustion, they "would strangle me with their hands".

After being unable to reveal anything about Mr Vaha's location, he says he was hooded and assaulted. "They continued torturing me until I collapsed. When I woke up, I found a bottle with a bit of water that I drank, then I urinated in that bottle. A soldier came and emptied it in my mouth."

Another hotel worker, Jawad Kadhim Chamil, 45, said the abuse worsened after he was questioned by the officer. "One soldier punched me and broke three of my teeth. Another punched me in my eye and affected my eyesight. They used to sit me cross-legged and five soldiers would sit on top of me. I sustained a split in my anus which I am still suffering from."

Like every other witness involved, the oldest man, Sattar Shukri Abdulla, 51, says he recalls hearing Baha Mousa's beating and cries before he died. "On the second day they took Baha Mousa to the bathroom. I used to hear him screaming. The last thing I heard from him was: 'I am dying, blood'. I learnt of his death in Um Qasar detention [camp]," said Mr Abdullah. "I was released 55 days later. Some of my ribs were broken during torture."

The Ministry of Defence would not comment on the new witness statements. All six men are now expected to sue the MoD for damages for the injuries they allegedly suffered.

Sattar Shukri Abdulla: 'My ribs were broken during torture and I am still suffering pain in the chest'

Jawad Kadhim Chamil: 'One soldier punched me in the mouth and broke three teeth. Another hit me in the eye'

Bahaa' Hashim: 'Soldiers took it in turns beating us non-stop with their hands, boots and an iron bar'

Radif Tahir Muslim: says hotel staff were punched by an officer and forced to hand over cash from the safe

Ahmad Taha Mousa: 'I was beaten on my genitals which resulted in a hernia that I am still suffering from'