Robert Fisk: It's not the brutality that is 'systematic'. It's the lying about it

 

Share

It was Baha Mousa's dad I will always remember. On an oppressively scorching day in Basra, Daoud Mousa first spoke of his son's death, telling me how the boy's wife had died of cancer just six months earlier, how Baha's children were now orphans, how – not long after the British Army had arrested Baha Mousa and beaten him to death, for that is what happened – a British officer had come to his home and stared at the floor and offered cash by way of saying sorry.

"What do you think I should do?" Daoud asked me. Get a lawyer, I said. Tell Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Let me write about it. When I called at the British base at Basra airport, one officer laughed at me. "Call the Ministry of Defence," he said dismissively. He didn't care.

I had spent years in Belfast, listening to the same kind of arrogant, vicious, indifferent reaction to the Army's brutality. It was always the same. Terrorists. Terrorist propaganda. The extraordinary discipline of British squaddies under enormous pressure, etc, etc, etc. Then – when the game was up and the evidence too fresh and too overwhelming – I used to get what we would today call the "Abu Ghraib response". A "few bad apples". Always a "few bad apples".

Hundreds of thousands of fine British soldiers behaving with exemplary courage and courtesy, in danger of their lives 24 hours a day – you will read this stuff in the usual newspapers today. They were the real victims of these "bad apples" – the actual victims, the 14 Catholic dead on Bloody Sunday in Derry, Baha Mousa in Basra, were the sub-victims who had somehow got in the way. They could be lied about.

Where did all these "bad apples" come from, I used to ask, along with their complacent, complicit officers? I recall the day the Gloucestershire Regiment ran amok in Belfast, smashing all the downstairs windows of a Catholic street just before they returned to Britain. Untrue, of course. Terrorist propaganda. Then a "few bad apples". Was I on the side of the IRA? And so it went on. And on.

It wasn't the brutality that was "systematic". It was the lying that was systematic. In Northern Ireland, among the Americans after Abu Ghraib and Bagram and the black prisons and the renditions. Baha Mousa received 93 wounds. There was an inquiry, I was imperiously told. It was all sub judice.

Even the moment of Baha Mousa's arrest has never been truly investigated. Colonel Daoud Mousa – for Baha's father was a senior police officer, permitted by the British to carry a pistol and wear his blue uniform, hardly the father of a terrorist – actually saw his boy after his arrest, lying under orders on the floor of the hotel in which he worked.

The soldiers had found some weapons – perfectly normal in Basra where almost every household contained guns – but what the British didn't want to talk about just then was that Baha had told his father that several British troops had opened the hotel safe and stuffed currency into their pockets.

That, Colonel Mousa believed, was the real reason he was killed. Baha had been a snitch. He was a witness to theft. The British officer in the hotel had told the colonel that his son would be returned to him safe and sound. Bullshit, of course. The 1st Battalion, The Queen's Lancashire Regiment saw to that.

When I went to see one of Baha's friends – newly released by his British killers – he appeared to have lost a kidney to the treatment he had received. He wept. His face was blue with bruises. Yes, this was my country which had done this. No comment. Call the Ministry of Defence.

Baha Mousa's nose was broken. There was blood above the corpse's mouth. The skin had been ripped off his wrists. According to his friend, Baha had been crying and pleading for his life from beneath his hood. "They gave us the names of footballers and cursed us with them as they attacked us," he said.

The Brits did the same in Northern Ireland, I remember. Catholics would often tell me they were given the names of footballers before the beatings began.

A bit systematic, perhaps? "They were kick-boxing us in the chest and between the legs and in the back..." Baha's friend said. "He kept asking them to take the bag off and said he was suffocating. But they laughed at him and kicked him more."

And always there were screwball parallels from officers. We treat the Catholics a lot better than the French Paras treated the Algerians, an officer told me once near Divis Flats. We're not as bad as Saddam. Nor Hitler, I'm glad to say.

My own Dad was a soldier, older than my Mum, fought in the Third Battle of the Somme, in the First World War, in 1918. He was in what was to become The King's Regiment. Thank God it wasn't The Queen's.

The soldiers: Four men who 'bear a heavy responsibility'

The 1st Battalion Queen's Lancashire Regiment was handed control of Basra in July 2003. It was involved in tackling counter-insurgency and was praised for restoring order. QLR soldiers were at the centre of the first allegations of abuse against Iraqi soldiers by the Daily Mirror but the photos were withdrawn as fakes.

The inquiry identifies four soldiers who should "bear a heavy responsibility" for the death of Mr Mousa and injuries to nine other civilians.

Corporal Donald Payne was jailed for 12 months and discharged from the Army in 2006 after admitting inhumane treatment of Mr Mousa. Described as a "violent bully", he conducted the "choir" which involved assaulting each man in turn.

Lt Craig Rodgers is held responsible for the breakdown in discipline including a "free for all" when soldiers took turns in kicking, punching, and slapping the hooded men. He did not face disciplinary action.

Major Michael Peebles was responsible for the welfare of the detainees but did not intervene. He was acquitted by the court martial.

Col Jorge Mendonca, the commanding officer, ought to have known about the violence and banned techniques being used. Charges against him were dropped at the court martial. The inquiry names 19 soldiers as responsible for inflicting violence. Those still serving could face disciplinary action; all could be subject to criminal or civil actions.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
 

Isis in Iraq: Even if Iraqi troops take back Saddam’s city of Tikrit they will face bombs and booby traps

Patrick Cockburn
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003