Leading article: The real injustice

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The Independent Online

When the court martial of six British soldiers accused of beating an Iraqi hotel receptionist to death ended in acquittals, some organs of public opinion in this country reacted with anger that these men were ever put on trial in the first place. This was a shameful reaction because it wilfully ignored the real injustice at the heart of the affair.

Here are the acknowledged facts surrounding the case: Baha Mousa was killed in Basra in 2003 after being arrested by a British army patrol from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment and taken to a temporary army detention facility. A post-mortem examination showed he has been asphyxiated and had 93 bodily injuries.

The prosecution case might well have been flawed. But the central feature of this story was that Mr Mousa was beaten to death while in the custody of our armed forces. The British Army was responsible for his death and had a duty to get to the bottom of it.

The Defence Secretary, Des Browne, took the only honourable course yesterday by ordering a public inquiry. He must now ensure that its terms of reference are sufficiently wide-ranging. We must discover how exactly our armed forces came to believe that it was acceptable to use hooding, stressing, and severe violence to "condition" prisoners in Iraq.

Our government joined in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 promising to end the brutality of the regime of Saddam Hussein. Yet an innocent man was beaten to death by our armed forces. A public inquiry is the very least that Mr Mousa's family – and the rest of us – are owed.