"Serious and gratuitous" violence by British soldiers caused the death of an Iraqi hotel worker and injuries to nine other innocent civilians, a landmark public inquiry ruled yesterday.
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Baha Mousa, 26, a widower and father of two young children, died after enduring 93 separate injuries as a result of being kicked, punched and restrained by soldiers in Basra in September 2003.
He was one of 10 innocent men rounded up as suspected insurgents after weapons were found in the hotel at which seven of them worked. In addition to the assaults and humiliation, which began almost immediately upon arrest, soldiers from the 1st Battalion Queen's Lancashire Regiment subjected the men to painful and inhumane interrogation techniques that had been banned for more than 30 years.
The three-year public inquiry concluded that suspected insurgents were subjected routinely by the 1QLR to "unjustified and wholly unacceptable" hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, extreme noise and withholding of food and water – which contributed to Mr Mousa's death. The Ministry of Defence was found culpable of corporate and systemic failings because information about the banned techniques had been "lost", which meant it was left out from all Army guidelines and training. The MoD was also criticised for making inaccurate and misleading statements about the use of hooding and other interrogation techniques.
Sir William Gage, the inquiry chairman, said Mr Mousa had been subjected to "violent and cowardly abuse" and singled out four soldiers as those who "bear a heavy responsibility" for the "shameful events" that took place between 14 and 16 September 2003. They include Corporal Donald Payne, who orchestrated the assaults and is the only soldier to have been punished for his actions after admitting to inhumane treatment of Mr Mousa in the 2006 court martial.
The inquiry also lambasts Colonel Jorge Mendonca, the commanding officer, who "ought to have known what was going on in that building long before Baha Mousa died". He and six others were acquitted by the same court martial of all charges.
The findings will add to pressure on the Government to order a much wider independent inquiry into allegations of torture and abuse. The Government is currently facing several legal challenges on behalf of hundreds of alleged Iraqi victims which could force it to hold public inquiries into the actions of British armed forces between 2003 and 2009.
Lawyers representing the nine surviving victims and Mr Mousa's father yesterday said the 2006 court martial represented a "profound injustice", and called for civil and military prosecutors to study the report, which runs to 1,400 pages, and ensure justice is now done.
A total of 19 soldiers are named as responsible for assaults and other acts of violence against the men. Three out of the 19 individuals were senior non-commissioned officers. The soldiers were guaranteed immunity from their own evidence but could be charged using the evidence of others.
General Sir Peter Wall, head of the British Army, said yesterday that the death of Mr Mousa "cast a dark shadow" over the Army's reputation. Sir Peter has been asked by the Defence Secretary Liam Fox to consider what action could be taken against those still serving. Mr Fox, who accepted 72 of the report's 73 recommendations, described the events leading to Mr Mousa's death as "deplorable, shocking and shameful". He referred to the harrowing examples of abuse suffered by the innocent victims. Kifah Matair was kicked repeatedly to his kidney area, abdomen, ribs and genitals whenever his arms dropped from the stress position, and had his eyes gouged. The youngest, unnamed victim, 18 at the time, was forced to squat with his face directly over a toilet.
Sir William goes on to criticise the "lack of moral courage" shown by a far larger number of people who turned a blind eye to the visible abuses and injuries inflicted on the 10 men.
In a statement to Parliament, Mr Fox said: "It is clear there were serious failings in command and discipline in the First Battalion, The Queen's Lancashire Regiment ... There was a lack of clarity in the allocation of responsibility for prisoner handling process and sadly too there was a lack of moral courage to report abuse." But he rejected advice to ban "harshing" – which involves screaming at detainees during interrogation.
Next month the Court of Appeal will rule on a case involving 142 Iraqis, which is led by Ali Zaki Mousa, who was detained by British forces.
The key recommendations
* MoD should retain absolute prohibition on using hoods on captured personnel.
* Guidelines should make clear that prisoners must not be kept awake.
* When there is a death in custody, particularly if sudden or unexplained, other captives must be checked promptly.
* Where practicable, captured personnel subjected to sight deprivation or hearing deprivation should be told why.
* Guidelines should incorporate the requirement that on entry to and exit from a theatre-level detention facility, captives are asked whether or not they have any complaints about treatment.
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