MoD may face hundreds of new torture claims

The inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa while held by the British Army begins tomorrow, with lawyers registering more claims of abuse

Andrew Johnson
Sunday 12 July 2009 00:00 BST
(afp/getty images)

The Ministry of Defence faces the threat of hundreds of claims for alleged abuse and torture of Iraqi civilians by British soldiers. Lawyers say emerging evidence of abuses, including use of electric shocks, points to a systematic policy of sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation and beatings throughout the occupation of Basra, which must have been authorised by senior officers or politicians and known to hundreds of soldiers. Some 20 Iraqi civilians last week began a fresh round of legal cases claiming human rights abuses against the Ministry of Defence.

Sir William Gage will tomorrow begin his inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, a recently widowed 26-year-old hotel worker and father of two small children, who was beaten to death by British soldiers while in custody in Iraq in 2003.

Mr Mousa's family, including his father, Dawood Mousa, a former colonel in the Iraqi army, and other civilians who were arrested and beaten at the same time, will travel to London to attend the proceedings in September. Mr Mousa said yesterday: "The questions still remain: Who? And Why? I am eager for this inquiry... we want to know who killed Baha and whether what was going on was part of a wider policy." He said he hoped "it will not be a whitewash" and that he was "speechless"

when he was not allowed to take part in a military tribunal.

The MoD has already paid compensation for the death of Mr Mousa, who had 93 separate injuries on his body, although no soldier has been convicted for the killing. Seven soldiers did face court martial in 2006, but only one was convicted of inhumane treatment and sentenced to a year in prison. Corporal Donald Payne pleaded guilty after appearing in a one-minute video, shown at the court martial, in which internees could be seen forced to hold "stress positions" while wearing hoods.

Hooding was one of five techniques outlawed by the British government in 1972. The others were stress positions – where suspects are forced to squat in positions that become painful – sleep deprivation, constant noise and refusal of food and water. But it is emerging that the practices continued until last year; it is unclear when the ban was overturned, or by whom.

The latest cases – some of which are detailed below and which arose during five years of British military operations in Iraq – have similar complaints. They say homes were raided early in the morning by up to 60 British soldiers, men were beaten with rifle butts, plasticuffed and dragged to detention facilities where they were beaten, blindfolded, forced to wear ear muffs, hold stress positions, refused food and drink and not allowed to go to the toilet.

One man, Ali Nassih Mowannis, 24, claims wires were held to his tongue and feet and electric shocks administered. Another, Adil Abbas Fadhil Mohammad, says he was left hanging by handcuffs from a ceiling for an hour. Others say their wives or sisters were beaten, or they were stripped naked, while photographs were taken of them.

The MoD was forced last week to concede a further inquiry into allegations that Iraqis were tortured and killed by the British after what become known as the battle of Danny Boy in Maysan Province in May 2004. The MoD had claimed – in a case brought by nine survivors – that they had not complained at the time. But at the High Court last week government lawyers were forced to concede the case following the discovery of an email that the nine had in fact complained to the Red Cross and an investigation had been ordered. A draft letter outlining the complaints had been drawn up to be sent to Tony Blair. It is not clear if the investigation was ever carried out or the letter sent.

On Friday, Lord Justice Scott Baker condemned the MoD for its secrecy in the case and for making "partly false" statements in an effort to keep interrogation techniques secret under a public-interest immunity [PII] certificate. Until the MoD had demonstrated that "the whole content of such documents was scrupulously accurate" the courts should approach PII certificates from the MoD "with very considerable caution", he said.

Yesterday, Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers in Birmingham, which represents many of the Iraqis, including Baha Mousa's family, as well as the nine Danny Boy claimants in court last week, said: "There are hundreds of cases of Iraqi torture and abuse at British detention facilities... The systemic reasons for this are completely under explored."

Mazin Younis, of the London-based Iraqi League, which carries out initial interviews with claimants, said there were at least another 30 or 40 potential claims. If jurisdiction reached beyond British bases, that number would double, he added. "I absolutely believe there have been incidents from 2004 until 2008," he said. "Thousands of soldiers have either witnessed abuse or co-operated in it. The stories are all very similar. The raid starts at home, they are kicked and beaten and hooded."

The MoD, which denies all allegations in relation to Danny Boy, said other cases had yet to be proven. In a statement, the armed forces minister Bill Rammell said: "Over 120,000 British troops have served in Iraq and the vast majority have conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism. All allegations of abuse are investigated... and where proven, those responsible are punished and complainants compensated. Allegations must not be taken as fact, and formal investigations must be allowed to take their course."

What the claimants say: 'We were beaten... blindfolded... threatened with dogs... forced to strip'

These are the allegations made in statements to British lawyers by some of the Iraqis seeking legal redress from the Ministry of Defence.

Ali Nassih Mowannis, 24, arrested January 2006

Ali was arrested with Nassih Mowannis Abdul-Ali, 45, and his teenage brother, Anwar, by 60 or 70 soldiers who raided their home at 2.30am. Nassih's wife was forced to strip her baby naked. Jewellery and £12,500 was taken and never returned. All were blindfolded and earmuffed and beaten. Ali had electric shocks administered to his tongue and feet.

Hussain Salman Muharib, 23, arrested April 2004

Claims he was beaten with rifle butts after going outside in his pyjamas to investigate gunfire. His father was shot in the arm and his brother in the neck. He was dragged back into the house by 30 soldiers who beat his family, including his mother, sister and children. He was taken to a detention centre, beaten for 19 hours, forced to strip and parade in front of six or seven soldiers who photographed him on mobiles. Released without charge after three weeks.

Mustafa Abdul Amir Haddada, 31, arrested March 2006

Mustafa was woken by the sound of his door being kicked. As he investigated, it was blown in with explosives. He was injured by shrapnel, including a serious wound to his eye. Soldiers kicked and beat him and his wife. He was handcuffed and blindfolded. He was denied medical care, which led to the loss of his eye. Released without charge after one year and four months.

Abbas Mowannis Abdul Ali, 34, arrested January 2006

Abbas was arrested during a night raid on his home. He was hooded in front of his children and pushed down the stairs. In detention he was hooded, earmuffed and beaten. Also claims he was urinated on and at one point shot in the leg at close range with a rubber bullet. Released in September 2007 without charge.

Badr Salman Muharib, 31, arrested twice, in April 2003 and April 2004

On both occasions Badr was hooded and beaten. On the first occasion he was released after 19 days with an apology. On the second he was repeatedly dragged across the ground, forced to strip and bend backwards and forwards while soldiers took photographs of him.

Adil Abbas Fadhil Mohammad, arrested March 2006

A night guard, Adil was approached by British troops, beaten and arrested while on duty. Repeatedly beaten and threatened with dogs. At one point he was forced to stand on a wobbly table, with cuffs tied to a hook on the ceiling. He could reach the table only on tiptoe. When it fell over he was left hanging from the ceiling for half an hour and beaten. He was later stripped and had his penis pulled. Tricked into believing he had been taken to Guantanamo Bay. Released without charge after 48 hours.

Tarek Hassan, 22, arrested April 2003

Detained by British forces during a raid on his family home. The soldiers were looking for Tarek's brother, Khadim, a high-ranking Ba'ath party official, and said they would hold Tarek until Khadim turned himself in. Four months later Tarek's body was found in the desert north of Baghdad. He had been shot eight times and his hands were tied with plasticuffs commonly used by British and US soldiers. Khadim is now seeking an inquiry at the European Court.

Kammash family, arrested April 2007

The family home was raided, and six men, including 70-year-old Jabbir Kammash, were arrested, hooded and handcuffed and beaten. Jabbir was released after a day with his son, and his other son four days later. The other three were held for several months, deprived of sleep, forced to go without clothes and sexually humiliated.

Muslim Abbod Mohammed and Najim Abbod Mohammed, arrested August 2006

The claimants were arrested at 2.30am by 20 soldiers and beaten so severely Najim's arm was broken. More than once he was dragged by his broken arm. Muslim was forced to stand in the sun for two hours in a stress position and had stones thrown at him. Both were deprived of sleep through banging and by pornographic films played loudly. Both released without charge after almost a year.

Moayaad Jabbar Ibrahim, Imad Oraibi Abdulla Al-Iqabi, Ali Jabbar Hassan, arrested August 2003

The three were beaten for 30 minutes in their homes and in front of children so severely one lost consciousness. They say soldiers smelled of alcohol. Released the following day and received a letter of apology.

Andrew Johnson

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