UK investigates Iraq death in custody

Associated Press
Monday 13 July 2009 16:00

A lawyer claimed today that British soldiers forced an Iraqi detainee to dance like Michael Jackson as part of widespread abuse and humiliation of civilians in southern Iraq — actions that resulted in the death in custody of a hotel receptionist.

Lawyers have opened a public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, a 26-year old Iraqi who was beaten and killed in the custody of British troops following a raid on his hotel in the southern Iraq city of Basra in September 2003.

The inquiry, which is expected to last about a year, is being held to address concerns over the mistreatment of civilians following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and worries that Britain's military used interrogation tactics banned since the 1970s.

Gerard Elias, the inquiry's lead lawyer, said questions would be posed about the treatment of Mousa and dozens of other Iraqi detainees.

After soldiers swept Mousa's hotel for weapons in 2003, he was taken to a British base where he sustained 93 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose. An autopsy said Mousa died of asphyxia, caused by a stress position that soldiers forced him to maintain.

Six soldiers were cleared of wrongdoing at a court martial in 2007, but a seventh pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating Iraqi civilians and was jailed and dismissed from the military.

"These are matters of clear and obvious public concern and importance, which require an independent and thorough inquiry to ascertain, where possible, the truth of what occurred, and where appropriate to attribute responsibility," Elias said in an opening statement.

Elias said some detainees allege that soldiers attempted to manipulate their victims' screams and moans to create a macabre form of music. "The inquiry will hear scandalous accounts of an orchestrated choir of victims' reactions," he said.

The hearing was shown a video of a British soldier hollering abuse at hooded detainees and forcing the civilians to adopt painful stress positions.

Other detainees claimed they were repeatedly kicked, urinated on and forced to lie face down over a pit filled with excrement.

"The detainees were hooded with Hessian sandbags, they were placed in stress positions, they were subjected to shouting," Elias said. "One man says he was made to dance in the style of Michael Jackson."

Hooding prisoners, denying detainees sleep, food or water, subjecting them to white noise, or using stress positions were all banned by Britain's government in 1972 amid concern detainees in Northern Ireland had been mistreated.

In 2008, Britain's defense ministry settled a legal case involving the abuse of Mousa and nine other Iraqi civilians and agreed to pay out just under 3 million pounds ($6 million) in compensation.

The ministry said Monday it was cooperating fully with the inquiry.

The hearings "will help us to understand how and why Mr. Mousa died, and ensure that every possible lesson from this incident is learnt," Lt. Gen. Bill Rollo, the army's adjutant general, said in a statement.

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