Robert Fisk: The story of Baha Mousa

'He was a decent guy. They didn't need to do that'

Sunday 12 July 2009 00:00 BST

I first heard about Baha Mousa from his family. He was working as a hotel receptionist in Basra when British troops surrounded the building and arrested seven men. They were taken to a British barracks, hooded and beaten. Two days later, as his weeping father recalled for me, Mousa was dead. His family was given $3,000 in compensation and rejected a further $5,000. What they wanted was justice. His father had been appointed a police officer by the British authorities themselves. He was wearing two pistols on his hips. He was "our man", and we killed his son.

The outrageous death of his 26-year-old son, arrested in front of his own father, remains one of the most shameful episodes of our occupation of southern Iraq. As they beat the seven men, the British soldiers gave them the names of footballers. I guess it is always easy to demean those who you are going to brutalise. One of his comrades, who worked in the same hotel, and who spoke to me in great pain from his hospital bed, described how Baha had pleaded for his murderers to stop kicking him. "He was a decent guy. They didn't need to do that to him," he said.

When I first heard this story, it reminded me – alas – of all the accounts that I had heard in Northern Ireland, of British Catholics taken from their homes and beaten up in British army barracks, called "terrorist" by those who should have controlled their tormentors. I had heard it all before. Always, but always, those who had been beaten and kicked were always the bad guys. In Basra, the British like to say that they knew how to treat the locals, that they had learnt from Northern Ireland. Oh, how they had learnt!

I remember sitting in front of Baha Mousa's children – his wife had already died of cancer – and, listening to his father's account, I doubted if justice would be done. It was not. The bad guys got away with it. As they usually did in Northern Ireland. It's not about hearts and minds. It's about justice. And this we do not administer.

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