Phil Shiner: The MoD blames 'a few bad apples'. I blame the MoD

Sunday 23 October 2011 00:29

Baha Mousa died of 93 injuries. For the 36 hours this 26-year-old Iraqi survived in British detention, he was hooded, deprived of sleep, food and water, and forced to maintain the "ski" stress position.

Hassan, 14, was forced to give a man oral sex and maintain a prolonged simulated sex position. The watching soldiers laughed out loud. The MoD wants us to believe these were isolated incidents in Iraq and that the "few bad apples" thesis prevails. But has there been systematic abuse by the British during its occupation of Iraq?

The MoD agreed to pay £2.83m last week to Mousa's family and the other nine survivors of the incident. They too had been tortured and subjected to the five banned interrogation techniques from Northern Ireland: hooding, stressing, withholding of food and drink, sleep deprivation and the use of noise.

There are a growing number of other cases in the English courts concerning killings, torture, and the use of these interrogation techniques by the British in Iraq. One of these concerns allegations that, in 2004, 20 Iraqis were executed and another nine tortured in detention at Naji. Another concerns five Iraqis abused and hooded as recently as April 2007.

The evidence from the court martial into Mousa's death is compelling. Hooding and stressing was written policy. Interrogators were trained in these techniques which reflected "verbal and written Nato policy". The head of the Army's legal service in Iraq, Lt Col Nicholas Mercer, and the Red Cross complained bitterly about hooding and stressing and tried to get the chain of command to apply basic human rights, but were rebuked.

The policy continued even after Mousa's death because, it seems, the United States was already complaining that British interrogation techniques were too "soft", as they put it. Sexual and religious humiliation and coercive interrogation are among the psychological and physiological techniques used by both the US and Britain during the Cold War, yet they are prohibited by numerous human-rights conventions.

Detainees tend to be arrested at dawn, when their physiological powers are lowest, and then "conditioned" to maintain the shock of being captured. An exhausted detainee subjected to prolonged hooding, stressing, food, water and sleep deprivation or enforced exercise is much more likely to be susceptible to coercive interrogation techniques. Similarly, sexual humiliation is part of a systematic approach designed to produce not just debility, but a complete stripping of a person's identity, self-respect and sense of order.

The Government banned the five techniques in 1972 and promised that if any other government wanted to reintroduce them, it would be for Parliament to decide. There should, therefore, be a national outcry at the fact that they were covertly reintroduced, just as there would be if Hassan had been subjected to this shocking abuse by policemen or prison officers in Britain.

It seems, though, that British society cannot face the truth about itself. The alleged massacre in Naji in 2004 is redolent of colonial times, as is the shocking disregard for Iraqis' humanity and sensitivities (for example, the codenaming of one operation was "Ali Baba").

Once the legal standards had been set so low, interrogation techniques that violated the prohibition on torture leached into a propensity for mindless savagery and thuggery. Our Foreign and Defence Secretaries choose to ignore the evidence of systematic abuse and use of psychological techniques, on the grounds that "a few rogue elements have been weeded out".

If the detailed evidence to the contrary was not so tragic, I, too, would laugh out loud.

Phil Shiner is a solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers and is acting in the cases in this article

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