A three year-long investigation into the death of an Iraqi civilian in British army custody has concluded that Baha Mousa died after suffering an “appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence”.
Mousa died after being detained for two days by UK forces in Basra in 2003 after suffering 93 individual wounds to his body.
He was arrested by the 1st Batallion – the Queen Lancashire Regiment – along with nine other Iraqis at a Basra hotel where he worked.
The 26-year-old was repeatedly kicked and punched over a 36-hour period while being held in a squalid detention block on a British military base in the southern Iraqi city.
Hooded and handcuffed in the fierce heat, the father of two suffered injuries including a broken nose, broken ribs and bruising all over his body, the inquiry found.
William Gage, the chairman of the inquiry, condemned members of the British army batallion involved in the incident and said there was “corporate failure” at the defence ministry over the use of banned interrogation methods.
Gage said senior officers should have done more to prevent Mousa’s death and sustained attacks by British troops on the other detainees.
“Sir William Gage’s report provides us all with a chronicle of what he himself described as grave and shameful events,” Phil Shiner, a lawyer for Mousa’s family, said. “This cannot be explained away as being the act of a few rogue soldiers.”
“His report provides a detailed analysis of how hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, noise disorientation and minimal food and water, ultimately contributed to Baha dying in British custody,” he said.
No systematic abuse
While the inquiry criticised individual soldiers for using unlawful methods of interrogation, Gage did not suggest there had been systematic abuse by the British army.
Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia programme director at Amnesty International, said, “What happened to Baha Mousa and the other men detained with him at the hands of British soldiers must never be allowed to happen again”.
“Whatever the pressures the soldiers may have faced in Iraq during that time, torture can never be justified in any circumstances,” she said. “Those responsible must be held accountable for their actions and brought swiftly to justice, including in criminal proceedings – nothing less will do.”
A leaked report last month suggested that the army would be cleared of systematic torture.
“This is a serious and regrettable incident, such an incident should not have happened and should never happen again,” Gage said. “It is a stain on the reputation of the army.”
He concluded that the death was a result of Mousa’s weakened physical state and a struggle with the guards.
Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London, said: “Sadism, brutality, organized and illegal violence perpetrated or condoned not just by one but by a group of British soldiers at a military base in Basra in southern Iraq – that’s the key finding of this inquiry”.
Our correspondent said, “In terms of the final reading, William Gage was limited in that he was only dealing with the death of Baha Mousa and a group of others”.
Iraqi lawyers will respond to the report, and our correspondent predicts they will say the report did not go far enough.
There is a “clear need to have exposed the wrongs that have been done to the detainees and their families”, Gage said.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the violence was “shocking and appalling” and must never happen again.
“If there is further evidence that comes out of this inquiry that enables further action to be taken, it should be taken,” he said. “Britain does not cover these things up, we do not sweep them under the carpet. We deal with them.”
One British soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, boasted to colleagues of conducting a “choir” by beating Mousa and other prisoners so that they cried out in sequence, the inquiry heard.
Payne is the only soldier to have been convicted over the death, receiving a one-year term for inhumane treatment.
A lawyer for Mousa’s family said prosecutors should re-examine the evidence against the British soldiers.
“We now expect the military and civilian prosecuting authorities of this country will act to ensure justice is done,” said Sapna Malik, of London law firm Leigh Day.
The head of the British army, General Sir Peter Wall, said Mousa’s death had cast a “dark shadow” over the UK forces’ reputation.