Socialist Worker

Shocking evidence of British abuse in Iraq

Paul Shiner is a lawyer who represented the family of Baha Musa, an Iraqi civilian killed in British custody. He spoke at the Stop the War conference about abuse of Iraqi prisoners

Issue No. 2075

‘We in Britain focus on the abuse committed by US troops in Iraq. But we are uncomfortable with what our own troops have been up to.

There is an “iceberg of disgrace” that starts right at the top of government.

We know that our troops tortured hotel employee Baha Musa to death in September 2003. He died of 93 injuries after being hooded and placed under stress for 36 hours. There were nine other men who were badly tortured in that incident.

This is all known – the photographic evidence of the beaten and bloody bodies was published in the Guardian newspaper.


However we are now uncovering more disturbing evidence of systematic torture and abuse.

In 1972 the Conservative government of Edward Heath banned the use of hooding, stressing, sleep deprivation, food and water deprivation and the use of noise during interrogations.

All these techniques returned during the Iraq war.

We found that every single British military unit throughout the first part of the occupation was using banned techniques. And when Musa died – partly because he had been hooded – it would have been obvious that the policy of hooding should stop. But no.

Senior British military figures did not want to appear to insult the Americans.

We did not want to stop hooding, and I don’t believe we did stop it – this is why I am attempting to get the government to release bundles of evidence from the court martial. This will allow us to understand better what went on.

On 20 May 2003, Nicholas Mercer blew the whistle on the killing of prisoners when he wrote: “There have recently been a number of deaths of Iraqis in custody with various units of theatre.”

Defence Secretary Des Browne refuses to allow me to meet with the officer, even though his chain of command say it is permissible.

Despite two high court orders that I should be given the bundles of evidence, the government is trying to suppress them. The reason why is obvious – they have something to hide.


Think of everything the Americans did – the iconic pictures of Abu Ghraib. We did everything, absolutely everything the Americans did, and worse.

The evidence I have from medics and on video appears to show that following a fire-fight in al-Amara in May 2004, some 31 Iraqis were captured and 20 hours later 22 of them were dead. In body bags.

The video footage is shocking. It appears to show they have been mutilated. One man had an eye gouged out, one had his penis severed, others had multiple stab wounds.

The government claims that every one of them was killed in combat. But I have evidence that one young man, although he was shot in the foot, was still alive – and I have a witness who said he heard the man being executed.

Confronted with this evidence the government stance has now changed from “everyone was killed in combat”to “one of them hit his head on a tank”.

And finally they put up a former intelligence officer on Channel Four news who claimed that terrorists hijacked a convoy of 50 army vehicles and killed and mutilated the prisoners as part of a propaganda coup.

Where does our government fit into all this?

I have presented Browne with a list of 383 questions that have arisen out of the evidence I have seen, but I am still waiting for an answer.

I have invited Des Browne and foreign secretary David Miliband – who I had great hopes in – to review the evidence. But they are putting their fingers in their ears and closing their eyes.

I wonder if there isn’t a colonial racist mentality that we need to exorcise.’

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