Socialist Worker

Inquiry into Baha Mousa's death reveals army's culture of torture

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2174

Baha Mousa

Baha Mousa's injuries


Baha Mousa died within 36 hours of being taken into British military custody during a raid on a hotel in Basra, Iraq, on 14 September 2003.

He received 93 injuries, including a broken nose and fractured ribs, and died from asphyxia.

The public inquiry into his death is revealing the reality of the occupation in Iraq.

It has heard that prisoners were scalded with boiling water, urinated on, kicked, punched, hooded, sleep deprived and made to stand in stress positions.

The inquiry was played a video of one soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, screaming at the prisoners and calling them “apes”.

Corporal Payne became the first member of the armed forces to be convicted of a war crime when he pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating civilians at a court martial in 2006.

He was dismissed from the army and sentenced to one year in jail. Six other soldiers who faced the court martial were cleared on all counts in 2007.

The public inquiry is expected to last another year. Soldiers who appear as witnesses will not have their evidence used against them in any criminal proceedings.

Below, Socialist Worker looks at some of the evidence.


I heard Baha crying out ‘I’m dying’... then I didn’t hear him any more

A witness known as D1 said he heard the voice of Baha Mousa when they were held in a detention centre. D1 worked as a cleaner at the Ibn Al Haitham hotel, where the raid took place.

He said, “On the evening of the second night, everyone was screaming. I remember hearing Baha Mousa’s voice.

“I knew it was Baha because I had known him for a long time.

“It seemed as if he wasn’t that far away from me and the other detainees.

“I heard him crying out something like, ‘Have mercy on me, I’m dying. I’m about to die, help me’.

“Then after a while I did not hear Baha scream out any more.”

Another detainee, Ahmad Matairi, gave evidence to the inquiry and told how soldiers had gambled on whether they could knock him down when they hit him.

“As I understand a little bit of English, I could tell that the soldiers were taking bets as to who could make me fall down.

“After hearing this, a soldier punched my back around my kidney with such great force that it caused me to fall to the floor in pain.

“When I fell down, the soldiers started to laugh and shout as if they had achieved what they wanted.”

A former prisoner, known as D5, said, “A soldier urinated on me. I could feel the urine seeping through my hood and running down my arms.”

A British soldier forced his head “into the hole at the base of the toilet where the waste goes”, for more than an hour. “The stench from the toilet was unbearable,” he said.

He said hot water was splashed over his body.

Witness D3 said he believed “death was inevitable”, adding the soldiers played a game where they told the Iraqis to sit down, then hit them, laughing, when they did.

“I think they must have seen something in a horror movie and then practised what they had seen on us,” he said.


Was it revenge?

Baha Mousa’s father, Daoud, gave evidence that could hold the key to understanding why Baha was killed.

Daoud saw soldiers steal money during the hotel raid. He complained to two British officers after witnessing “three or four” British troops break open a safe and put wads of cash into their pockets.

He told the inquiry that a British officer, identified as “Lieutenant Mike”, recovered money from a soldier’s pockets, berated him and took his weapon.

Daoud added he believed it was clear to the troops that Baha Mousa was his son.

He said, “I believe my son may have been treated worse than other people because I made a complaint that money was being stolen from the hotel safe.

“This is certainly the view reached by other men who were detained with Baha.”

A lawyer acting for Corporal Donald Payne told Daoud that his client regretted the death and wanted to apologise, adding, “I hope you will accept that.”

Daoud responded, “I will not accept an apology from a criminal.”


'Don't go as far as you did last time'

Lance Corporal David Fearon admitted stealing money from the hotel safe.

He told the inquiry, “I took a few of the notes and I put them in my pocket and the rest, I believe, everybody else was putting into evidence bags.

“I was making a collage of Iraqi notes, dinar notes.”

The soldiers involved in the arrests were told to blame Corporal Donald Payne for Mousa’s death.

A statement from Private Aaron Cooper said, “He [a Lieutenant Rodgers] said we should all stick to the same story or words to this effect.

“He made it clear that he thought Corporal Payne should be blamed alone for the death and for the injuries to the detainees.”

Ali Aktash, then a Territorial Army signaller, described seeing hooded Iraqi prisoners being kicked, slapped and having their eyes gouged.

He told the inquiry he was in the operations room when Baha was arrested.

He heard Major Michael Peebles say into the radio, “Don’t go as far as you did last time.”

Aktash said he asked him what he meant, adding, “He told me that on a previous occasion, detainees had been beaten by soldiers.”

Another officer, Lieutenant Crawford, said to Peebles, “That sounds a bit ominous.”

Aktash said in his statement, “I asked Crawford what he meant.

“He told me that he was referring to the ‘shock of capture’ being commenced.

“My understanding from this was that the detainees would not be allowed to talk.

“They would be exposed to loud noise and intimidation to prepare them for tactical questioning.

“I recall thinking that the prisoners were in a pretty bad shape. They were on their knees and their clothes had been messed up.”

Aktash recalled seeing Corporal Payne say “watch this” as he poked his thumbs through one detainee’s hood and into his eyes.


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