An “appalling episode of serious, gratuitous violence” by the British army killed Baha Mousa in Iraq.
British soldiers inflicted “violent and cowardly” assaults on Iraqi civilians according to the public inquiry into the killing of Baha Mousa’ published today (Thursday).
It is an indictment of military culture. It shows the vicious treatment received by civilians the army rounded up to interrogate.
Baha 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.
Staying tightly within its terms of reference, the report does not say that there was systematic abuse towards Iraqi suspects. It does point out the death of Baha was not a one-off incident.
The retired appeal court judge Sir William Gage puts the blame at individual soldiers and officers as well as on poor internal communications. He condemns “loss of discipline and a lack of moral courage” that meant soldiers did not report the abuse.
Senior commanders were apparently ignorant of a ban imposed in 1972 on the use of five torture techniques, including hooding, stress positions and sleep deprivation.
The hooding was “unjustified and wholly unacceptable”.
“For almost the whole of the period up to Baha Mousa’s death … the detainees were kept handcuffed, hooded and in stress positions in extreme heat and conditions of some squalor,” the report said.
The inquiry heard evidence that prisoners were scalded with boiling water, urinated on, kicked, punched and sleep deprived.
The inquiry was also played a video of one soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, screaming at the prisoners and calling them “fucking apes”.
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.
Gage calls him a “violent bully”.
The soldiers put on a show where they made the prisoners into a choir—by beating them till they screamed. “Towards the end of the second day they were all in so much pain that he only had to poke them to get them to make a noise,” said former soldier Gareth Aspinall in the evidence. “When visitors came across they also found it funny.”
On one occasion, the soldiers held a “free for all” where a number of soldiers attacked all the Iraqis at once.
This is what “interrogation” meant in occupied Iraq.
The report names 19 soldiers as assaulting prisoners. Though the inquiry has not been able to identify a number of others.
Colonel Jorge Mendonca, the unit’s commander, “bears a heavy responsibility for these events”. Though Gage accepted that Mendonca did not know that the abuse was going on, Mendonca, failed by not knowing “precisely what conditioning involved”.
While highly critical of the evidence of a number of soldiers, and of the lies told about the Iraqis’ detention, Gage ruled that there was no cover-up the death.
After Baha’s killing, the government claimed that hooding of prisoners had stopped, which it hadn’t, and that it wasn’t used for interrogations, which it was.
The report says that while the Ministry of Defence (MOD) provided inaccurate information, neither they, the civil service, nor ministers had intended to mislead.
Instead the inquiry condemns the “corporate failure” by the MOD.
The report provides evidence of training in what are essentially torture techniques, but concludes only that there was a lack of clarity in the way in which restraint techniques are trained.
It argues for better training for what the army refers to as “the harsh approach”. And proposes the army drops teaching methods to ‘‘maintain the shock of capture’’ and ‘‘prolong the shock of capture’’.
The inquiry has shone a light on the brutality of the war in Iraq. But it has left the establishment untouched, the command structure and the politicians blameless. That is not justice for Baha Mousa.
For a full analysis of the report see next week's Socialist Worker.