British Army faces public inquiry over Baha Mousa death

by Michael O. Allen on May 17, 2008

by Aislinn Simpson, 5/15/2008

The British Army will face a public inquiry over the torture and subsequent death of an Iraqi hotel worker in its custody, the Defence Secretary confirmed on Wednesday.

The Defence Secretary Des Browne said in a written statement to Parliament that a public enquiry would ensure lessons could be learned.

Baha Mousa suffered 93 separate injuries and died of asphyxia while he was held by the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment at a British Army base in Basra in September 2003.

Seven members of the QLR faced court martial over the incident but all were eventually acquitted, including QLR commanding officer Colonel Jorge Mendonca.

One, Corporal Donald Payne, 35, became the first British serviceman to admit a war crime, that of treating Iraqi prisoners inhumanely and was jailed for a year.

Mr Mousa’s family and eight other Iraqis held in custody launched a claim for compensation through the British courts and the Government admitted it breached the 26-year-old father of two’s human rights and would pay damages.

Today, Defence Secretary Des Browne said in a written statement to Parliament that a public enquiry, into the death of Mr Mousa and the abuse of his co-detainees, would ensure lessons could be learned.

“A public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa is the right thing to do,” he said. “It will reassure the public that we are leaving no stone unturned in investigating his tragic death. The Army has nothing to hide in this respect and is keen to learn all the lessons it can from this terrible incident.”

Speaking at a press conference afterwards, Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said he was confident that banned interrogation techniques such as hooding detainees, which resurfaced early in the Iraq invasion, were no longer used.

He said that the inquiry judge would be able to recall all those involved in the court martial, including Colonel Jorge Mendonca.

He said that Army would consider any future sanctions against those involved in the abuse after the inquiry.

“We need to understand for ouselves and be absolutely confident that this was simply the misguided and disgraceful actions of certain individuals and that there was nothing systematic that led to these events taking place,” he said.

“Frankly I have got no one or nothing to hide as far as the Army is concerned. I am entirely content that we do this in a public and transparent and open way so we can ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth, at the conference with General Sir Richard, said the inquiry would focus on the QLR incident.

“There are other incidents and they are at the stage of investigation at the moment,” he added. “I do think that we need to ensure that we maintain our focus on a really terrible incident. We killed this man.”

But Mr Mousa’s lawyer, Phil Shiner, said the inquiry should encompass other claims of ill-treatment by British troops.

“It will not be sufficient if the inquiry has a narrow remit and does not look at all the cases and issues,” Mr Shiner said.

“The public, as well as Parliament, must be given the opportunity of fully understanding what went wrong in our detention policy in Iraq and what are the lessons to be learned for the future.”

Speaking from Basra, Mr Mousa’s father Dawood Musa said: “I am happy to hear that a public inquiry will finally be held into my son’s brutal death.

“This is something that I have wanted ever since his death, so that the whole world knows the truth about what happened and there is justice for what was done.”

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