The Killing Of Baha Mousa: It’s Not Manslaughter It’s Just A Few Bad Apples
BAHA Mousa’s killing is Britain’s Abu Ghraib. Baha Mousa was beaten to death by the British Army in Iraq. No-one has been charged and convicted of his killing. In Britain the horror is hidden away until all the main players are long dead.
Baha Mousa, 26, was a widower and father of two young children. He was seized with nine other Iraqi men. He died after 36 hours in custody, during which time he was deprived for food water and sleep. He suffered 93 separate injuries as a result of being kicked, punched and restrained by soldiers in Basra. Nineteen British men were involved in the abuse.
The 1st Battalion Queen’s Lancashire Regiment inflicted “gratuitous” violence on a group of 10 Iraqi civilians, who were kicked and hit in turn, “causing them to emit groans and other noises and thereby playing them like musical instruments”. This humiliating practice was nicknamed “the choir”.
Who can be blamed? Richard Norton-Tyalor writes:
Another, probably relevant, factor is that the army was not ready and was badly trained for Iraq. General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the army, admitted as much in his statement following the publication of Sir William Gage’s report.
“It is clear from the inquiry report that we were ill-prepared in 2003 for the task of handling civilian detainees”, he said, adding that the army had “made strenuous efforts since then to transform the way we train for and conduct detention operations”.
The Sun asks Andy McNab – a man who appears as a silhouette – to explain that things are all transparent and there is nothing to hide:
THIS was an isolated incident where the command and control structure completely broke down. But don’t judge the rest of the Army on the behaviour of this bunch. The Army is not a knitting club, we train our men to be aggressive, to fight and to kill. Their lives depend on it. But that aggression must be controlled. What happened here was the chain of command did not have a grip on it. They lost control and the consequences were tragic. But it is an isolated incident. You have to welcome this report, no one is covering up.
Baba Mousa was killed in September 2003. Plenty of time has passed for justice to have been meted out. Only one man has been censured for the brutal and sustained torture and eventual killing of Baha Mousa. He’s Corporal Donald Payne. He assaulted the victim until he stopped struggling. A cout martial acquitted him of manslaughter. It also fond six of his colleagues not guilty. The Army look after its own – they who obey orders and take the heat when things go badly.
The savagery meted out to Mr Mousa and fellow detainees in Basra in 2003 were not the actions of a few “bad apples”. Rather, they were the result of systemic, “corporate” failures that meant neither the abusive soldiers, nor their superiors, were aware that forcing detainees to wear hoods and adopt excruciating stress positions contravened both British law and the Geneva Convention.General Michael Jackson says the death of Baha Mousa was an “isolated incident”. The ugliness does not reflect the British Arm as a whole. No, it does not. But it stains the reputation. Seven men appear at a court martial and only one is charged. Is that justice?
Sir William Gage’s 1,366-page report details what went on.
Others are not entirely convinced that the incident was isolated. Others remark on the culture of violence and the systematic cover-up, suggesting that there are another 150 cases of civilian abuse by British soldiers in Iraq that may yet come to trial.
Personally, I find myself wholly unconvinced that this was in any way an isolated incident. Readers with very long memories might recall a piece I wrote in November 2006, concerning allegations of systematic torture by Dutch troops in Iraq, with strong indications that the lead had been taken from the British.
Only the Independent and Guardian lead with the news. The Indy declares:
Kicked and punched to death by cowards
The Ministry of Defence was found culpable of corporate and systemic failings because information about the banned techniques had been “lost”, which meant it was left out from all Army guidelines and training. The MoD was also criticised for making inaccurate and misleading statements about the use of hooding and other interrogation techniques.
The Guardian goes with:
Detainee death – army warned of new charges
Liam Fox, disclosed that Ministry of Defence inquiries “are revealing evidence of some concern” in other Iraqi abuse cases.
Fox acknowledged for the first time that there could be more prosecutions. “If any serviceman or woman, no matter the colour of uniform they wear, is found to have betrayed the values this country stands for and the standards we hold dear, they will be held to account,” he said.
Robert Fisk is scathing:
It wasn’t the brutality that was “systematic”. It was the lying that was systematic. In Northern Ireland, among the Americans after Abu Ghraib and Bagram and the black prisons and the renditions. Baha Mousa received 93 wounds. There was an inquiry, I was imperiously told. It was all sub judice.
Even the moment of Baha Mousa’s arrest has never been truly investigated. Colonel Daoud Mousa – for Baha’s father was a senior police officer, permitted by the British to carry a pistol and wear his blue uniform, hardly the father of a terrorist – actually saw his boy after his arrest, lying under orders on the floor of the hotel in which he worked.
The soldiers had found some weapons – perfectly normal in Basra where almost every household contained guns – but what the British didn’t want to talk about just then was that Baha had told his father that several British troops had opened the hotel safe and stuffed currency into their pockets.
That, Colonel Mousa believed, was the real reason he was killed. Baha had been a snitch. He was a witness to theft. The British officer in the hotel had told the colonel that his son would be returned to him safe and sound. Bullshit, of course. The 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment saw to that.
He names names:
Corporal Donald Payne was jailed for 12 months and discharged from the Army in 2006 after admitting inhumane treatment of Mr Mousa. Described as a “violent bully”, he conducted the “choir” which involved assaulting each man in turn.
Lt Craig Rodgers is held responsible for the breakdown in discipline including a “free for all” when soldiers took turns in kicking, punching, and slapping the hooded men. He did not face disciplinary action.
Major Michael Peebles was responsible for the welfare of the detainees but did not intervene. He was acquitted by the court martial.
Col Jorge Mendonca, the commanding officer, ought to have known about the violence and banned techniques being used. Charges against him were dropped at the court martial. The inquiry names 19 soldiers as responsible for inflicting violence. Those still serving could face disciplinary action; all could be subject to criminal or civil actions.
Is the killing of Baha Mousa the result of a few bad apples getting carried away? Is it a system that failed. Or is the villains’ crime to have got spotted?
Undated handout picture, showing the severe beating suffered by Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa who died in UK custody. A report into allegations of abuse of Iraqi detainees by British troops is expected today to recommend improvements to military training on the handling of prisoners.