Forbidden to forget British Army’s war crimes: The Baha Mousa case

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The most notorious case outside of Camp Breadbasket was that of Baha Mousa, a civilian hotel receptionist and father of two who was tortured to death by British soldiers at a military base in Basra called Battle Group Main. Mousa and several other civilians were arrested by members of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment on suspicion of involvement in the insurgency on 14 September 2003, and were then taken to Battle Group Main, where they endured horrific torture for the next 36 hours. A report by the human rights organisation Redress summarises what happened as follows: “[The prisoners] were repeatedly beaten by being kicked and punched when handcuffed and hooded, made to maintain stress positions for long periods of time, deprived of sleep, continually shouted at and generally abused in temperatures rising to almost 60 degrees centigrade. During most of this time the detainees were hooded with one or two Hessian sacks”. This account is confirmed in the ICC report.

The precise cause of Mousa’s death was estimated to be postural asphyxia, but evidence showed that he had sustained at least 93 separate injuries, including broken ribs, bruised and swollen lips, and a broken nose. The doctor who performed the post mortem testified at the 2007 court martial of the soldiers involved in Mousa’s torture: “[I]f you suffer a large number of injuries then it is bound to take its effect. They hurt and if you are in pain then you do not react terribly well. And he had some broken ribs which would be very painful, he had a broken nose which would be very painful so he would have that physiological – or pathological and physiological effect of the pain… We do not understand the complete mechanisms of postural asphyxia but anything that adversely affects breathing or heart function it could be argued will adversely affect people who are struggling to breathe because of the position that they are in”.

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The Redress report states: “The picture is of a man dying in agony because he couldn’t breathe properly as he was held to the ground face-down with multiple injuries, including broken ribs”.The Redress report also includes the following testimony from the court martial: “One witness, Mr Baha Malki, told the court martial how he saw a soldier stamping on Baha Mousa’s head while lying on the floor in the hotel reception, and heard him screaming in pain. All the detainees were verbally abused at the hotel with crude sexual expletives and insults according to the same witness, and the hooding and stressing began soon after they arrived at the TDF [Temporary Detention Facility]. Detainees were punched and kicked when unable to maintain stress positions, and these attacks increased during the Sunday night and intensified on the Monday. Mr Malki described other abuse including being put in a headlock, hit with an iron bar, being forced along with the others to “dance like Michael Jackson”, and of photographs being taken while they were being punched”.

Seven soldiers were prosecuted for Mousa’s death; only one, Corporal Donald Payne, was found guilty of inhumane treatment (although he was cleared of manslaughter and perverting the course of justice). He was jailed for one year. The other six soldiers were cleared of all charges.

The following video documents some of the abuse that Mousa and other Iraqi civilians endured at the hands of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment: