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Damning findings of Baha Mousa inquiry

Sam Marsden and John Fahey

Published 08/09/2011 | 08:32

Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa who died in UK custody
Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa who died in UK custody

A landmark report into abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers is today expected to condemn failings in the Army's chain of command that resulted in an innocent civilian being brutally beaten to death.

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An innocent Iraqi civilian died in British Army custody after suffering "an appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence", a public inquiry concluded today.

The sustained abuse meted out to father-of-two Baha Mousa, 26, represented a "very serious breach of discipline" by members of 1st Battalion the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (1QLR), the landmark inquiry found.



Inquiry chairman Sir William Gage said a number of British soldiers, including 1QLR's former commanding officer Colonel Jorge Mendonca, bore a "heavy responsibility" for the tragedy.



He said: "The events described in the report represent a very serious and regrettable incident. Such an incident should not have happened and should never happen again."



The inquiry also condemned the "corporate failure" by the Ministry of Defence that led to interrogation techniques banned by the British government in 1972 - including hooding and making prisoners stand in painful stress positions - being used by soldiers in Iraq.



Mr Mousa sustained 93 separate injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose, while in the custody of Preston-based 1QLR in Basra, southern Iraq, over 36 hours between September 14 and 15 2003.



The £13m public inquiry, which published its 1,400-page final report today, condemned the "lack of moral courage to report abuse" within the battalion.



It said a "large number" of soldiers assaulted Mr Mousa and nine Iraqis detained with him, and noted that many others, including several officers, must have known what was happening.



The report said the violence could not be described as a "one-off" because there was evidence that 1QLR troops abused and mistreated Iraqi civilians on other occasions.



The inquiry concluded that Mr Mousa's death was caused by a combination of his weakened physical state and a final struggle with his guards.



It found that one soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, violently assaulted Mr Mousa in the minutes before he died, punching and possibly kicking him, and using a dangerous restraint method.



The report said this was a "contributory cause" of the death, although the Iraqi man had already been made vulnerable by factors including lack of food and water, the heat, exhaustion, fear, his previous injuries and the hooding and stress positions he was subjected to by British troops.



Sir William said Payne was a "violent bully" who inflicted a "dreadful catalogue of unjustified and brutal violence" on Mr Mousa and the other detainees and encouraged more junior soldiers to do the same.



His abuse included a "particularly unpleasant" method of assaulting the prisoners where he would punch or kick them each in turn to make them groan in an orchestrated "choir".



Payne became the first member of the British armed forces convicted of a war crime when he pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating civilians at a court martial in 2006. He was acquitted of manslaughter over Mr Mousa's death.



Sir William ruled that Col Mendonca's failure to prevent his soldiers' use of "conditioning" methods - such as hooding, sleep deprivation and stress positions - on detainees was "very significant".



He accepted the officer's evidence that he did not know that the prisoners were being beaten up by his men in a detention centre in the centre of 1QLR's base.



But he concluded: "As commanding officer, he ought to have known what was going on in that building long before Baha Mousa died."



The chairman added: "My findings raise a significant concern about the loss of discipline and lack of moral courage to report abuse within 1QLR.



"A large number of soldiers, including senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers), assaulted the detainees in a facility in the middle of the 1QLR camp which had no doors, seemingly unconcerned at being caught doing so.



"Several officers must have been aware of at least some of the abuse. A large number of soldiers, including all those who took part in guard duty, also failed to intervene to stop the abuse or report it up the chain of command."



Sir William ruled that two 1QLR officers - Lieutenant Craig Rodgers and Major Michael Peebles - were aware that Mr Mousa and the other detainees were being subjected to serious assaults by more junior soldiers.



He strongly criticised Lt Rodgers, who commanded the group of soldiers who guarded the prisoners for most of their time at 1QLR's camp.



"It represents a very serious breach of duty that at no time did Rodgers intervene to prevent the treatment that was being meted out to the detainees, nor did he report what he knew was occurring up the chain of command," he said.



"If he had taken action when he first knew what was occurring, Baha Mousa would almost certainly have survived."



The report also singled out 1QLR's padre, Father Peter Madden, for stringent criticism, finding him to be a "poor witness".



Sir William found that he visited the detention centre on the day that Mr Mousa died and "must have seen the shocking condition of the detainees".



The chairman said: "He ought to have intervened immediately or reported it up the chain of command, but in fact it seems he did not have the courage to do either."



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