By Julian Gavaghan
Army condemned for ‘serious gratuitous violence’ as inquiry into death of Iraqi prisoner blames ‘corporate failure’ of MoD
Beating that led to death of Baha Mousa was NOT one-off incident of abuse
He suffered 93 separate injuries after being hooded, cuffed and beaten
Outlawed brutal ‘conditioning methods’ were used because MoD ‘forgot law’
Inquiry chairman Sir William Gage makes 73 recommendations to MoD
Prosecutors may use report to bring new charges against British soldiers
£13m inquiry centres blame for death on war criminal Corporal Donald Payne
Colonel Jorge Mendonca also ‘bore heavy responsibility’ for abuse
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.
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.
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.’
Sir William said he was not able to identify all the individuals who took part in the beating to death of Mr Mousa.
But he singled out Corporal Donald Payne, who in 2007 became the first British soldier to be convicted of war crimes over the episode, as the ringleader.
Sir William said Payen 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 the death of Mr Mousa.
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.
While the inquiry has no powers to accuse the troops of crimes, prosecutors could use its report as the basis for bringing charges.
It is understood that a number of soldiers have received letters warning them they will be criticised in the report.
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 £13million 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 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 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 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.’
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.’
The MoD agreed in July 2008 to pay £2.83 million in compensation to the families of Mr Mousa and nine other Iraqi men abused by British soldiers.
Earlier today, a former British soldier who was serving in Iraq when innocent Mr Mousa was beaten to death today said: ‘I’m sorry for everything.’
Garry Reader, a private with 1QLR at the time the civilian died after sustaining 93 injuries, said all the soldiers on duty at the prison were to blame.
He said: ‘We were told to keep them awake so they had sleep deprivation.
‘They were put in stress positions. Basically that’s what was told to us how to handle the situation.’
Mr Reader told ITV Daybreak: ‘We’re all to blame, in our own way, every single one of us that was there has got our own bit to blame about.
‘Those that didn’t say anything should have said something.’
Asked if he was sorry, he said: ‘I’m sorry for everything.’