British army accused of "shameful" violence in Iraq

British army accused of "shameful" violence in Iraq

A damning report into the violent death of an Iraqi civilian in British military custody in Iraq eight years ago prompted expressions of regret from military and political leaders Thursday, as campaigners insisted that it was only the tip of the iceberg, DPA reported.

The death of hotel worker Baha Mousa, 26, in British custody in Basra, southern Iraq, in September, 2003, was caused by an "appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence" which represented a "very serious breach" of army discipline, the report, released at the end of a public inquiry, said.

Its findings were roundly condemned Thursday by Prime Minister David Cameron, Defence Secretary Liam Fox, and General Peter Wall, the head of the British army.

But all three men also insisted that the behaviour described in the report by William Gage, a retired judge, was "not representative" for the British army as a whole.

"There is no place in the armed forces for the mistreatment of detainees. But the vast majority did not behave in the way outlined in this report," said Fox.

In the early phase of the Iraq conflict, the army had been "ill-prepared" for the handling of detainees, conceded Fox, adding that the lessons of that failure had now been learnt.

Wall said the "shameful circumstances" described in the report had "cast a dark shadow" over the reputation of the British army. "There can be no excuse for the loss of discipline and lack of moral courage that occurred," he said.

Meanwhile, the report said that the violence inflicted on Mousa could not be described as a "one-off." It also accused the Ministry of Defence of persistently breaching a ban on the use of questionable interrogation techniques.

It said violence meted out on Mousa was in clear violation of British government rules, drawn up in connection with the Northern Ireland conflict in 1972, which banned practices like "hooding" and making prisoners adopt so-called stress positions.

A former leading commanding officer, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, bore a "heavy responsibility" for the tragedy, said the report.

The 1,400-page report, compiled on the basis of testimony from more than 300 witnesses, said a "large number" of soldiers assaulted Mousa over a period of 36 hours, inflicting 93 separate injuries on him.

Nine other men with him in the same cell suffered serious injuries.

There had been a "lack of moral courage" to report the abuse, it stated. "Many others, including several officers, must have known what was happening."

The Mousa case has been held up as a symbolic example of the alleged maltreatment of civilians during the Iraq conflict, which human rights group said was widespread.

In 2006, six soldiers were tried in a court martial over the case. But only one, ex-corporal Donald Payne, was convicted of a war crime after admitting to the inhumane treatment of civilians. He was sentenced to one year in jail.

Human rights lawyers insisted that the maltreatment described in Thursday's report was not confined to a minority of army personnel, and that such practices were used on a "systematic basis" to extract information from detainees.

Phil Shiner, a lawyer acting on behalf of more than 100 Iraqi civilians who claim they were mistreated by British forces, called for a wide-ranging public inquiry into how British troops treated detainees during the entire duration of the 2003-2009 conflict.

He said it was "an absolute imperative" that prosecutions were brought against those responsible in civilian courts. Britain's Court of Appeal is due to announce its judgement next month on a legal bid to force the government to launch a wider inquiry.

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