Q&A: Baha Mousa inquiry
- 8 September 2011
- From the section UK
A long-running inquiry into the death of an Iraqi civilian, Baha Mousa, who died while in British army custody in Basra in 2003, has published its findings.
Who was Baha Mousa?
Baha Mousa was a 26-year-old hotel receptionist, whose wife had recently died of cancer, aged 22. He was arrested, along with nine other Iraqis, at the Haitham Hotel in Basra on 14 September 2003 by members of the 1st Battalion The Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR).
Rifles, bayonets and suspected bomb-making equipment were found at the scene. Mr Mousa was held at a temporary detention centre with the other civilians, under suspicion of being an insurgent.
What do we know about his death?
Mr Mousa died two days after his arrest. A post-mortem examination found he had suffered asphyxiation and at least 93 injuries to his body, including fractured ribs and a broken nose.
At a High Court hearing in 2004, his father Daoud Mousa said he had been "horrified" by the state of his son's body and had burst into tears when asked to identify it. At the same hearing, a fellow detainee claimed soldiers had competed to see who could kick them the furthest.
The inquiry has now concluded that Mr Mousa's death was the result of a combination of his weakened physical state - caused by factors including lack of food and water, heat, exhaustion, fear, previous injuries and the hooding and stress positions used by British troops - and a final struggle with his guards.
What other investigations have taken place?
A six-month court martial - the most expensive in British history - concluded in April 2007 after an initial investigation by the Royal Military Police. Six members of the QLR, now the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, were cleared of abusing civilian detainees, but a seventh admitted inhumane treatment.
Cpl Donald Payne, 36, was jailed for a year and dismissed from the Army, becoming the UK's first convicted war criminal under the International Criminal Court Act.
What action followed?
In March 2008, the Ministry of Defence admitted breaching the human rights of the detainees held in Basra. At that time, Defence Secretary Des Browne admitted "substantive breaches" of parts of the European Convention on Human Rights that protect the right to life and prohibit torture.
Two months later he announced a public inquiry was to be held into Mr Mousa's death. It followed a long legal battle by his father.
Did Britain compensate the families?
In July 2008 the Ministry of Defence agreed to pay £2.83m to those who were mistreated in Basra. The payout followed "mediation" with the Iraqis' lawyers.
The money was divided between eight surviving men, Mr Mousa's family and the brother of a 10th man who was mistreated but later died in an unrelated incident.
What need was there for an inquiry?
Mr Browne said the court martial had highlighted further important questions that needed to be answered, and the inquiry was important to "reassure the public that we are leaving no stone unturned".
Lawyers for Mr Mousa's relatives said other alleged cases of mistreatment should be examined. They wanted the British army's "conditioning techniques" scrutinised, particularly its use of hooding, stressing, food and water deprivation, sleep deprivation and noise.
What were the inquiry's aims?
The inquiry's exact brief was: "To investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa and the treatment of those detained with him, taking account of the investigations which have already taken place, in particular where responsibility lay for approving the practice of conditioning detainees by any members of the 1st Battalion, The Queen's Lancashire Regiment in Iraq in 2003, and to make recommendations."
What immunity did witnesses have?
The inquiry had no power to judge any person's criminal or civil liability. Any soldiers giving evidence were immune from disciplinary action even if it suggested they had lied or withheld information previously.
Their own testimony also could not be used to decide whether to prosecute them but evidence from other witnesses could still lead to criminal proceedings.
Who was in charge?
Sir William Gage was appointed to lead the inquiry. He became a barrister in 1963, was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1982 and made a High Court judge in 1993.
In 2004 he became a member of the Court of Appeal, from which he retired last November. His role was independent but he reported to the defence secretary.
How long did the inquiry take ?
The first hearing was held in July 2009. Hearings were held on 115 days, with closing submissions in October 2010. It heard some 247 witnesses give oral evidence and a further 101 witnesses provided written statements. More than 9,000 documents comprising more than 60,000 pages were assessed as potentially relevant.
Sir William published his report on 8 September 2011. This was later than expected due, the inquiry said, to the volume of evidence and the work necessary to ensure accuracy and completeness.
How much did it cost?
Up to 31 July 2011, the inquiry said it had cost £12,899,952. The largest cost was legal services, at £6,805,437, with general staffing costing £1,214,823; running costs £1,708,566; consultancy £383,312 and IT services £2,787,814.
What did the inquiry find?
The inquiry found Baha Mousa died after suffering an "appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence" in what it called a "very serious breach of discipline" by UK soldiers.
Publishing his 1,400-page final report, Sir William said a "large number" of soldiers assaulted Mr Mousa and the other detainees, and he added that many others - including several officers - must have known what was happening. He condemned members of the battalion for their "lack of moral courage to report abuse".
What happens now?
Sir William blamed "corporate failure" at the Ministry of Defence for the use of banned interrogation methods in Iraq and made 73 recommendations for improving the way detainees were handled. The MoD said it would consider the recommendations carefully.
Lawyers for Mr Mousa's family said the soldiers responsible for his death must face prosecution in the light of the inquiry's "cogent and serious" findings. Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the Commons: "The evidence from the inquiry will now be reviewed to see whether more can be done to bring those responsible to justice."
Are there other inquiries into alleged abuse by British soldiers in Iraq?
Yes. In November 2010 the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was established to investigate allegations of abuse of Iraqi citizens by British Service personnel. It is led by a retired senior civilian policeman and consists of military and ex-civilian police detectives. It is expected to take two years before reporting.