LONDON // British soldiers were responsible for "an appalling episode of serious, gratuitous violence" that led to the death of an Iraqi civilian after the 2003 invasion, a government-ordered inquiry concluded yesterday.
The physical abuse suffered by the 26-year-old Basra hotel worker Baha Mousa - a father of two whose wife had recently died of cancer - also represented a "corporate failure" by the Ministry of Defence to ensure a 1972 ban on the enforcement of certain interrogation techniques, including hooding prisoners and making them stand in stress positions.
"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," said Sir William Gage, a former senior judge, at the launch of the report in London.
Mr Mousa died of exhaustion, water deprivation and 93 separate injuries including broken bones and a smashed nose, less than 36 hours after being arrested by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR) in September, 2003. He was arrested along with several other workers at the Ibn Al Haitham hotel in Basra after a weapons cache, was found there.
The inquiry's 1,400-page report found that the QLR's former commanding officer, Col Jorge Mendonca, bore a "heavy responsibility" for failing to stop the killing and condemned the "lack of moral courage to report abuse" within the battalion. It found that a "large number" of soldiers were involved in assaulting Mr Mousa and the nine other Iraqis detained with him. It was not the first time, the report said, that QLR soldiers had mistreated Iraqi civilians.
At a court martial in 2006, Corporal Donald Payne became the first member of the British armed forces convicted of a war crime when he pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating civilians. He was identified as the main culprit behind the assaults on Mr Mousa.
Payne, described as a "violent bully", was accused in the report of having inflicted a "dreadful catalogue of unjustified and brutal violence" on the detainees. But senior officers in the regiment were also severely criticised for failing to stop the abuse.
"Several officers must have been aware," Sir William said. "A large number of soldiers, including all those who took part in guard duty, also failed to intervene."
The report also singled out the battalion's padre, Father Peter Madden, for criticism, pointing out that he had visited the detention centre on the day Mr Mousa died and "must have seen the shocking condition of the detainees".
The defence secretary, Liam Fox, told the House of Commons yesterday the events leading up to Mr Mousa's death were "deplorable, shocking and shameful".