LONDON (AP) – A British government lawyer acknowledged Monday that the reputation of the country’s military has been tarnished by the abuse of civilians in southern Iraq, actions that resulted in the death in custody of a hotel worker.
Britain’s military apologized for the treatment of Baha Mousa, a 26-year old Iraqi who was beaten and killed in the custody of British troops following a raid on his hotel in the southern Iraq city of Basra in September 2003.
At the opening of a yearlong inquiry into Mousa’s death, lawyer David Barr said the abuse “stained the reputation of the British army.”
“The British army apologizes for the appalling treatment that you suffered at the hands of the British army, the appalling behavior of British soldiers made us feel disgusted,” Barr said.
The inquiry is being held to address concerns that Britain’s military used interrogation tactics in Iraq banned since the 1970s, including hooding and sleep deprivation.
The receptionist was beaten for 36 hours at a British base where he sustained 93 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose, said Mousa’s lawyer, Rabinder Singh. An autopsy concluded that Mousa died of asphyxia, caused by a stress position that soldiers forced him to maintain. Six soldiers were cleared of wrongdoing at a court martial in 2007, but a seventh pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating Iraqi civilians and was jailed and dismissed from the military.
Singh said the inquiry should determine why and on whose authority previously banned interrogation techniques were used against Iraqi civilians.
Britain’s military has acknowledged that troops deployed harsh tactics in Iraq that had been banned in 1972 after they were used against civilians in Northern Ireland.
“In 2003, the so-called conditioning techniques were used in Iraq, on civilians, in the name of the people of Britain: stress positions, hooding, sleep deprivation, food deprivation and noise, all came back. Perhaps they never went away,” Singh said.
Singh urged the inquiry to consider whether Britain’s government and military had knowingly allowed a culture to develop in which soldiers believed it was permitted to abuse detainees.
“It is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that this is simply one of indiscipline. This case is not just about beatings, or a few bad apples. There is something rotten in the whole barrel,” he said.
Neil Garnham, a lawyer for a group of soldiers, said British soldiers were working amid a crippled infrastructure, the threat of insurgent attack and in a hot and harsh environment.
“Such difficult conditions excuse nothing, but they may explain a great deal,” Garnham said.
Corp. Donald Payne, who became Britain’s first convicted war criminal, was dismissed by the army and jailed for a year over the killing.
Payne’s lawyer, Michael Topolski, told the inquiry that other, more senior, officers had approved the use of the banned techniques.
“It is his hope that a clearer and fuller picture will emerge,” Topolski said.