An innocent Iraqi civilian died in British Army custody after suffering “an appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence”, a public inquiry has concluded.
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.
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.”
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.
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 £13m public inquiry, which has published its 1,400-page final report, 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 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.
It found that one soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, violently assaulted Mr Mousa in the minutes before he died, punching and possibly kicking him, and using a dangerous restraint method. 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.
The report said his assault 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.