BAHA Mousa, 26, father of two, civilian, hotel worker, died after sustaining 93 injuries in the custody of 1st Battalion the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, in September, 2003, in Basra, southern Iraq.
The manner of his death, the abuse of other Iraqis in detention, stains the honour of a regiment, which called Preston home for 100 years, recruited across the Fylde, regularly revisits Blackpool for reunions and remembrance, and has a regimental museum at Fulwood.
Today, images of Mr Mousa, before and after his detention by soldiers of 1QLR for 36 hours, 24 of them hooded, an illegal method outlawed 30 years earlier, haunt the honour of a regiment, once the bravest of the brave.
It ceased to exist in 2006, merged with other regiments to form the Duke of Lancaster’s motto “difficulties be damned”.
But it endures in the hearts, minds and memories, of all who served in the regiment, all related to those who served, and those who died, and in cherished links with the resort’s regular and territorial soldiers, with regular reunions, remembrance, and veterans’ events in town.
Neil Whittaker, who served 25 years with the original Loyals and later QLR, says: “QLR’s a family. This is a huge blow to our pride and honour. We were among the best fighting troops this country has ever produced. Don’t discredit all that. Unfortunate things happen in war and some have paid the price. What happened was a ruddy shame, but not the whole story. 1QLR was the most decorated battalion in Iraq.”
One local soldier, who wishes to remain anonymous, serves with the Duke of Lancaster’s, but says: “I still call myself QLR. We fell victim to a witch hunt, from faked photographs to something that should never have happened.
“For QLR’s legacy look at the battle honours, the schools built, the people protected, lives saved and also those lost in active service. Don’t judge the regiment by this. This has been a travesty. It’s not what we stand for.”
A £13m public inquiry, chaired by Sir William Gage, yesterday concluded the sustained abuse meted out to Mr Mousa represented a “very serious breach of discipline” by members of 1QLR.
Nineteen soldiers, three of them non- commissioned officers, were named. Sir William says all, including former commanding officer Colonel Jorge Mendonca, bear “heavy responsibility” for the tragedy.
Sir William condemns “corporate failure” by the MoD, “lack of moral courage to report abuse” within the battalion, notes a “large number” of soldiers assaulted Mr Mousa and nine other Iraqis, and many others, including several officers, knew what was happening. He also said that evidence showed the violence was not a “one-off”.
Former Royal Green Jacket Steven McLaughlin, of St Annes, author of Squaddie: A Soldier’s Story, served alongside 1QLR in Iraq in 2003, and says: “I know, in my heart, that 99 per cent of them are the finest men and soldiers you could ever hope to meet. Nobody could be more saddened or remorseful.
“Baha Mousa was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the men into whose hands he fell were not in any way, shape or form representative of the proud, honourable and illustrious history that seeps through QLR’s veins. It’s an utter tragedy this happened on their watch because, in all honesty, it could have happened in any unit in any war. This is a profoundly depressing stain on the British military mission in Iraq.
“For Mr Mousa’s family it’s an unspeakable crime and unhealable tragedy, no matter how much we apologise, investigate, punish and compensate. For the British Army it’s a source of anger, frustration, annoyance, regret, because it was unnecessary and totally avoidable. In war dreadful things happen to innocent people and mistakes are made. But this man was beaten to death in cold blood. Shame on us.”
“You can’t defend the indefensible,” says Colonel David Black, former commanding officer of 1QLR, who retired 12 years ago, four years before the regiment he led, and loved, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“What happened was a disgrace and a shame. But too many good men, including a fine CO whose reputation has been besmirched, have fallen prey to a costly and prolonged witch hunt.
“It’s tragic to think QLR will be remembered for this. Not for the Omagh bombing, when off-duty soldiers turned out to help others cope, and the barracks turned into a morgue. Or QLR who had such good initial results in Iraq before this.
“There’s no such thing as a nice clean war. It’s a horrible, messy thing.”