Soldiers 'Kicked Iraqi
Prisoner To Death'
By Robert Fisk
05 January, 2004
Eight young Iraqis arrested in Basra were
kicked and assaulted by British soldiers, one of them so badly that
he died in British custody, according to military and medical records
seen by The Independent on Sunday.
has urged its members to protest directly to Tony Blair about the death
of Baha Mousa, the son of an Iraqi police colonel, and to demand an
impartial and independent investigation into the apparent torture of
the Basra prisoners. A major at 33 Field Hospital outside the southern
Iraqi city said that one of the survivors suffered "acute renal
failure" after "he was assaulted ... and sustained severe
bruising to his upper abdomen, right side of chest, left forearms and
left upper inner thigh".
authorities have offered Mr Mousa's relatives $8,000 (£4,500)
in compensation, providing they are not held responsible for his death,
but the young hotel receptionist's family plans to take the Ministry
of Defence to court. His body was returned to them, covered in bruises
and with his nose broken, after he and seven colleagues were arrested
by British forces in Basra last September and held in military custody
for three days.
One of the other
workers has given a frightening account of their ordeal. Baha Mousa,
he says, was tied and hooded and then repeatedly kicked and assaulted
by British troops, begging all the while to have the hood removed because
he could no longer breathe.
A death certificate
provided by the British Army states that Baha Mousa had died of "asphyxia".
A restricted medical document from a British hospital says a surviving
prisoner, Kifah Taha, suffered his injuries "due to a severe beating".
The IoS has copies of both documents.
After Mr Mousa's
death, the Army's Special Investigation Branch opened an investigation.
The Ministry of Defence told the IoS yesterday that there was "nothing
in the records to suggest an inquiry was not still ongoing". But
two soldiers who were arrested have since been released, and no charges
have been made.
Mr Mousa's violent
death left two children orphaned: his 22-year-old wife died of cancer
shortly before his detention by British troops.
British said my son would
be free soon.
Three days later I had his body'
The last time Lieutenant
Colonel Daoud Mousa of the Iraqi police saw his son Baha alive was on
14 September, as British soldiers raided the Basra hotel where the young
man worked as a receptionist.
"He was lying
with the other seven staff on the marble floor with his hands over his
head," Col Mousa says today. "I said to him: 'Don't worry,
I've spoken to the British officer and he says you'll be freed in a
couple of hours.'" The officer, a second lieutenant, even gave
the Iraqi policeman a piece of paper and wrote "2Lt. Mike"
on it, alongside an indecipherable signature and a Basra telephone number.
There was no surname.
later, I was looking at my son's body," the colonel says, sitting
on the concrete floor of his slum house in Basra. "The British
came to say he had 'died in custody'. His nose was broken, there was
blood above his mouth and I could see the bruising of his ribs and thighs.
The skin was ripped off his wrists where the handcuffs had been."
Baha Mousa left
two small boys, five-year-old Hassan and three-year-old Hussein. Both
are orphans, because Baha's 22-year-old wife died of cancer just six
months before his own death.
No one hides the
fact that most if not all the eight men picked up at the Haitham hotel
- where British troops had earlier found four weapons in a safe - were
brutally treated while in the custody of the Royal Military Police.
One of Baha's colleagues, Kifah Taha, suffered acute renal failure after
being kicked in the kidneys; a "wound assessment" by Frimley
Park Hospital in Britain states bluntly that he suffered "generalised
bruising following repeated incidents of assault".
When Col Mousa and
another of his sons, Alaa, visited Kifah Taha in a Basra hospital immediately
after his release to seek news of Baha, they found the wounded man -
in Alaa's words - "only half a human, with terrible bruises from
kicking on his ribs and abdomen. He could hardly speak."
But another of Baha's
colleagues - who pleaded with The Independent on Sunday not to reveal
his name lest he be rearrested by British forces in Basra - gave a chilling
account of the treatment the eight men received once they arrived at
a British interrogation centre in Basra. By a terrible coincidence,
the building had formerly been the secret service headquarters of Ali
Majid, Saddam's brutal cousin, known as "Chemical Ali" for
his gassing of the Kurds of Halabja and later military governor of the
"We were put
in a big room with our hands tied and with bags over our heads. But
I could see through some holes in my hood. Soldiers would come in -
ordinary soldiers, not officers, mostly with their heads shaved but
in uniform -- and they would kick us, picking on one after the other.
They were kick-boxing us in the chest and between the legs and in the
back. We were crying and screaming.
"They set on
Baha especially, and he kept crying that he couldn't breathe in the
hood. He kept asking them to take the bag off and said that he was suffocating.
But they laughed at him and kicked him more. One of them said: 'Stop
screaming and you'll be able to breathe more easily.' Baha was so scared.
Then they increased the kicking on him and he collapsed on the floor.
None of us could stand or sit because it was too painful."
But not one of the
prisoners says he was questioned about the discovery of the weapons
in the hotel. Indeed, the man who hid the two rifles and two pistols
in the hotel safe - one of the partners in the hotel, Haitham Vaha -
fled the building after the British arrived and is still on the run.
His father and another business partner, Ahmed Taha Mousa - no relation
to either Kifah Taha or Baha Mousa - are still in British custody in
southern Iraq. At least one of the men beaten by the British says that
he would happily hand Haitham to the British forces if he found him.
has demanded an impartial and independent inquiry into Baha's death
and the mistreatment of the other Iraqi prisoners, but the Ministry
of Defence is attempting to keep its investigation within the Army.
Two soldiers originally arrested in connection with Baha's death have
since been released - and Baha Mousa's family is outraged. "We
are going to sue the British Army in London," his brother Alaa
says. "They gave us $3,000 in compensation, then said we could
have another $5,000 - but they wouldn't accept responsibility for his
this money. We want justice. We want the soldiers involved to be punished.
How much would a British family receive if their innocent son was arrested
by your soldiers and beaten to death?"
The Mousa family
were given an international death certificate by the British Army at
the Shaibah military medical centre outside Basra. It was dated 21 September,
but again carried an indecipherable signature. It stated that Baha's
death had been caused by "cardiorespiratory arrest: asphyxia".
But the anonymous British officer who signed the document failed to
fill in the column marked "due to/as a consequence of". He
also failed to fill in the column marked "approximate interval
between onset (of asphyxia) and death". More seriously still, the
British Army failed to complete the form's request for "Regt. Corps/RAF
Command" and "Ship/Unit/RAF Station".
An inquiry was opened
into Baha Mousa's death on 18 September by 61 Section of the 3rd Regiment,
Royal Military Police's Special Investigation Branch. Captain G Nugent,
the officer commanding 61 Section, named a Staff Sergeant Jay as chief
investigating officer of case number 64695/03. From the start, the SIB
were faced with overwhelming evidence that British soldiers had kicked
and beaten the prisoners in their custody.
Major James Ralph,
the anaesthesia and intensive care consultant at the British Military
Hospital's 33 Field Hospital at Shaibah, stated in a letter - a copy
of which is in the IoS's possession - that Kifah Taha "was admitted
to our facility at 22.40 hours on 16th September. It appears he was
assaulted approximately 72 hours ago and sustained severe bruising to
his upper abdomen, right side of chest, left forearms and left upper
inner thigh." He described Kifah Taha as suffering from "acute
Col Daoud Mousa
says that his son was deliberately kicked to death by the soldiers because
they discovered that his father had persuaded the British officer -
"Second Lieutenant Mike" - to arrest several British soldiers
who were stealing money from the hotel during the raid. "I saw
two of the soldiers at the back of a safe, wrenching it open and stuffing
money into their shirts and pockets - Iraqi dinars and foreign money.
The officer made one of the men open his shirt and he found the money
and the soldier was disarmed. But the military inquiry didn't want to
hear about this - they weren't interested in the theft or why the soldiers
who were stealing the money would want to mistreat my son as a result
of what I did."
Alaa says that it
was three days before they learned the truth about what had happened
to Baha. "I was at home and I went outside to find the street filled
with British soldiers. They didn't have Baha's name right, but they
said they were looking for the family of the man 'whose wife died of
cancer'. I said it must be Baha and one of the officers said: 'Can you
come with us?'
came into our home, his name was Jay, and he sat on our sofa and said:
'I have come to tell you about the death of your brother Baha.' It was
like a revolution in our house - there was screaming and shouting and
crying. The British said they wanted my father, Daoud, and one of us
to come to identify the body. He said a doctor from Britain was coming
to examine the body." Alaa described how he later met a "Professor
Hill", a pathologist who, he says, later acknowledged that there
were "very clear signs of beating on the body" and that two
of Baha's ribs had been broken.
the British political officer in the city, arranged for the Mousa family
to meet Brigadier William Moore, commander of British forces in Basra.
The family say that Brig Moore, though he expressed his condolences
to Daoud Mousa, refused to allow an Iraqi lawyer to participate in the
British inquiry. "He told us that since this had happened inside
the British Army, the British Army would conduct the investigation,"
The brigadier issued
a statement on 3 October, expressing his "regrets" that their
son "died while under British jurisdiction" and promising
that if the military police concluded that a crime had been committed,
"those suspected will be tried ... under the laws of the United
Kingdom." The family initially accepted $3,000 of compensation
for Baha's death - they say they thought that by offering this, the
British were accepting responsibility - but they refused to sign a letter
they received last month from a British claims officer called Perkins
which offered a further $5,000 as a "final settlement" of
the "incident" which would be made "without admission
of liability on behalf of the British Contingent of the Coalition Forces
An MoD spokeswoman
said yesterday that "as far as I'm aware, as of the beginning of
December, the investigation was ongoing - nothing in our records suggests
it is not still ongoing". But no charges appear to have been made,
no soldiers are currently under arrest and Alaa Mousa and his father
Daoud remain infuriated by their treatment.
"Are the soldiers
responsible for killing Baha to go unpunished?" Alaa asks. "Why
can't we be involved in this? If these men have no punishment, they
will do this again.
"We are not
saying the British are 'occupiers'. We think you came here to Basra
to save us from Saddam. But you should not treat my family like this,
just paying us money when you kill Baha and ... then stopping us being
involved in finding out what really happened. If you go on like this,
your 'big welcome' in Basra will be over."
© 2003 Independent