British soldiers conducted ‘choir of pain’ in Basra


THE British army has suspended several soldiers and more prosecutions are possible following a devastating report into abuse of Iraqi civilians by British soldiers in Basra in 2003.
A young widower, hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, left behind two orphaned children after soldiers beat him to death after mistaking him for an insurgent. His body carried 93 external injuries.
An officer who visited the Basra detention centre told the inquiry, chaired by retired judge Sir William Gage, that Mousa and nine other detainees looked as though they had been “in a car crash”.
The report has been handed to civilian and military prosecutors “to see whether more can be done to bring those responsible to justice”, British defence secretary Liam Fox told Parliament. He said Ministry of Defence inquiries “are revealing evidence of some concern in other cases”.
He promised: “If any serviceman or woman . . . is found to have betrayed the values this country stands for and the standards we hold dear, they will be held to account.”
The report found that the military had allowed all reference to a ban on inhumane techniques to be removed from training programs and practice manuals, and even made some of the techniques standard operating procedure.
Methods used on suspects in Northern Ireland — wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and water — were banned by Britain in 1972. They were later declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Fox admitted there had been a systemic failure by the army to publicise and enforce the ban. The report concluded that at the time of the Iraq invasion, “there was no proper MoD doctrine on interrogation of prisoners of war that was generally available”.
Mr Mousa, 26, and nine other civilians held in Basra were hooded for most of their 36 hours in British custody and forced to stand with knees bent against a wall with their arms in the air.
They were beaten with metal bars, had their genitals kicked and their eyes gouged, and were subjected to a grotesque parody of a choir in which they were hit in turn, “causing them to emit groans and other noises and thereby playing them like musical instruments”, the report said.
A total of 19 soldiers were named as responsible but only one has so far been punished. Corporal Donald Payne served a year in jail following a court-martial over Mr Mousa’s death.
General Sir Peter Wall, chief of the general staff of the army, said several soldiers had been suspended and the military’s provost martial would investigate whether anyone else should be disciplined.
The report was also scathing about the unit’s doctor, who faces a disciplinary tribunal by the General Medical Council, and its Catholic priest, who will be interviewed by his archbishop.First published in The Age.