Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 13:01 UK

UK army 'rotten', Iraq probe told

Baha Mousa and his family
Mr Mousa's sons were left orphaned after his death

British soldiers who abused an Iraqi detainee who died in their custody were not just "a few bad apples", a public inquiry has been told.

There was "something rotten in the whole barrel", Rabinder Singh QC said.

Troops in Iraq routinely used banned interrogation methods they did not think were illegal, lawyers told the inquiry into the 2003 death.

The inquiry, led by Sir William Gage, is focusing on Baha Mousa's death, detainees' treatment and army methods.

Mr Singh, counsel for Mr Mousa's family and the other Iraqis detained alongside him, said: "This case is not just about beatings or a few bad apples.

"There is something rotten in the whole barrel."

14 Sep 2003 Baha Mousa and nine other Iraqis arrested at Haitham Hotel in Basra by members of the 1st Battalion The Queen's Lancashire Regiment
16 Sep 2003 Mr Mousa dies in British army custody in Iraq with multiple injuries
30 April 2007 Cpl Donald Payne jailed for a year and dismissed from the Army for inhumanely treating civilian detainees
27 March 2008 MoD admits breaching the human rights of Mr Mousa and others
14 May 2008 Defence Secretary Des Browne announces public inquiry to be held into Mr Mousa's death
10 July 2008 MoD agrees to pay £2.83m compensation to mistreated detainees
13 July 2009 Public inquiry begins in London

His comments came as legal teams for key parties were allowed to read statements to the inquiry.

It has already heard of the abuse Mr Mousa and his fellow detainees suffered.

A short video showing Cpl Donald Payne shouting obscenities at the hooded Iraqi prisoners calling them "apes" has also been played.

In 2007, Cpl Payne was jailed for a year and dismissed from the Army after being convicted of war crimes charges related to the death.

On Monday, Mr Singh told the inquiry: "The official version of events was that nothing on that video was in fact illegal.

"What we saw was a soldier trying to implement official policy, forcing detainees to get back into stress positions when they were clearly moaning and unable to maintain those positions.

"They are all shown hooded, again in accordance with orders, again illegally."

Hotel arrest

Mr Mousa and nine other civilians were arrested at a Basra Hotel on 14 September 2003 by soldiers from the former Queen's Lancashire Regiment who found weapons on the premises.

Staff insisted the weapons were kept for security, but they were taken to a detention centre at the Battle Group Main camp, under suspicion of being insurgents.

Two days later Mr Mousa was dead. A post-mortem examination showed he suffered asphyxiation and had at least 93 injuries to his body, including fractured ribs and a broken nose.

Lawyer Phil Shiner: "Baha Mousa was a father of two young children, now sadly orphans"

Mr Singh said: "One of the striking features of the terrible events is that the abuse did not take place in a secret location behind closed doors.

"The temporary detention facility (TDF) was open to the outside. Many people must have seen or heard what was going on. Many seem to have visited the TDF.

"This gives rise to serious questions about the professionalism of the outfit and whether the culture was one of impunity, [and] about the capacity of the regiment's members to question and challenge abuse."

Convicted war criminal

A six-month court martial saw seven soldiers facing war crimes charges relating to Mr Mousa's death.

In April 2007, all but Cpl Payne, 36, were cleared on all counts at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire.

He became the UK's first convicted war criminal under the International Criminal Court Act.

The brutality was completely unacceptable. It has stained the reputation of the British army
David Barr
MoD counsel

In July 2008 the MoD agreed to pay £2.83m in compensation to the families of Mr Mousa and the nine other detainees.

David Barr, counsel for the Ministry of Defence, said the "appalling" behaviour of British soldiers in the case "disgusted" the Army.

He told the inquiry: "It is with huge regret that the Ministry of Defence acknowledges the way in which some of those techniques were used on Baha Mousa and those detained with him.

"The brutality was completely unacceptable. It has stained the reputation of the British army."

Public apology

Cpl Payne's barrister, Michael Topolski QC, said the former soldier hoped the inquiry would provide a "clearer and fuller picture" of events.

Mr Topolski said: "Donald Payne has accepted and he does accept that he violated his duty to those detainees.

"For that, through us, now without hesitation he wishes to publicly apologise to each of them and in particular to the family of Baha Mousa."

The inquiry later adjourned for the day and will reconvene at 1000 BST on Wednesday when the first witness will be Mr Mousa's father.

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