Death in military custody of eight Iraqi men is 'just the tip of the iceberg'
A human rights lawyer warned yesterday that the killing of Baha Mousa and seven other Iraqi detainees in British military custody is "just the tip of the iceberg". Phil Shiner, a lawyer acting for Baha Mousa's family, warned that the Gage inquiry into Mousa's brutal death at the hands of British troops in Iraq was just the start of a number of damning allegations that would "rock the Army". He said there were thousands of allegations of mistreatment from Iraqis detained by British troops. The allegations potentially implicate every single battle group that did a tour, and also the special interrogation team, he said.
His comments came after the damning findings of the Gage inquiry into the death of Mousa, 26, the Iraqi hotel receptionist who was hooded for nearly 24 hours before dying in British military custody in Basra in September 2003. The inquiry concluded that interrogation techniques banned by the Government in 1972, including hooding, sleep deprivation and stress positions, were used on Iraqi prisoners.
The former attorney general Lord Goldsmith claimed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) "deliberately" circumvented him to pursue illegal interrogation techniques in Iraq. Lord Goldsmith, speaking in a BBC interview, said one reason they failed to consult him was the "possibility they didn't want to receive unwelcome advice".
It also emerged from evidence presented to the Gage inquiry that a senior British officer warned military officials after Mousa's death that hooding prisoners was an "archaic, emotive, baggage-laden practice". The inquiry also revealed one British soldier was alleged to have sexually abused a prisoner and female soldiers offered sex in return for information.
Mr Shiner said the Gage inquiry had revealed the MoD undermined the Army by ignoring its advice that hooding should be outlawed and detainees' human rights upheld. Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, the Army's top legal adviser in Iraq at the time, informed the inquiry he was told of seven deaths of detainees in British custody that required investigation. He told the inquiry the MoD rejected army advice in 2003 that hooding and stress positions should be outlawed. It also rejected the Army's legal advice that the human rights convention should apply to detainees and that judges needed to have judicial oversight of detention.
A second senior officer, Commodore Alan Massey, a former captain of the Ark Royal, expressed "serious concerns" about reintroducing the practice of hooding and stress positions. In an email in sent on 31 August 2004, he warned: "There is surely no way that ministers will, or even should be invited to, contemplate the rehabilitation of this archaic, emotive, baggage-laden practice.
"One may as well try to justify the reintroduction of selective torture on the same, highly dubious grounds of 'operational and force protection reasons'. Forget it. Leave this sort of thing to King Canute." Commodore Massey said the European Court of Human Rights would "positively drool" at the prospect of hearing cases.
Mr Shiner said: "We have to get rid of these people who inhabit the dark corridors of power at the MoD. They are very senior people stuck in a colonial age. They seem to have no professional or moral standards at all. They totally undermine the best efforts of the military to do the job." He added he suspected the British soldiers had committed similar abuses in Afghanistan.
He said one of his Iraqi clients alleged that, at a UK base in Iraq in 2006, soldiers took a photo of him from his wallet and superimposed his head on an image of a man having sex with a young girl. "They threatened to send that to his wife and post it around the place he lived," Mr Shiner said.
In a second incident, another Iraqi man alleges his face was superimposed on an photo of a man having sex with a young boy. "How does the MoD sanction that and presumably pay money to access a pornographic site to even pay to get that? It is so sick," Mr Shiner said.
He claimed British troops masturbating and having sex in front of each other and prisoners were "commonplace". A British female interrogator offered sex to prisoners in return for information and stripped in front of sex-starved prisoners, he said.
Mr Shiner said he was writing to the Prime Minister for a meeting to discuss the allegations. Next month lawyers will seek a judicial review of "harshing" – where hooded detainees are screamed at in front of their face – adding they would refer to comments made by the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, in Parliament on Thursday that the Army would continue to use "certain verbal and non-physical techniques". Mr Shiner said harshing was falsely portrayed as shouting. He said: "I put my face three or four inches from your nose and I shout in the loudest manner in your personal space the foulest things, and I have worked out what to say about you personally. It is gross and it is frightening."
An MoD spokesman said: "We take all allegations of abuse seriously. We are already investigating whether all allegations are or have been investigated appropriately."