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.
Amnesty International 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
British military 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 Defense 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 Defense 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
Mr Mousa's violent death left two children orphaned: his 22-year-old wife
died of cancer shortly before his detention by British troops.
'The British said my son would be free soon. Three days later I had his
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.
"Three days 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 "generalized 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 center 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 Basra
"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.
Amnesty International has demanded an impartial and independent inquiry into
Baha's death and the mistreatment of the other Iraqi prisoners, but the
Ministry of Defense 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 murder.
"We reject 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 center 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 anesthesia 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 renal failure".
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
"A sergeant 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.
Robert Harkins, 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," Alaa says.
he 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 in
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 Digital (UK) Ltd.