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Soldiers viewed all Iraqis as 'scum', Baha Mousa inquiry hearsIntelligence officer says officers did not know rules on treatment of prisoners and one tried to mount 'arse-covering exercise' after Baha Mousa's death
(10)Tweet this (7)Richard Norton-Taylor guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 April 2010 18.51 BST Article history
Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel worker, was beaten to death in 2003 while in the custody of 1 Battalion Queen's Lancashire Regiment. Photograph: Liberty/PA
An officer of the regiment detaining Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel worker, when he was beaten to death said his soldiers held the view that "all Iraqis were scum", it was disclosed today.
One officer tried to mount an "arse covering" exercise after Mousa's death, while others expressed ignorance of basic rules covering the treatment of prisoners, the public inquiry into the incident heard.
A military intelligence officer, identified only as SO [staff officer] 17, told the inquiry she was "amazed" at questions senior officers asked her about how prisoners should be treated.
Hooding, stress positions, noise-producing equipment and sleep deprivation were prohibited in a Joint Intelligence Committee document in 1972, the inquiry heard. They were banned by Edward Heath, then prime minister, after their use in Northern Ireland.
Giving evidence behind a screen, the witness said she was well aware of the 1972 ban and of obligations laid down by the Geneva conventions, and international and European law. The inquiry has heard how Mousa and other Iraqi civilians held with him were subjected to hooding, stress positions and punching.
Mousa, a 26-year-old receptionist, was beaten to death on 15 September 2003 on suspicion of being an insurgent. He sustained 93 separate injuries while in the custody of soldiers from 1 Battalion Queen's Lancashire Regiment (1QLR).
The intelligence officer, who was deployed to southern Iraq between July and December 2003, said that later that day she received a number of telephone calls from QLR officers. One, identified as Major Michael Peebles, had asked her what she described as basic questions about how prisoners should be handled, fed and watered, and how long they could be detained.
"I was amazed that this officer was asking me these questions as the unit should have been aware of policy," she said, adding: "I formed the distinct impression that this officer was hiding something from me." Asked by Gerard Elias QC, the inquiry counsel, why she got that impression, she replied that the officer had offered no reply when she told him: "If you've got any detainees then get them to me."
Asked why she believed a QLR officer was engaged in what she called an "exercise in covering someone's arse", she said it was because it was very unusual for her to get so many telephone calls from officers in a British battlegroup in Basra.
She described how two weeks later she received a further call from another QLR officer. It lasted between three and four hours. She added: "During the call, he seemed to be on a morality roller coaster, in that he would go on about the QLR mentality and the attitude held that all Iraqis were scum and then he would go on about the lack of training that soldiers had."
She said her caller, a male captain whose name she could not remember, "felt remorseful about Baha Mousa's death". The captain told her that "poor treatment of prisoners was common during the tour", she added.
The inquiry has heard that hooding of Iraqi detainees by British soldiers in Iraq was common. Today's witness, who described the practice as "inhumane", said she witnessed it rarely but when she did so she immediately ordered the hoods to be removed. She said alternatives, such as strips across the eyes or darkened goggles, were acceptable for a limited period.
She recalled one instance when a detainee had a "visible imprint of a boot on his back and others suffered from cut lips or bruises to their heads".
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, the army's most senior legal adviser in Iraq, told the inquiry last month that the way Iraqi detainees were intimidated and hooded by British soldiers was "repulsive". He was shocked, he said, adding that it was "a bit like seeing pictures of Guantánamo Bay for the first time".