British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking after the results of an inquiry into an Iraqi man Baha Mousa, who was beaten to death by British soldiers, said “such an incident should never happen again”. The same was said about here by Ted Heath after the revelations of the torture of the hooded men in 1971; and the same thing was said by James Callaghan after revelations of beatings in interrogations centres here in the late 1970s. I wrote two pieces about this subject in 2004 and reprint them here.
The first is about two victims of British army beatings and though they are separated in time the parallels are striking. The second piece is about the hypocrisy of the British government and its forces. It shall mollify the public for now but in five or ten years time its army will be still beating people to death in some far-flung place in the world.
A Tale of Two Cities
DANNY McCooey was taken into the hotel through the back. Baha Mousa was taken out of the hotel through the front.
Earlier, Danny had his dinner with his family at their Falls Road home, got spruced up – it was a Saturday night – and went into Belfast city centre for a drink with his friend Michael Masterson.
Baha was working as a receptionist in the Haitham Hotel in Basra city centre, along with his friend Kifah Taha and other staff.
It was April 30, 1977.
It was September 14, 2003.
Danny and Michael left the bar and were walking along Castle Street when they ran into a British army patrol.
Baha was on the desk when a British army patrol ran into the hotel and ordered everyone to lie on the floor. Soldiers went to the safe and discovered two rifles and two pistols. The owner of the hotel, Haitham Vaha, the man who had hidden the weapons, had fled in the confusion of the raid.
Michael Masterson said, “As we passed, a soldier said, ‘Go on you Irish bastards!’ I stopped and said, ‘Pardon, I can’t understand what you’re saying?’ He kept calling me an ‘Irish bastard’. He took a swing at me with his fist and I threw a punch back.
Danny grabbed me by the shoulder and said, ‘Na, don’t get involved with them.’
“I saw another rifle butt getting swung but it missed me and must have hit Danny about the stomach because he fell to the ground, screaming, ‘My stomach, my stomach!’ I went to his aid and asked the Brits for a doctor but they arrested me. The cops had arrived by now. I was put in the back of a jeep. Two Brits went to where Danny was lying, picked him up, half-dragged him to the jeep and then threw him in the back next to me. He was crying about his stomach.”
A workmate of Baha said, “We were taken to a barracks. 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 kickboxing us in the chest and between the legs and in the back. We were crying and screaming.”
The men were held for three days.
“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.”
Michael Masterson said, “We were taken to the barracks at the Grand Central Hotel. Danny was dragged away. About ten minutes later I heard him screaming. I never saw Danny again.”
Twenty-year-old Danny McCooey was taken from the barracks to the City Hospital but because of the seriousness of his injuries it wouldn’t admit him and he was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital. He was bleeding internally, his stomach collapsed and there was a hole in the base of his lungs. He died twenty days later.
Twenty-two-year old Baha Mousa died in the barracks and was taken to a British army field hospital. The death certificate stated that he had died from ‘cardiorespiratory arrest: asphyxia’. His nose had been broken, two of his ribs were broken, the skin had been ripped off his wrists by the handcuffs and his torso was covered in bruises.
Michael Masterson was released without charge in the early hours of 1 May.
Kifah Taha was released without charge from hospital in late September, having suffered severe bruising to his upper abdomen, which led to acute renal failure.
A 20-year-old British soldier was charged with the manslaughter of Danny McCooey but was acquitted. The judge said that the soldier “did what he instinctively thought was necessary in the moment of the threatened attack.”
No soldier has been charged with killing Baha Mousa, though the British have offered his family £4,500 in compensation provided the Mousa family do not hold British forces liable for his death. The family refused to sign the settlement and plans to take the Ministry of Defence to court.
Last week in Basra Tony Blair declared that the prestige and reputation of the British armed forces, a party to the Iraqi ‘peace process’, had never been higher.
Last week in Belfast Tony Blair’s government gave itself powers outside of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and established the International Monitoring Commission, which will scrutinise and judge potential breaches of the peace process. These powers allow the British to exclude Sinn Fein from a power-sharing executive if the Commission were, for example, to find the IRA guilty of a punishment beating.
That is the policy.
“We do not accept admission of guilt. That is the policy,” an MoD spokesperson said last week, in relation to the beating to death of Baha Mousa. The British army carried out the inquiry into itself. There was no International Monitoring Commission, yet the British exercised the power of exclusion.
The lawyer representing the family of Baha Mousa was banned from the hearing.
A Proud Tradition
The Daily Telegraph wrote: “The Royal Military Police are already investigating allegations of mistreatment of Iraqis by British soldiers in southern Iraq after the Mirror’s publication of photographs said to show a member of The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment urinating on an Iraqi lying in a military truck with a hood over his head.”
The Guardian wrote: “The soldier at the centre of the new revelations in the Mirror, Soldier C, said he saw four beatings where PoWs were punched and kicked, the paper reported. In one, a corporal placed a sandbag over a suspect’s face and poked his fingers in the victim’s eyes until he screamed with pain.”
In the Commons, Tony Blair used prime minister’s questions to say any “human rights abuses, torture or degradation” of prisoners were “wholly unacceptable”.
“On the table was a small bottle of stuff, and two syringes with needles…Somebody came from behind and put on a blindfold. The soldier gave me an injection on the right arm, then he tied something round it, then he did something to my fingers… Then I felt this feeling in my arm, electric shocks, but two given to start off with, not painful, just uncomfortable. Then every time they asked a question, it only kept increasing.”
“He kicked my legs apart and stuck his heel into my privates. Others came in and said that half my district had been wiped out in the fighting. At about 4am I was told that I was to be taken for a ride in a helicopter and that I was to be thrown out.”
“After what seemed about one hour in the helicopter I was thrown from it and kicked and batoned into a lorry.”
“The next I knew was being put into a helicopter and taken away. I overheard voices talking about, ‘Throw him out’ Before I went into the helicopter I was asked if I could swim.”
“What was going to happen to me? Are they coming to kill me? I wished to God they would end it.”
“I was beaten again. I was taken out and made stand against the wall. The soldiers said, ‘You are being taken out to be shot.”
“I was beaten and kicked in the stomach and privates for about half-an-hour. I was made lie on the floor. One put his foot on my throat and the other held my legs. The other one lit matches. He blew them out and then put them to my privates.”
“I was forced to stand against a wall with my hands supporting my body for a long time. I collapsed. My hands and legs were beaten whenever this happened and the insides of my feet were kicked until my ankles were swollen to almost twice their normal size. At the time that I was against this wall I got bread and water once and water alone on two other occasions. I was also punched in the ribs and in the stomach, as well as being nipped.”
“After being hooded I was led to the helicopter and I was thrown bodily into the helicopter. During this my hands and wrists were hurt due to the others handcuffed to me not being pushed equally. On being put into the helicopter, the handcuffs were removed and were applied to the back of the hood to tighten it around the head.”
“I would estimate that the helicopter journey lasted half an hour at the end of which I was put in a lorry. I was made to lie face downwards in the back with other men thrown on top of me.”
“A shot was fired. It went past my ear. They all had a good laugh at this.”
“I was not allowed to dress again but was told to put the hood back over my head. I was taken to another room, stood against the wall, the hood was removed and a flash picture was taken.”
PRINCIPAL METHODS OF INTERROGATION
Twenty-five principal methods of interrogation have been documented, which included: stretching a man over benches with two electric fires underneath and kicking him in the stomach; insertion of instruments in the anal passage; electric shocks given by use of a machine; urinating on prisoners; and psychological tortures such as firing shots close to their faces, playing Russian roulette or throwing them out of helicopters just above the ground (when the prisoners thought they were high in the air).
All of the above quotes are extracts from statements running to 4,500 pages, compiled by the European Commission on Human Rights over thirty years ago. They refer to the interrogations of Irish people in the North by the British military and Special Branch. The ECHR found Britain guilty of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners. A British prime minister stood up in the House of Commons to state that ‘ill-treating’ (sic) prisoners was totally unacceptable and would never happen again.
It happened again and again and again. A proud tradition.
First in Ireland, now in Iraq.