Seven Iraqis die in British custody. How many soldiers are charged? None

This is not the first incident to involve the Queen's Lancashire Regiment and allegations of brutality. Andrew Johnson and Severin Carrell report

02 May 2004


Amid the furore caused by yesterday's publication of photographs showing British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners were claims by the Ministry of Defence and General Sir Michael Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff, that the photographs were of an isolated incident caused by the "ill discipline of a few soldiers".

But it is a year and two days since Ather Karen al-Mowafakia died in British custody in Basra. During the next five months another six men died while in the custody of British soldiers.

And it is four months since the first details of these deaths first emerged in The Independent on Sunday, when our Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, gave an account of the death of Baha Mousa, 26, a hotel receptionist. Mr Mousa was allegedly beaten to death in September by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment - the same regiment shown abusing prisoners in yesterday's photographs. Kifah Taha, a hotel worker arrested at the same time as Mr Mousa and who suffered acute renal failure after being kicked by soldiers during questioning, said each of the Iraqis was given a nickname: "They called us by the names of footballers and kept telling us to repeat them, so we would remember who we were."

A year after the first death, and six months after the last, the Royal Military Police (RMP) is still investigating six cases. No disciplinary action has been taken against any soldier, and no soldier has been charged, although in the case of Mr Mousa possible manslaughter charges are being considered by the Army Prosecuting Authority.

Frustrated at this lack of progress, Mr Mousa's father, Colonel Daoud Mousa, a senior police officer, has decided to go to the High Court in London on Wednesday to seek compensation and a full judicial inquiry into his son's death. It is the first case of its kind involving British forces in Iraq. The failure to clear up the cases quickly led to charges yesterday that the MoD was involved in a "cover up". The other six cases are:

* Ather Karen al-Mowafakia, who died on 29 April. No more is known about him.

* Radhi Natna, who died on 8 May. The RMP investigation concluded that he died from natural causes after a heart attack and that no further action needed to be taken. But his family says that he had no history of heart trouble, and questions remain over his treatment.

* Ahmad Jabber Kareem Ali, 17, also died on 8 May. According to his friend Ayad Salim Hanoon, the two were arrested in Basra by British troops, taken to the Shatt al-Basra waterway and ordered to swim across. Ayad said: "We reached the deepest point but Ahmad couldn't swim. He sank and I couldn't find him."

* Abd Al Jubba Mousa, 53, a headmaster, died on 17 May. He was seen being beaten with rifle butts as he was led away by British troops.

* Said Shabram died on 24 May. Nothing more is known about him.

* Hassan Abbad Said, died on 4 August. Nothing more is known about him.

Details of the seven men who died only emerged through a series of questions tabled by the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price following Robert Fisk's report in September. Yesterday Mr Price said: "How can the Ministry of Defence be surprised about these photographs? These allegations about the Queen's Lancashire Regiment have been in the public domain for six months. Clearly there has been disgusting treatment by a small minority of soldiers.

"But what seems to have happened is that there has been a cover up by people higher up in the hierarchy of the Army. The deaths in custody happened over a period of five months, involving different regiments. The pattern of abuse has been similar ... To say this is an isolated incident is wrong. Seven people have lost their lives. No one has been charged one year on."

The regiments involved in allegations of abuse include the Royal Fusiliers and Black Watch, as well as the QLR.

Further evidence of brutality by British troops is included in a report published by Amnesty International. It said: "Many detainees have alleged they were tortured and ill-treated by US and UK troops during interrogation. Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding and exposure to bright lights. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated."

It quotes the case of Abdallah Khudran al-Shamran, a Saudi Arabian national, who claimed he was threatened with execution by a British officer while in hospital in Basra where he was recovering from beatings and electric shocks administered by the Americans.

Yesterday's photographs were not the first to shock the British public. Eleven months ago photographs showing Iraqi prisoners strung up in a net from a fork lift truck were published in The Sun. Again the investigation launched by the Ministry of Defence into the soldiers who were allegedly involved, including Gary Bartlam, 18, of the Royal Fusiliers, has not been completed.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said this week that some soldiers were facing charges but the Army Prosecuting Authority had not yet decided whether or not the charges should be brought. They are believed to involve indecent and cruel conduct. But the soldiers are still serving, some in Kosovo.

The MoD has consistently denied that hoods are routinely used against Iraqi prisoners. But last month the Defence minister Adam Ingram did admit that, "members of the armed forces may only use blindfolds on apprehended individuals for reasons of operation security, such as when there is movement through military-sensitive areas."

Little is known about the seven men who died. The MoD is refusing to release any personal details, such as age or occupation. Mr Ingram has admitted that even the cause of death is not in the scope of the RMP inquiries.