Iraqis' families challenge UK refusal to probe deaths

By John Aston and Louise Barnett, PA News

The Independent

28 July 2004

The families of Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by British troops launched a High Court challenge today to the Government's refusal to order independent inquiries into the deaths.

If their applications for judicial review succeed, it will open the way for landmark investigations into whether troops are guilty of unlawful killing.

Rabinder Singh QC, appearing for the Iraqis in six test cases, argued that European human rights laws, which protect the right to life and freedom from torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, applied to troops in Iraq and the Government was obliged to investigate.

He accused Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon of going wrong in law by refusing to act and said: "This country should be proud to be a leader in the field of human rights, not a grudging follower."

The six test cases include the "post-war" shootings of four Iraqi civilians, allegedly by soldiers from the Battle Group of the King's Regiment. The victims were either at home, walking in the street or driving when they were shot.

The two other deaths, allegedly caused by soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, relate to one Iraqi police commissioner who was shot while on his way to a judge's house, and that of hotel worker Baha Mousa, 26, who was allegedly beaten to death while in custody.

Mr Singh said the six cases before the court - overall there are some 30 other similar claims in the pipeline - had been selected to clarify "important issues of principle" on human rights law.

He told Lord Justice Rix, sitting with Mr Justice Forbes: "They all concern the deaths of Iraqi civilians where at the very least there is reason to believe that those responsible for their deaths were British soldiers during the occupation of south-eastern Iraq following the cessation of major hostilities in May 2003."

The first five cases arose under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guaranteed the right to life.

The case of Mr Mousa raised questions under Article 3, which guaranteed freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.

During his opening, Mr Singh read from a witness statement from Kifah Taha al-Mutari, who said that he, Mr Mousa and five other hotel workers were arrested and taken to a British military base called Darul Dhyafa and beaten on the neck, chest and genital areas.

He said: "Baha appeared to have much worse ill-treatment than the others."

He was not able to stand up "and the soldiers continued beating him even while he was on the floor. The soldiers used particular sharp, jabbing movements into the area beneath the ribs, which was particularly painful".

Mr al-Mutari said: "We all had another hood put on top of the first hood. We were given water by it being poured over the hood so that we had to lick the droplets that seeped through the hood.

"Freezing water was poured on to us and this was very painful as the temperatures in detention were 40 degrees plus."

Mr al-Mutari added: "Soldiers took turns in abusing us. At night the number of soldiers increased, sometimes to eight at a time.

"We were prevented from sleeping throughout the three days as soldiers introduced the 'names game'.

"Soldiers would mention some English names of stars or (football) players and request us to remember them, or we would be beaten severely."

Mr al-Mutari said: "One terrible game the soldiers played involved kickboxing. The soldiers would surround us and compete as to who could kickbox one of us the furthest.

"The idea was to try and make us crash into the wall."

During the detention, Mr Mousa was taken to another room and he allegedly received more beatings there.

"On the third night Baha was in a separate room and I could hear him moaning through the walls.

"He was saying that he was bleeding from his nose and that he was dying. I heard him say 'I am dying... blood... blood...'. I heard nothing further from him after that."

On the morning of the third night, Mr al-Mutari and the other detainees were woken up from the two hours sleep they had been allowed in three days, and one soldier "asked us to dance like Michael Jackson".