British High Court challenge for Iraq 'mistreatment' inquiry

A British High Court battle was launched today for a wide-ranging public inquiry into the alleged mistreatment of more than 100 Iraqis detained by British troops.

Judges heard accusations that the detainees were the victims of "systemic" inhuman and degrading treatment in British-controlled detention facilities in Iraq in the aftermath of the war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Michael Fordham QC said: "There are 102 Iraqis who have brought complaints, and the Defence Secretary has a duty to conduct an independent and effective investigation capable of bringing the full facts to light."

He was asking two senior judges, Anthony May and Mr Justice Silber, for permission to challenge the refusal by Defence Secretary Liam Fox to order a public inquiry.

Mr Fordham was representing Ali Zaki Mousa, from Basra, the lead claimant for the Iraqis, who says he suffered months of beatings and other abuse in the custody of British soldiers in 2006-07.

The QC said other investigations have already been set up. They include an ongoing inquiry into how Baha Mousa met his death at the hands of British troops in Basra.

A second looked at allegations that British forces murdered and tortured a number of Iraqis at Majar-al-Kabir in May 2004.

However, they were too limited, and a comprehensive inquiry is now demonstrably necessary to cover the increasing number of claims of abuse between April 2003 and December 2008, Mr Fordham said.

He added: "There is every reason to believe the number of claims will continue to grow."

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, requires an effective and prompt investigation of all allegations, said the QC.

The evidence of systemic abuse of Iraqis was "incontrovertible" and could only properly be dealt with by a comprehensive inquiry, argued Mr Fordham.

There were multiple claims of ill-treatment contrary to Article 3, including hooding or blindfolding, allegations of being forced into prolonged stress positions and deprivation of sleep, water and food.

There were allegations of prolonged solitary confinement, the use of banned interrogation techniques and sexual practices, including the use of hardcore pornography.

Detainees complained of sexual intercourse taking place between soldiers in front of male Muslims, male rape and forcing Iraqis, including a 14-year-old boy, to give oral sex to others.

The Government has announced a new team of investigators - the Iraq Historical Allegations Team (IHAT) - to be created within the Royal Military Police.

But the IHAT will only investigate allegations of criminal misconduct by individual members of UK forces and will not address the alleged systemic abuses so that lessons could be learned for the future, argued Mr Fordham.

Mr Mousa alleges in a witness statement before the court that he was asleep at his home in Khamsemil in Basra, southern Iraq, on November 24, 2006 when a door was blown in at about 2am and British troops rushed in to arrest him.

He said he was beaten, handcuffed, blindfolded and forced to run barefoot to a military vehicle and driven to the brigade processing facility at Basra Air Station's contingency operating base.

Still in his nightwear in the cold, he said he was made to kneel in a painful stress position, receiving a hard kick to the jaw when he moved, leaving him unable to eat for 12 days.

As he screamed, he was beaten further and suffered kicks and blows with rifle butts, according to his statement.

Mr Mousa alleged that was the beginning of more than 12 months of detention and repeated acts of abuse, until his release in December 2007.

He was kicked, made to wear blackened goggles, beaten with piping after his ears were covered with ear muffs, and made to sit in stress positions. During one interrogation he was forced to stand with his arms held out horizontally.

Soldiers played DVDs at loud volume at night to prevent him from sleeping and he was subjected to periods of solitary confinement.

On one occasion he was interrogated for 12 hours by four interrogators taking turns until he became so exhausted that he collapsed on the floor and started vomiting.

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