Hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, 26, was hooded, assaulted and held in stress positions along with nine other Iraqis following their detention by 1st Battalion the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (1QLR) in September 2003, the inquiry found.
Mousa, a father of two, died 36 hours after he was arrested, after sustaining 93 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose.
The three-year inquiry, led by retired judge William Gage, said that numerous soldiers were involved in the abuse and accused others of a “lack of moral courage” in failing to report what was happening.
It also said the Ministry of Defence was guilty of a “corporate failure” to prevent such mistreatment, saying it had no proper doctrine on interrogation methods when Britain joined the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
General Peter Wall, the head of the army, offered an unreserved apology and said the organisation had learned lessons from the death.
“The shameful circumstances of Baha Mousa’s death have cast a dark shadow on that reputation and this must not happen again,” he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the inquiry detailed a “truly shocking and appalling incident” and he raised the possibility of further prosecutions in the case, something Mousa’s family have called for.
Seven soldiers were charged over the abuse in 2005, but six were cleared in a court martial.
Cameron said: “If there is further evidence that comes out of this inquiry that enables further action to be taken, it should be taken.”
However, he said the abuse “is not in any way typical of the British army that upholds the highest standards”.
The inquiry found Mousa’s death was caused by a combination of his injuries — many of them inflicted by one soldier, Donald Payne — and his weakened physical state caused by his mistreatment, the extreme heat and a lack of food and water. Payne had a “particularly unpleasant” method of assault which included punching or kicking detainees to make them groan in an orchestrated “choir”, Gage said.
The soldier pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating civilians and was jailed for a year in 2007, becoming the first member of the British armed forces to be convicted of a war crime.
A year later, the Ministry of Defence agreed to pay Mousa’s family and the other detainees a total of €3.2 million.
Although Britain banned the use of hooding and painful stress positions in 1972, Gage found a lack of knowledge of this prohibition, which he blamed on “corporate failure” by the Ministry of Defence. He said such practices were “standard operating procedure” in Payne’s regiment in Iraq, but said they were “wholly unacceptable”.
Gage said the abuse “constituted an appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence on civilians“, adding that “they represent a very serious breach of discipline by a number of members of 1QLR”.
The inquiry criticised the regiment’s former commander, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, one of those cleared at the court martial.
While accepting Mendonca’s claim that he did not know about the abuse, Gage said: “As commanding officer, he ought to have known what was going on in that building long before Baha Mousa died.”
Human rights and pressure groups applauded the report.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “We vividly remember just how strenuously some senior officials, lawyers and former ministers resisted the creation of this public inquiry into such appalling human rights abuse.
“They should all search their consciences about how they allowed the inhuman interrogation practices to be deemed acceptable.”