UK inquiry into torture and death of Iraqi in UK custody must be independent

Amnesty International has welcomed the public inquiry into the case of an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died after being tortured over a period of 36 hours while detained by UK troops in Basra.

Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old father of two, died in September 2003. A post-mortem examination revealed 93 separate injuries on his body.

Amnesty International said: “This recognition by the UK authorities of the need for a full public inquiry into the case is long-overdue. The family of Baha Mousa and their legal representatives, along with NGOs, including Amnesty International, have spent years campaigning for such an inquiry.

“It should not have taken so long for the UK authorities to acknowledge that an inquiry was needed, given the shocking facts of this case and the obvious inadequacies of the initial investigations,” the organization said.

“What is now needed – at the very least – is a genuinely full, independent, impartial and thorough investigation into all of the circumstances of the torture and death of Baha Mousa, and the torture of a number of other Iraqi nationals detained at around the same time as him,” said Amnesty International.

Amnesty International has called for the inquiry to be given a broad enough remit to allow it to fully investigate how, when, where, why and by whom the advice was given that it was lawful for members of the UK armed forces to ‘condition’ detainees by the use of techniques such as hooding, sleep deprivation and placing in stress positions.

These techniques have long been outlawed in the UK, but had become, in the words of the judge presiding over the court martial arising from the case in 2007, “standard operating procedure” among the troops responsible for detaining Baha Mousa. The judge hearing the court martial described it as “a serious failing in the chain of command all the way up to Brigade and beyond”.

The terms of reference of the inquiry in this case are yet to be announced, but it has been confirmed that the intention is to hold it under the controversial Inquiries Act 2005. Amnesty International believes that this would damage the inquiry’s independence, impartiality and thoroughness. An inquiry under the Inquiries Act would allow the Secretary of State for Defence – the minister with responsibility for the armed forces, whose conduct will be the subject of the inquiry – significant and wide-ranging powers to impose restrictions on the inquiry if he thinks it is necessary “in the public interest” to do so.

These include the power to set the terms of reference for the inquiry, and to change them during the inquiry; to appoint the chair of the inquiry and, in consultation with the chair, to appoint all the members of the inquiry panel; to bring the inquiry to an end at any point; to impose restrictions on public access to the inquiry hearings, and public disclosure of the evidence considered in the inquiry; and to withhold any material from the final published report of the inquiry.

Amnesty International is worried that any inquiry held under this legislation into an allegation of serious human rights violations may not be independent enough from the government to meet the standards required by international human rights law.