Timeline: Baha Mousa inquiry

Politics.co.uk
Politics.co.uk

This article was originally published on July 13th 2009.

Today the independent inquiry into how Baha Mousa died at the hands of British soldiers in Iraq begins its work.

Getting to this point has been something of a battle for the lawyers representing Mr Mousa's family. But after a lengthy struggle persuading the courts an inquiry should take place, the time may have finally come when the practices of British Army soldiers fully come to light.

Here's a summary of the road to the inquiry:


September 14th 2003 - Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel receptionist, arrested by British soldiers of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment and taken to British base.

September 16th 2003 - Mr Mousa found dead. His post-mortem subsequently establishes 93 identifiable injuries on his body and that he died of asphyxiation.

July 28th 2004 - Lawyers representing his family challenge the government position that an independent inquiry is unnecessary. The issue hinges on whether the Human Rights Act 1998 applies to British troops in Iraq.

December 14th 2004 - The high court rules against the government, guaranteeing an inquiry.

September 19th 2006 - Corporal Donald Payne pleads guilty to inhumanely treating Iraqi civilians in custody, becoming the first British soldier ever to admit committing a war crime.

It came at the start of a court martial held at Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. He denied - and was subsequently cleared of - manslaughter.

Six other soldiers were also charged at the court martial.

April 30th 2007 - Cpl Payne is reduced to the ranks, dismissed from the army and jailed for 12 months over the way he treated Mr Mousa and others.

The head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said the trial had shed light on many "uncomfortable facts".

"Discipline and the rule of law are core to everything we do, and are not optional extras appended to the functions of our armed forces," Gen Dannatt continued.

"They are vital for command and operational effectiveness, as well as underpinning the very essence of our values and standards."

All six of the other soldiers charged are acquitted, including Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Mendonca, the highest-ranking soldier ever to have faced a court martial in British Army history.

June 13th 2007 - Law lords rules that foreign citizens killed in custody by UK troops are covered by human rights legislation, opening the way for today's independent inquiry.

Mr Mousa, unlike the other five cases considered, was killed by British troops while he was a military prisoner and therefore his death came under human rights laws.

"This decision means that the government must now face up to its obligations to detainees," Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said at the time.

"Individual soldiers will no longer carry the can for systemic hooding and beating and worse."

January 25th 2008 - Brigadier Aitken's review, An Investigation into Cases of Deliberate Abuse and Unlawful Killing in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, is published.

Defence secretary Des Browne admits to the Commons it was "critical in places".

In fact it says there had not been enough preparation for troops dealing with prisoners and said British soldiers needed a "better understanding between right and wrong".

Brig Aitken concludes: "I take no pride in the conduct of those of our people - however few - who took it upon themselves to deliberately abuse Iraqi civilians."

March 27th 2008 - Defence secretary Des Browne acknowledges "substantive breaches" of the European Convention on Human Rights took place on Iraqi detainees tortured by British troops.

The concession meant compensation followed - nearly £2.8 million was paid to his family.

"The army has done a great deal since these cases to improve procedures and training," armed forces minister Bob Ainsworth said.

"But we are not complacent and continue to demand the very highest standards of conduct from all our troops."

July 27th 2008 - Parliament's joint committee on human rights doubts the testimony of government officials about the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

Lieutenant General Brims and former armed forces minister Adam Ingram had told the committee the prohibition on hooding, stress positioning and sleep deprivation had been made clear. Other sources suggested otherwise.

Committee chairman Andrew Dismore said: "The issues relating to Baha Mousa's death are now the subject of a public inquiry, but as soon as this has concluded, we expect a detailed explanation of how these differences came about."

May 14th 2008 - The government agrees an independent investigation into the events surrounding Mr Mousa's death was needed. A senior judge is promised to conduct the probe. He is subsequently announced as Sir William Gage, a former judge on the court of appeal.

October 15th 2008 - Sir William presides over the preliminary hearing of the inquiry.

"The gravity and importance of the events that this inquiry is to investigate require little explanation. The courts, and the public in general, have long recognised that the death of any person in the custody of the state, other than by natural causes, is always a ground for serious concern," he said.

"Where the death has occurred in the custody of British forces serving abroad and there has at the same time been the infliction of injury to other detainees, in
circumstances in which the issue of the use of conditioning techniques is raised, these matters are of clear and obvious public concern and importance."

July 13th 2009 - Counsel to the inquiry begins statement, expected to outline the issues which require close scrutiny.

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