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After months of preparation, the Baha Mousa public inquiry is getting underway in central London today. Oral evidence sessions are expected to last about a year but the hard graft will begin with a lengthy overview of the themes to be looked at by the counsel to the inquiry. Follow the opening session live on politics.co.uk.
This event is now over, but you can see how it panned out below.
By Alex Stevenson
09:45 – There's a raft of television cameras lined up opposite the front door to the building in which the inquiry's taking place. Inside the media centre, all is ready for proceedings to begin. For all those involved, this is a big opportunity to get to the truth about what really happened to an innocent hotel receptionist in Basra six years ago.
09:56 – The inquiry is due to kick off at 10:00 BST, so there's just a few minutes to go until it all begins. Today will see the start of the opening statement of the counsel of the inquiry.
10:02 – The chairman, Sir William Gage, enters the inquiry room. All bow. He begins with some opening remarks, announcing that the opening statement is expected to last until about next Wednesday. We hope you're sitting comfortably…
10:03 – Sir William explains why some witnesses will be given anonymity. National security reasons explain the majority of cases, he says.
10:06 – Mr Elias begins his opening statement. "I, sir, appear as counsel to the inquiry," he announces. And we're off.
10:09 – A repetition of the terms of reference of the inquiry is his opening. They are, as taken from the inquiry website:
"To investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa and the treatment of those detained with him, taking account of the investigations which have already taken place, in particular where responsibility lay for approving the practice of conditioning detainees by any members of the 1st Battalion, The Queen's Lancashire Regiment in Iraq in 2003, and to make recommendations."
10:13 – Mr Elias says an important purpose of the inquiry will be, "where appropriate, to attribute responsibility". He says if abuse of an Iraqi civilian had occurred it might have acted as a rallying cry for "extremists" and adds: "To be seen to be dealing with such allegations on a comprehensive and fair way may not of itself heal the wounds, but perhaps it does go some way to provide reassurance, both to those who may have been wronged and to those who have nothing to fear from the truth."
10:17 – As Mr Elias continues to lay out what the inquiry will consider, the breadth of its scope becomes clear. Among the many things to be considered is a statement given by Ted Heath to the Commons on March 2nd, 1972, which made clear that conditioning techniques "would never again be used by British forces as an aid to interrogation without prior recourse to parliament".
10:19 – The inquiry is divided into three modules. Firstly, conditioning techniques from the early 1970s to March 2003 will be examined. Then, the role of the 1st Battalion of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, or 1QLR, in Iraq and its treatment of detainees. And finally, a look at the "chain of command from the soldier on the gruond up".
10:21 – And now, "moving on to the brief overview". Mr Elias explains the role of 1QLR, "stabilisation and reconstruction". "The British forces found themselves in a civilian policing role," he says. One of the aspects of this was the "tactical questioning and internment of Iraq civilians".
10:28 – Mr Elias explains the background to the arrest of the first nine detainees. They had been rounded up after British soldiers discovered fake papers and other suspicious materials at Hotel Haitham in Basra. The detainees were hotel workers, suspected as sympathisers to the old regime.
10:29 – Another acronym for you – the detainees were placed in a small building frequently referred to the as TDF, or temporary detention facility. They received "tactical questioning" there, Mr Elias says, before adding the inquiry will have to ascertain whether they actually did or not.
10:32 – Mr Elias says the detainees in the TDF received conditioning. They were placed in stress positions, hooded with hessian sandbags, prevented from sleeping and were subjected to loud noises.
10:33 – Next come claims made by the detainees. One was "forced to dance, as he put it in the style of Michael Jackson". Another claims he was urinated on, Mr Elias tells the inquiry.
10:37 – Mr Elias says "the causes of Baha Mousa's death are not entirely certain". Earlier he had said: "It has been suggested that Baha Mousa's head was banged on the floor or wall… but statements to this inquiry now suggest perhaps a greater degree of deliberation than has hitherto been described."
10:40 – One of the other detainees received injuries which would have killed him if he had not received treatment, Mr Elias says, reporting the assessment of a doctor at the scene.
10:43 – A video is played, a key piece of evidence, concluding the "overview of events at the heart of the inquiry". We didn't get to see it because of a technical complication but will shortly. There was an awful lot of shouting and swearing, put it like that.
10:48 – And now we move on to the in-depth assessment of module 1, conditioning techniques from the early 1970s onwards. It begins with Prime Minister Heath's statement that conditioning techniques would not be used. Mr Elias says: "Yet, even if one considers only the video that we have just looked at, it may be thought to be entirely apparent that these detainees were being subjected to stress positions, and prolonged hooding."
10:52 – A series of Ministry of Defence memorandums in 2004 are raised, suggesting British forces were unaware of the "Heath ruling" and its applicability to British forces serving outside Britain and Northern Ireland.
11:00 – And now we're going right back in history, to a report from November 1956 about the "arrest, interrogation and detetnion of persons suspected of terorrist activities" in Aden. Then, it seems, there were clear rules about this sort of thing – including prohibition of "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment".
11:09 – Mr Bowen's report, Mr Elias notes, includes the recommendation that if any "allegations of cruelty or torture" should be immediately dealt with. We move on to the final draft of a joint directive on military interrogation in internal security operations overseas, prepared by the Cabinet's joint intelligence committee in 1965. It explains a "psychological attack" is required for effective interrogation but prohibits, again, "outrages upon personal dignity".
11:13 – By the mid-1960s, the relevant directive appears to be have prohibited violence to the person, cruel treatment, torture and outrages upon personal dignity," Mr Elias says. He notes the directive did not set out what "permissible techniques" were.
11:16 – By now we are deep, deep in the nitty-gritty. Mr Elias is working through the changes to the joint directives of the mid-60s as a result of Mr Bowen's report.
11:18 – "Coming into the 1970s, therefore, the 1965 directive had been amended as we have seen to allow for better medical oversight of interrogation techniques," Mr Elias says. Internment was introduced into Northern Ireland in August 1971. Its relevance to this inquiry, he submits, is looking at how the government responded to concerns raised about its use in NI.
11:22 – Allegations of abuse in Northern Ireland followed quickly after the introduction of internment, Mr Elias says. He looks at the minutes of a Downing Street meeting which took place on August 12th 1971, three days after a number of arrests, noting these allegations had been made. Minutes for a meeting a week later are next, showing Mr Heath worried about the government's need to "find a means to refute mischievous suggestions of deliberate brutality".
11:30 – And the opening half of this morning session finishes, after a lengthy look at some "procedures contemplated at a detention centre". Back in ten minutes for the resumption.
11:38 – With two minutes to go until the restart, here's a little something: the government's response to the start of the inquiry.
Adjutant-general Lieutenant General Bill Rollo said: "The Army welcomes the beginning of this public inquiry into the events surrounding the death of Mr Baha Mousa in September 2003. The inquiry will independently identify what went wrong, will help us to understand how and why Mr Mousa died, and ensure that every possible lesson from this incident is learnt. The MoD and the Army are cooperating fully with the inquiry.
"While over 120,000 British service personnel have served in Iraq with bravery and distinction over six years of a difficult and arduous campaign, the failure of even a few to meet our own high standards is unacceptable. It was for that reason that a number of officers and soldiers were court martialled for offences relating to Mr Mousa's death and one NCO was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and dismissed from the Army. We have done a great deal in the intervening years to improve our training and procedures but we firmly believe that there is more to learn."
11:46 – Mr Elias resumes with an in-depth look at Sir Edmund'd Compton's inquiry into allegations of mistreatment in 1971. "Security concerns were raised about the level of detail into which the report descended," he notes. A Cabinet committee meeting in October 1971 found that the methods used, including making detainees wear hoods and making them stand 'spread-eagled' against a wall for long periods, were "unnecessarily harsh".
11:48 – The committee minutes note a determination to press ahead, however. "We should not be unduly squeamish," it says. Mr Elias says the argument that "it had been a very significant factor in our efforts to combat terrorism", seen in the committee's report, is "a refrain we shall see from time to time hereafter".
11:53 – Government worries about the security effects of releasing too much detail in the Compton report continued until its publication, it appears.
11:58 – And now we're on to the Compton report itself, published in November 1971. A government note attached to the report is reviewed by Mr Elias. He highlights the fourth paragraph, which makes clear that "violence or humiliating treatment… are forbidden".
12:04 – Unsurprisingly the government notes attached to the Compton report has a raft of content relevant to this inquiry. Diet, sleep, hooding and 'posture on the wall' are among the factors it considers, outlining the processes used. An example, posture: detainees were forced to stand facing the wall, with legs apart and leaning with their hands raised up against the wall for four to six hours at a time. This, it is noted, was "not a stress posture".
12:13 – We're now going through a number of documents which contributed to the government's position, the latest being "a further army document explaining how military intelligence regarded the techniques as they were being put to the Compton committee".
12:16 – Back to the standing position, which as we've seen was not viewed as a stress position. The army document repeats this view but adds: "It must, however, be admitted that the prolonged use of this position has positive advantages in preparing the prisoner for interrogation in omposing discipline and boredom upon him." The purpose of hooding is to "reduce to the minimum the possibility while the prisoner is in transit that he himself will be identified".
12:20 – Further government documents reveal tactics used in Northern Ireland in the run-up to the publication of the Compton report in November 1971. The good cop, bad cop mode is among those used.
12:24 – Next comes a brief look at the history of the government note published as part of the Compton report. There were two options on offer: "tough times and tough opponents require tough measures", or "the measures we have taken are designed essentially to provide security for guards, interrogators, and detainees". The comment is that while the second is preferable, it does not seem credible, so they go for the tough-times argument. "We see here what becomes a familiar argument," Mr Elias says.
12:29 – It seems the government in 1971 were getting very worked up about the risk that the individuals affected had grounds for legal action. One note explains that "if they are to be defended they must be defended not by reference to legal considerations but on the grounds that they were dictated by considerations of national policy in an emergency situation".
12:34 – Returning to the Compton report, which sat in private. Unsurprisingly most of the complainants refused to attend to give evidence in person because of its private nature. But they submitted statements making clear their allegations. The complaints were: hooding, noise, enforced posture on a wall (for "up to four days"), two to three days of sleep deprivation and a bread-and-water diet for two or three days. One man said he had not had anything to drink for four to five days.
12:38 – And now we move on to the conclusions of the report. It says the posture on the wall "constituted physical ill-treatment". On hooding, "the general allegations are substantiated". On noise, its ongoing nature was judged to be "a form of physical ill-treatment". On sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water, the same. None of these were "physical brutality", however. The report concluded "we do not think that happened here".
12:44 – While this inquiry isn't interested in what actually happened to those subjected to deep interrogation in Northern Ireland, Mr Elias says, the European court of human rights' decision on them is referred to "for completeness".
12:49 – It includes a quote from the hearing before the court in February 1977 that the attorney-general of the time made – that "the five techniques will not in any circumstances be reintroduced as an aid to interrogation".
12:53 – The ECHR found that the distinction between "torture" and "inhuman or degrading treatment" was one of the intensity of the suffering caused. It concluded: "Although the five techniques, as applied in combination, undoubtedly amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, although their object was the extraction of confessions, the naming of others and/or information and although they were used systematically, they did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood."
12:54 – Mr Elias, continuing, says the Compton report when published "in a sense satisfied nobody". The government felt the report might have exceeded its remit in addressing the techniques used. Mr Elias quotes a note from Ted Heath to the Cabinet secretary. He wrote: "It seems to me to be one of the most unbalanced, ill-judged reports I have ever read."
12:58 – And after a short look at the home secretary of the time's introduction to the Compton report, we break for lunch. That's where our live coverage will draw to a close, for now at least.