Document:Second Baha Mousa Memorial Lecture

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A shocking introduction to the systematic abuse of prisoners by the British military in Iraq and focusing on the case of Baha Mousa

A speech  by Phil Shiner dated September 2010
Subjects: Baha Mousa, UK/Torture, Iraq Historic Allegations Team
Source: Public Interest Lawyers (Link)
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Wikispooks Comment


Most people in the UK are at least vaguely aware of allegations of torture by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, even those who recognise the name Baha Mousa and think they understand something of the issues surrounding his death, will be shocked at the contents of this transcript. Phil Shiner represents over 140 Iraqis who allege that they have been on the receiving end of abuse by British soldiers. He is steeped in the issues involved and has a deep knowledge and understanding of them. If you are a British citizen whose knee-jerk response to any and all criticism of your country's military is to defend them, read this transcript and hang your head in shame. Until you recognise and acknowledge the depth of the problem it will continue, with covert official threats, obfuscation, deception and sanctions against those who seek to expose it, as it ALWAYS has in the past.

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Phil Shiner's speech to the Second Baha Mousa Memorial Lecture

Baha Mousa with his wife and children. Pictured in 2002

We at Public Interest Lawyers wish to say how honoured we are to have heard from Sir Nigel Rodley, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture during the years 1993 – 2001, and Professor Manfred Nowak, who until a few days ago was the Special Rapporteur. Professor Nowak’s book on UNCAT with Elizabeth McArthur is by far and away the most battered book in our office. The PIL team will attest to my oft-repeated demands: “Who’s got Nowak?” It is our bible. Why the bible on torture is so important to us will become clear by the end of my short talk.

This is the Second Baha Mousa Memorial Lecture. The Baha Mousa Inquiry has now concluded its oral hearing. The Report is due by Easter 2011. The Third Memorial Lecture will be addressed by Baha’s father, Colonel Mousa, in September 2011. Last year, I spoke about the ordeal suffered by Baha and the other nine Iraqi men in the incident. I will not do so tonight: you will be able to read the Inquiry’s report for yourself shortly, and Colonel Mousa will be able to comment on its content. However, what I will say is that a key component in the state’s duty to satisfy the procedural duty to investigate that protects the right to life (Article 2 of the ECHR) is that lessons must be learnt and reforms made, so that those like Colonel Mousa who have lost loved ones know at least that the death was not in vain. Whether Colonel Mousa will be so assured remains to be seen.

I speak tonight on behalf of the PIL team: all have helped enormously to shoulder the burden of all of the cases I am to mention. This is an account of UK responsibility, not for complicity and torture, but for actual torture. I am going to speak in particular about UK policies and practices on interrogation in Iraq involving numerous troubling systemic issues – most unexplored by the Baha Mousa Inquiry – that go to the heart of the civil service and Government.

The headline point to understand is that the UK deliberately and cold-bloodedly deployed impermissible and coercive interrogation techniques on hundreds of Iraqi civilians: many of whom are now the clients of PIL and Leigh Day and Co. These impermissible techniques were taught to interrogators at Chicksands, Bedfordshire. They were taught during the period up to March 2003 and, as far as I can be aware from the evidence in the Baha Mousa Inquiry and elsewhere, continued to be taught until very recently: indeed whether a single UK interrogator has ever been trained in a permissible approach that does not involve physical or moral coercion is a moot point.

PIL presently acts for 142 Iraqi men whose cases are new, and have not been resolved by UK courts. The cumulative evidence of the hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence in these cases coupled with video evidence of the interrogation sessions of our clients tells a chilling story. And this is a good opportunity for me to pause and play excerpts of one of those interrogation sessions. You may have seen similar excerpts recently on the Guardian website but some of the footage I am about to play has never been seen before. It is important to listen to every word.

I am sure everyone in this room is instinctively appalled and disturbed by the behaviour of the interrogators. One can easily see that if individuals, like our client in this video, are dehumanised to such a degree then anything within the realms of human cruelty becomes possible.

In this short address I can only seek to highlight key aspects of the UK’s use of coercive interrogation techniques in Iraq. PIL has sought to categorise these practices and techniques and has a list of 150 of them. I will speak briefly about a mere handful. All that I am about to speak of took place within the close confines of the Joint Forward Interrogation Team or JFIT which is where the video you just saw was filmed. JFIT was described as a “compound within a compound” at the Baha Mousa Court Martial. The Independent newspaper has described JFIT as a “secret army of abusers.” It was certainly both secret and abusive.

First, when detainees were processed and put into this secret compound the detainees were always subject to forced nakedness. Bear in mind these men are Muslims. It was trained policy and practice always to “get them naked” and to “keep them naked if they do not follow commands.” The excuse offered was that the men had to be medically examined. What a bitter irony! Despite the requirement of Article 12 UNCAT that a state must initiate an ex officio investigation faced with evidence of breaches of Articles 1 (torture) or 16 (cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and despite the UK policy post internment in Northern Ireland that doctors and medical personnel must report evidence of ill-treatment to their Medical Commanding Officer it appears that not a single doctor or medic took any effective interventionist action. This, despite many of our clients being in a state of obvious abuse having been bruised and battered by soldiers on arrest. Many of our clients refused to strip – no doubt because many UK personnel including women were present and they were being laughed at – so force and violence was used to strip the men. This force often had the capacity to shade into more. Thus, many complain of sexual abuse during this process: they had their penises held or fondled; comments were made about the size of their penis; guards masturbated in front of them; one man was straddled whilst naked by a soldier who masturbated over his back; and worse.

Second, this sexual theme is reflected in a variety of different interrogation practices and techniques designed apparently to debase and humiliate the male Muslim – to soften him up for subsequent interrogation sessions. Guards and others inside the secret enclosure of JFIT played loud hardcore pornographic films on laptops all night during the month of Ramadan thus achieving at least two objectives: first, sleep deprivation; second, humiliation, as the Iraqi men became aroused and suffered involuntary emissions thus rendering them unclean. Female interrogators routinely showed off their breasts and genitalia to these men in closed rooms, and tried to seduce them or have sex with them in return for intelligence. Male UK personnel had sex with female personnel in front of the men or left hardcore pornographic magazines in the toilets and showers area, and then watched them on the toilet or in the shower for their reaction.

Third, sensory deprivation was Standard Operating Procedure. All interrogation sessions as you have just seen commenced with the Iraqi being led inside the room in blacked out goggles and earmuffs. Silent visual scrutiny followed of the Iraqi deprived of sight and sound. Whenever they were taken to and from sessions, the Iraqis were ordered to put on the goggles and earmuffs and led away at very fast walking speed or made to run, and thus banged off walls and surfaces deliberately, made to go through an obstacle course, or led in disorientating zigzags, all whilst wearing blacked out goggles and muffs.

Fourth, as part of this deliberate policy of attempting to break down these men, many were held in solitary confinement for up to a month. Some of them became suicidal as a result. The client you saw in the video was held in solitary confinement for over three weeks and was put on suicide watch after repeatedly hitting his head against his cell wall. This is unsurprising: these men were not just in solitary confinement and being subjected to all these techniques, they were also completely incommunicado. No-one knew where they were, not least their family and no-one, not even the Red Cross, was inspecting JFIT. None of these men were ever charged with any offence, and many were interned without charge for years. The flagrant breach of the right to due process of Article 5 ECHR is not a matter I have time to go into.

Fifth, food and water deprivation, together with sleep deprivation, were integral parts of this approach to debility. The MoD claim in the Baha Mousa Inquiry that the failure to feed and water Baha Mousa and his hotel colleagues was a product of the chaos that was the few “bad apples” let off the leash in that incident thesis. That thesis is manifest nonsense. One has only to reflect on the numbers of Iraqis complaining of such practices and you saw in the video our client complaining that he hadn’t eaten and slept for 2 days. On sleep deprivation, I have already referred to the loud pornographic films. Other techniques included the playing of loud music, the repeated kicking of cell doors, repetitive demands all night to shout out their internee number, leaving bright lights on or temperature manipulation, for example, turning up the air conditioning too high during the winter months and leaving men with no or little clothing or bedding. One can imagine what state these men were in after weeks in solitary confinement, deprived of sleep and water, and subjected to a variety of disorienting techniques, some of which I have mentioned. Another technique was to subject the men to long interrogation sessions whilst standing, involving the endless repetition of pointless questions with sessions often held at night. Sometimes shortly after the men were returned to their cells and when they tried to get some sleep, they would be hauled away for yet another exhausting interrogation session.

Sixth, the routine interrogation session involved “harshing.” An example of this harsh approach, as trained, can be found in the Evidence section of day 8 of the Baha Mousa Inquiry and again you have just witnessed an example of it in the video shown. It involves the deliberate invasion of intimate space so as to intimidate and the screaming of insults and threats into the face of the Iraqi. Detainees were often spat at and told they were disgusting, filthy animals and threats made including of death, being transferred to Guantanamo Bay, or that the man’s wife or daughters would be brought to the facility and raped in front of the man.

There can be no doubt that the UK approach to interrogation was both illegal – involving the deliberate use of techniques designed to coerce – as well as a deliberate and trained policy. Indeed, the MoD in the Baha Mousa Inquiry accept that there were a number of major failings in its interrogation policy: first, that the training of interrogators at Chicksands did include impermissible techniques; second, that it breached its own policy requirement that there should have been a detailed Interrogation Directive in Iraq setting out what was allowed, and more importantly what was not allowed. The MoD accepts that the absence of such a Directive meant that the interrogators fell back on their training which included impermissible techniques; third, that harshing, threats, sensory deprivation as part of so-called conditioning techniques were used and breach the prohibition on coercion.

However, its formal position in all the ongoing litigation is this: there is no need to publicly examine all of these cases to deal with hitherto unexplored matters such as forced nakedness or food, water and sleep deprivation as a means of producing debility in the process of wearing people down prior to interrogation. There is no need they say because we can trust them when they assure the Baha Mousa Inquiry that, although the vast majority of this evidence has never been scrutinised, all is now well: all interrogators and soldiers now know what the rules are and the military justice system will make sure that all who transgress are duly punished. There are two fundamental problems with that thesis: the first is that the military justice system completely lacks independence. All of the techniques and practices I have referred to are, at best, matters where the Commanding Officer is likely to take the decision whether anybody should face charges. But the Commanding Officers of JFIT are completely implicated: indeed they were administering a state sanctioned approach to interrogation that was blatantly unlawful. The second problem is that it requires the public to trust the MoD, civil servants, lawyers and politicians. In essence, the same people who lied to us about the legal basis of an invasion of Iraq; the same people who have lied and covered up how many Iraqis were killed in custody – tortured to death in some cases; the same people who willingly hide documents from judicial review courts when these documents reveal very unwelcome truths.

In my view, the truth will out when, and only when, the British public – in whose name these acts were done supposedly in the cause of the rule of law, justice and democracy – decide that the British way of doing things must change, forever. The Baha Mousa Inquiry’s Report may, in due course, be a good start to this process of national reconciliation. However, the rot goes deeper and we need to learn broader lessons through a Single Inquiry into the UK’s detention and interrogation policies in Iraq. We all shoulder responsibility to ensure that Baha’s death had some point.

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