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Chief of the General Staff responds to Baha Mousa Inquiry Report

Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall, has responded to today's publication of Sir William Gage's report of his independent public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa in Iraq in 2003.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The report finds that a series of brutal acts by members of British forces led directly to the death of Baha Mousa; others were involved in assaulting him and his fellow detainees.

It also finds that others who could have intervened to prevent it failed to do so, and it reveals that there were inadequate doctrines and procedures in place for prisoner handling at the time.

General Wall said:

I would like to thank Sir William Gage for his thorough and challenging inquiry into the appalling circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Baha Mousa in British Army hands in Basra in September 2003, and for his comprehensive recommendations.

As its professional head, I will take the lead in implementing the specific recommendations relating to the Army as soon as possible, in accordance with the direction of the Secretary of State for Defence.

Indeed, as you would expect in light of events from eight years ago, since which we have been on operations continuously, many of the recommended changes are well advanced.

Sir William recognises this corrective action in the inquiry report.

What happened to Baha Mousa and his fellow detainees in 2003 was, in the words of the inquiry, grave and shameful.

The Army has apologised unreservedly to Baha Mousa’s family and to the surviving victims for this shocking episode.

I would like to take this opportunity to repeat that apology today, in particular to Colonel Mousa, Baha Mousa’s father, and to his family. Colonel Mousa has participated fully in this inquiry and he has conducted himself with great dignity throughout.

Both at home and on operations, the Army must act within the law. It must prepare for and conduct operations in accordance with our core ethos, and it must behave properly, particularly in demonstrating respect for others.

The nation places its trust in us and we expect our soldiers’ conduct to reflect that trust, no matter how challenging the environment may be.

Our operational effectiveness depends on this, and we expect commanders at all levels to lead by example. We also expect our soldiers, no matter how junior, to understand the clear distinction between right and wrong in the heat of the moment.

This did not happen in the case of Baha Mousa and others at the temporary detention facility run by 1st Battalion The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment in Basra in September 2003.

Although the challenges that soldiers faced in Iraq in 2003 were hostile and intense, there can be no excuse for the loss of discipline and lack of moral courage that occurred.

Since Baha Mousa’s tragic death, the Army has sought to establish a full understanding of how and why this disgraceful event occurred.

It is clear from the inquiry report that we were ill-prepared in 2003 for the task of handling civilian detainees. The Army has made strenuous efforts since then to transform the way we train for and conduct detention operations.

Improvements have touched every aspect of detainee and prisoner handling and the report acknowledges the progress that has been made.

Managing the process of detention properly is now a mainstream military skill which requires mandatory education, specific permissions, and well-practised procedures.

Future operations will be designed around these imperatives, as they are in Afghanistan today. Above all we must operate a system for handling detainees that is firm, fair and transparent.

This step change in procedures means that I am confident that all soldiers deploying on operations today are fully trained in their legal responsibilities and can be in no doubt about the need to treat detainees humanely and with respect.

Had that been the case in Basra in 2003, Baha Mousa would not have died in British custody.

We demand a great deal of our soldiers who daily face threats on operations to protect Britain’s safety and security. The vast majority of them demonstrate high standards of professionalism and behaviour in all that they do. This is the essence of the Army’s reputation at home and abroad.

The shameful circumstances of Baha Mousa’s death have cast a dark shadow on that reputation. This must not happen again.

Published 8 September 2011