Court martial acquittals in Baha Mousa case: the full truth of what happened remains unknown

Yesterday’s final court martial acquittals of soldiers in connection with Baha Mousa’s brutal death in custody raise far more questions than they answer.

Family members now know who was not responsible for his death. When will they learn who was responsible? said Carla Ferstman, REDRESS’ Director. REDRESS is concerned about the adequacy of the investigation into these deplorable events. Had a more timely and effective investigation taken place, surely the chances of bringing those responsible to justice would have increased”, she added.

REDRESS still hopes that after all these years justice will be done and will be seen to be done. Nothing can bring Baha Mousa back to life, but his family is entitled to know what happened, and who is responsible.

Baha Mousa died in British custody in south eastern Iraqi in September 2003, 36 hours after his detention. He was found to have 93 separate injuries to his body, and to have died from asphyxia. Three years later the court-martial of seven Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (QLR) soldiers commenced, one of whom was charged with his manslaughter. Corporal Payne, who at the commencement of the court martial pleaded guilty to a separate charge of inhumane treatment, was last month acquitted of the manslaughter count. Two officers and an NCO charged with negligently performing a duty have all been cleared, as has a sergeant accused of common assault and two others of inhumane treatment. Corporal Payne was also acquitted of perverting the course of justice. Thus seven men faced a total of nine charges, and eight of these charges were dismissed.

Apparently unaware of the irony in his words, Colonel David Black (not one of the accused) of the QLR was reported to have said yesterday that after three-and-half years there is a sense of closure. For the family of Baha Mousa there is no such thing. On the contrary, and as stated by the solicitor representing the family and other Iraqi civilians detained and ill-treated at the same time, the court martial has given nothing to the victims, and raises more questions than it answers.

The court martial heard that many unidentified people entered the detention facility and assaulted the detainees. There was also evidence that the beatings and ill-treatment intensified during the last 26 hours of the period concerned, and yet as the judge said: “[N]one of those soldiers has been charged with any offence simply because there is no evidence against them as a result of a more or less obvious closing of ranks.” During the six month court martial it emerged that:

  • doctors refused to carry out an X-ray of one of the detainees while in detention who had complained of having broken ribs.
  • a witness said that his facial injuries were only photographed by a doctor and no account for them was recorded, which was important because the defence claimed it could have been sunburn
  • a witness said that when his statement was first taken by the Royal Military Police it was done in the form of questions put to him and answers written down, and he was not given the opportunity to freely verbalise his account or even write it down
  • another witness said his statement was taken two years after the event and the interviewer provided the times and dates and decided the language to use in the statement
  • a medical officer stated that treatment of detainees was a low concern compared to the treatment of British soldiers and did not require paperwork to be completed unless injuries were found
  • wider responsibility at a strategic level regarding gaps in doctrine of how detainees were to be handled, especially the issue of hooding, was ambiguous

All torture survivors and victims’ dependants have a clear right under international and UK law for perpetrators to be held accountable, including through the criminal justice system, for their actions. Such investigation, prosecution, conviction and punishment is part of the reparations to which victims and their families are entitled, as of right. It is part of the truth-finding process, which is part of the healing process.

The Civil Case

Next month, on 7-19 and 23-25 April, the House of Lords will consider in the civil case of Al Skeini and Other v Secretary of State for Defence, the nature of the obligations of UK authorities to investigate Mousa’s and other civilian deaths in Iraq.

REDRESS, together with ten other NGOs, is intervening in this case to support the claimants’ argument that these acts should not avoid proper scrutiny merely because they occurred outside of Europe.

The relatives of Baha Mousa are part of a group of six Iraqi families who approached the UK civil courts in 2004 following the deaths of members of the civilian population in Basra between August-November 2003, after the end of official hostilities during the period when the UK was an occupying power. The first five cases concerned fatalities that occurred while British troops were on street patrols in Basra. The 6th case, Baha Mousa’s injuries and death, occurred while he was being detained by British troops.

These issues now take on added urgency with yesterday’s court martial acquittals: the only way of ascertaining the full truth is through a thorough, effective and impartial investigation under the same high standards as would apply had the death occurred on British soil.

REDRESS still hopes that after all these years justice will be done and will be seen to be done. Nothing can bring Baha Mousa back to life, but his family is entitled to know what happened, and who is responsible.



The heart of the present stage of the civil claim for Baha Mousa’s dependants is that all the allegations of torture and ill treatment by UK troops must be independently and effectively investigated. In these regards the Court of Appeal ruled unanimously in December 2005 that the European Convention on Human Rights had extraterritorial effect: British troops operating abroad that deliberately and effectively restrict someone’s liberty, as in the case of Mousa’s detention, are required to uphold European Convention obligations; that this happened outside of Europe, in Iraq, is of no consequence. The Court of Appeal distinguished Mousa’s death in custody from the other 5 test cases, all of which related to killings of civilians during UK military patrols. This is what the Divisional Court had ruled also.

The Court of Appeal rejected the UK Government’s argument that the Human Rights Act was not applicable to the actions of UK forces abroad, and that in the case of Mousa the only remedy was for the family to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. On the contrary, the Appeal Court ruled that UK courts are indeed competent to hear the case. Because the court martial was then pending, it recommended that further investigative proceedings be stayed until the court martial was concluded.

In regard to the other five deaths of those who were not in custody, the Court of Appeal followed the Divisional Court in ruling that the Human Rights Act and European Convention of Human Rights did not apply to them. Nevertheless, the Court noted that the inadequacy of immediate post-death investigation in some of these cases made the task of later investigations more difficult, and that deficiencies of this kind ought to be remedied in future.


REDRESS was founded by a British torture survivor in 1992. Since then, it has consistently fought for the rights of torture survivors in the UK and abroad. It takes legal challenges on behalf of survivors, works to ensure that torturers are punished and that survivors and their families obtain remedies for their suffering. REDRESS cooperates with civil society groups around the world to eradicate the practice of torture once and for all and to ensure that survivors can move forward with their lives in dignity. It has intervened in a range of leading torture cases. More information on our work is available on our website:

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