Thu, Jul 29, 2004 - Page 7 News List

UK probes Iraqi beating claims

BAD GUESTSJudges will decide if the law can be applied to British soldiers in Iraq who are accused of beating hotel workers so badly one of them died

THE GUARDIAN , London

Independent medical evidence supports a claim that Iraqi hotel workers were kicked and beaten repeatedly by British troops in Basra until one of them died, the solicitor bringing a series of test cases to the high court said on Tuesday.

Outlining the allegations of physical abuse and fatal shootings before today's hearing, Phil Shiner said his firm, Public Interest Lawyers, was helping Iraqis pursue 27 reports of unlawful killings, eight of torture and two of serious injury.

The judicial review by the high court of six test cases of Iraqis allegedly killed by servicemen in the British-controlled sector of southern Iraq after the war ended has been sought in an attempt to overturn the government's refusal to order an independent inquiry into the death of Iraqi civilians.

"This case involves issues which are not only important to the victims and their families and their right to redress," Shiner said, "but significant in ... ensuring that future conflicts, occupation and peacekeeping operations are subject to human rights law."

Two judges will assess whether the UK's Human Rights Act can be applied to British troops during the occupation and whether there should be an independent inquiry. The cases are likely to cause the Blair government severe political embarrassment.

A public inquiry could lead to the prosecution of British troops for war crimes and enable the victims' families to seek compensation.

The hearing will last several days and judgment is expected to be reserved. The case could go to the House of Lords, and possibly to the European court of human rights.

Kifah Taha al-Mutari, a hotel worker who alleges that he was tortured by soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, gave a brief statement.

"I was taken away [last September] and held in custody for three days. I was released without charge and taken to a British military hospital. I was told that I had developed acute renal failure as a results of the beatings," he said.

"I wish to know why I was detained and treated so badly by British troops ... my treatment was inhumane, illegal and unjustified."

An independent medical report by a British consultant, due to be presented to the court, says: "Evidence of bruising, acute renal failure and very high [enzyme] levels make it almost certain that the report history of deliberate injury was, indeed, correct."

If medical treatment had not subsequently been given, "I would have expected him to have died within a period of a few days."

Baha Mousa, a hotel reception-ist, did die, allegedly as a result of being repeatedly "kickboxed" against a wall by soldiers trying to extract information on the whereabouts of the hotel owner.

His father, a colonel in the Basra police force, will attend the hearing.

He was held up Tuesday by visa problems and Shiner issued a statement on his behalf.

"When I saw my son's body, I was horrified. He had been beaten so severely, I could not bear to look at him.We were offered $5,000 but my family turned this down because it was an insult to our dignity.

The crime was horrendous and his two sons, aged three and five, have been left fatherless."

Mousa's case is one the cases under review. Kifah Taha al- Mutari is a witness to his detention.

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