The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 27th February 2004

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by Daphne Liddle

FAMILIES of Iraqi civilians who have died while in the custody of British occupation forces over the past year are demanding justice.

 The Ministry of Defence is saying nothing. But accounts of the deaths from witnesses, mainly other prisoners, sound horribly like the deaths of civilians at the hands of the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied Europe.

 Last September, British soldiers raided the Ibn Al Haitham hotel in Basra, looking for a suspected resistance activist: businessman Haitham Baha Ali, who was a co-owner of the hotel and rented an office there.

 He was not found but receptionist Baha Mousa was among seven hotel staff forced to lie on the floor, hands on heads, as troops searched the hotel.

 Baha Mousa, aged 26, was at the end of his shift and his father Colonel Mousa of the Iraq police had arrived to drive him home.

 The troops did not find their man but they did find an Iraqi army uniform in the room of their target. They also found the guns kept, for safety, under the reception desk.

 They arrested the seven staff and drove off with them to the British military base in Basra. Colonel Mousa was told this was just a formality and he would see his son again soon.

 He saw him four days later, when he came to identify Baha’s bruised and beaten body.

 Colonel Mousa described the scene: “When they took the cover off his body I could see his nose was broken badly. There was blood coming from his nose and mouth. The skin on his wrists had been torn off. The skin on his forehead was torn away and beneath his eyes there was no skin either.

 “On the left side of his chest there were clear blue bruises and also on his abdomen. On his legs I saw bruising from kicking. I couldn’t stand it.”

 Other prisoners who survived have since told what happened. They were handcuffed with plastic ties that cut into the skin and hoods were put over their heads.

 “From the first seconds they beat us. There were no questions, no interrogations,” Kifah Taha told  Guardian reporter Rory McCarthy.

 At first they were made to lean with the back flat against a wall with their arms straight in front of them, palms together, thumbs up.

 “They were kicking us in the abdomen, like kick-boxing,” said Mr Taha. “They were laughing. It was a great pleasure for them. We were in so much pain.”

 Later the prisoners were forced to crouch for long periods with their arms still out in front of them.

 “We were like that for several hours and they continued beating us.”

 Another of the prisoners, Rafeed Taha Muslim, said: “The were hitting us in the kidneys. They were punching and kicking.”
 Both these two witnesses were so badly beaten they were taken to a military history, where Mr Taha was described as suffering from acute renal failure.

 A consultant’s report said: “It appears he was assaulted approximately 72 hours ago and sustained severe bruising to his upper abdomen, right side of chest, left forearm and left upper inner thigh.”

 But Baha suffered the most from the beatings. On the second night he was removed to another room, away from his fellow prisoners, though they could hear his moans and cries through the walls.

 “I heard his voice,” said Mr Taha, “He said: ‘There’s blood coming from my nose. I’m going to die.’ After that there was nothing from him.”

 The Royal Military Police are currently examining the circumstances of Baha’s death and Colonel Mousa has been sent a letter expressing “regret” from the British commander Brigadier William Moore.

 Baha leaves two sons aged three and five. Their mother died of cancer six months before Baha. Colonel Mousa said: “My son didn’t die on the street, or in the hotel or in my house. He died in custody and it wasn’t a natural death. There should be a just trial and compensation for his children.” 

 There has been a string of other Iraqi civilian deaths in British custody. These include taxi driver Ather Karim Khalaf, who was shot by British soldiers. He had been waiting in a queue to buy petrol when a British military convoy arrived and told all other drivers to back away.

 As Mr Khalaf complied, his back door opened, accidentally striking a soldier. He was pulled out, beaten to the ground and shot.

 In May, primary school teacher Abdul Jabal Moussa was arrested after a legally held Kalashnikov rifle was found in is home. He was beaten by British soldiers and died several hours later in custody.

  When his son was called to the local hospital to identify the body, he said: “I saw bruises over his heart and the outline of a military boot. All the body was covered in mud and there were the outlines of finger marks on his skin.”

 And there are at least 18 lawsuits under way on behalf of civilians shot by accident by nervous, trigger-happy troops. The victims include men, women and children. There are probably many other cases where the family does not have access to the law or where there are no witnesses.

 These are war crimes but the chief war criminals are Bush and Blair who put these ill-educated, frightened young soldiers into Iraq as a force of occupation over a population that hates them.

 Crimes like these are inevitable as long as the occupation continues. The only solution is to bring the troops home at once. 


Blunkett’s  “war on terror”

Home Secretary David Blunkett is proposing a whole swathe of new laws in the name of combating the terror threat from the Islamic fundamentalist Al Qaeda movement. These include permitting the use of intercepted phone calls as evidence, lowering the standard of proof currently demanded by our courts today, introducing new conspiracy-type charges, the introduction of secret trials with hand-picked judges and possibly without juries and doubling the size of the secret police.

While these new proposals are being presented for discussion in parliament and they are aimed specifically at foreign “terror suspects” entering or living in Britain they clearly are the thin end of the wedge. Labour back-benchers and the Liberal Democrat leadership have expressed their concern at the threat to civil liberties if these draconian measures, described by Amnesty International as “an aberration of justice, the rule of law and human rights”, are eventually passed in Parliament.

In the meantime the MI5 budget has been boosted by almost half to recruit a thousand more officers raising its strength to over 3,000 – the level maintained during the Second World War. During the height of the Cold War when Britain was the target of Soviet espionage MI5 operated at half that level.

Nevertheless, according to Blunkett, Al Qaeda poses a greater threat to British security than Adolf Hitler or the KGB. He implies that a 11 September type attack on Britain is imminent but in practice none of these proposals could become law in less than a year.

 If these proposals were solely focused on security why hasn’t Blunkett revived plans for national identity cards? They haven’t been quietly shelved because the Government is afraid of the cost of implementation nor can they be too concerned at public opinion given that they’ve ignored the people on so many other issues including the Iraq war and top-up fees.

 No the answer is that ID cards have very little to do with security and everything to do with politics. Their introduction is only needed to comply with Britain’s further integration into the European Union. ID cards have been put on the back-burner now because the Blair leadership has burnt it bridges with France and Germany. And Blunkett’s current proposals also have a hidden political agenda.

How many more powers does this Government want? It already has immense reserve powers to proclaim a state of emergency based on the old Defence of the Realm Act and subsequent emergency powers legislation – special powers that will be further defined in the Government’s proposed new Civil Contingency Bill.

To justify himself the Labour Minister argues that “we mustn’t allow ourselves to get into a position where we’d only address these issues openly and honestly if something terrible happened. Because at that moment there would only be hysteria…public opinion would sweep away the perfectly reasonably objections that exist at the moment to taking further draconian measures and that’s why I want the debate now, not after”.

But hysteria is precisely what this “debate” is intended to create – to create a climate of suspicion and fear against Arabs and Muslims to justify Anglo-American imperialism’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq and their continued support of Israel’s persecution and oppression of the Palestinian Arabs.

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