By GREGORY KATZ | A major case involving the abuse and torture of 10 Iraqi civilians at the hands of the British military was settled Thursday, with lawyers for the victims saying the Ministry of Defense agreed to pay them just under $6 million.
The settlement involves the family of slain hotel clerk Baha Mousa and nine others who suffered injuries while in the custody of British forces in southern Iraq, said the law firm Leigh Day & Co.
The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that an “amicable” settlement had been reached but refused to state the amount of money to be paid out.
Officials said the settlement was “accompanied by an apology from the Ministry of Defense.”
In the statement, the Ministry of Defense admits having liability in the case, based on an admission earlier this year by Defense Secretary Des Browne, who conceded “substantive breaches” of several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights had occurred.
The statement says the conventions on the right to life and the prohibition of torture were both violated.
Lawyer Martyn Day, representing Mousa and the other victims, said they were “very pleased” with the settlement. He said they had been “through hell” and that the cash awards will help them rebuild their lives.
“The lesson is that people in any army will do wrong at times and the important thing is to speedily right that wrong,” he said. “This has taken far too long to reach resolution.”
Still, he praised Adjutant Gen. Freddie Viggers for personally apologizing to the victims when face-to-face mediation started Wednesday morning. Seven of the torture victims were present, he said.
“The men were very angry about what had happened to them, but that apology went a long way toward melting the ice and setting the right atmosphere,” he said, adding that he was still unhappy that only one soldier was convicted of criminal charges stemming from the case.
“We want to see the people who were responsible behind bars,” he said. “So far, the criminal justice system has failed.”
Mousa was a 26-year-old hotel receptionist who died in September 2003 after being detained in the southern Iraqi city of Basra along with a group of other Iraqis on suspicion of being insurgents.
A post-mortem found Mousa suffered 93 different injuries, including a broken nose and fractured ribs. It said he died of asphyxia, caused by a stress position that soldiers forced him to maintain.
Daoud Mousa, the victim’s father and an Iraqi police colonel, praised the resolution of the long-standing dispute.
“The death of my son is with me every day of my life,” he said. “Today’s settlement will ease a little of that pain and will go some way to enabling his children and my grandchildren to rebuild their lives.”
At a High Court hearing in 2004, Daoud Mousa described in a statement how he was “horrified” by the state of his son’s body.
He said: “I was asked to accompany them to identify the corpse. When I saw the corpse I burst into tears and I still cannot bear to think about what I saw,” he said. “Every time I tell this story I break down.”
He said that the body was covered in blood and bruises and that his nose was badly broken.
Cpl. Donald Payne, who became Britain’s first convicted war criminal, was dismissed by the army and sentenced to a year in prison in 2007 over the killing.
He had pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating Iraqi civilians in southern Basra in 2003 – the first war crimes case in Britain – but had been cleared earlier of manslaughter charges and of perverting justice.
Payne was on trial at a court martial with six other soldiers who were cleared due to a lack of evidence.
Martyn Day, the senior lawyer handling the case, said the settlement was welcome after years of legal proceedings stemming from the events in Basra.
“We are very pleased that we have been able to reach this settlement,” he said. “Our clients have been through hell over the last few years and this settlement will go some way to enabling our clients to have some semblance of a decent future life.”
Day, the senior lawyer handling the case for the victims, said the Ministry of Defense agreed to pay different sums to each of the victims, but said the individual payments would not be made public. The figure released represented the total that will be paid out, he said.