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The Baha Mousa Tragedy: British Army Detention and Interrogation from Iraq to Afghanistan


  • Huw Bennett


Research Highlights and Abstract

  • Describes the conduct and findings of a public inquiry into the death of an Iraqi civilian in British Army custody in 2003.
  • Assesses the development of British military detention and interrogation policy in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2003.
  • Argues that serious failings in policy, doctrine and training led to the death of Baha Mousa in 2003.
  • Finds that judicial intervention has been necessary to push reform and ensure military compliance with international law.

Baha Mousa died in September 2003 in British Army custody in Basra. A public inquiry reported in September 2011, and allows for the first assessment of British military detention and interrogation policy in the War on Terror. This article explains the Inquiry's remit and findings, showing how the failure to institutionalise a ban on interrogation methods in 1972 led to them re-appearing in 2003. Poor policy, doctrine and training meant soldiers were ill prepared for dealing with detainees when Iraq was invaded in 2003. The article assesses the army's efforts to learn from the mistakes of Iraq, including reforms to policy, doctrine and training on interrogation and detention. The article's final part assesses the limitations to these reforms in practice in Afghanistan, arguing that there are still important areas demanding improvement to prevent future abuses.