On 15 September 2003 Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, was killed by British Army troops in Iraq. He had been arrested the previous day in Basra and was taken to a military base for questioning. For forty-eight hours he and nine other innocent civilians had their heads encased in sandbags and their wrists bound by plastic handcuffs and had been kicked and punched with sustained cruelty.
A succession of guards and casual army visitors took pleasure in beating the Iraqis, humiliating them, forcing them into stress positions in temperatures up to 50 degrees Centigrade, and watching them suffer in the dirty concrete building where they were held. Other soldiers, officers, medics, the padre, did not take part in the violence but they saw what was happening and did nothing to stop it. Some knew it was wrong. Some weren't sure. Some were too scared to intervene. But none said anything or enough until it was far too late and Baha Mousa had been beaten to death.
This book tells the inside story of these crimes and their aftermath. It examines the institutional brutality, the bureaucratic apathy, the flawed military police inquiry and the farcical court martial that attempted to hold people criminally responsible. Even though a full public inquiry reported its findings into the crimes in September 2011, its mandate restricted what it could say. The full story, told with the power of a true-crime expose or court-room drama, shows how this was not simply about a few bad men or 'rotten apples'. It shines a light on all those involved in the crime and its investigation, from the lowest squaddie to the elite of the army and politicians in Cabinet. What it reveals is devastating.
Winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2013
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There is torture in AT Williams' brilliantly forensic study of Baha Mousa’s death (while under military arrest in Iraq) in A Very British Killing. Out of this highly publicised case, Williams draws chilling new details and assessments that reflect on endemic abusive practices. - Independent
Coolly, calmly and without ever needing to raise his voice, he shows how the political arrogance underpinning the whole Iraq enterprise expressed itself in casual violence which ruined reputations, blighted families, and snuffed out lives. -
This is a landmark book. Fluently, meticulously, A. T. Williams allows us to understand both the murderous nature of colonial war and the insidious moral corruption behind its institutional facades. -
The British Army preaches, practises and rewards physical courage. They are, unfortunately, not so keen on moral courage. The higher up the ranks one goes, the worse it is. In this well-written and superbly researched book, Andrew Williams clinically demonstrates the results of this continuing failure. -
A meticulous, devastating account of war's modern cruelty and the pursuit of justice. -
The picture that emerges is of the moral failings of the soldiers involved, both those who abused, and those who turned a blind eye – as well as the military's inept and at times callous response. Anyone who hopes to avoid repeating the such calamities in future wars should read this book. -
Of immense value to anyone interested in the conduct, and misconduct, of war in our time... It shows why the Iraq story is far from over - Evening Standard
Exactly what happened is given in great and convincing detail in this intelligent book. - The Oldie
A finely detailed account… Incendiary, eloquent and angry book. - Independent
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About the Author
Andrew Williams is a law professor at the University of Warwick and Director of the Centre for Human Rights in Practice.