Ex-UK soldier says colleagues caused Iraqi's death

LONDON (Reuters) - A former British soldier told an inquiry on Monday into allegations of abuse by British troops in Iraq that he saw two of his colleagues kick and hit a handcuffed Iraqi detainee shortly before he died.

Iraqi's Mousa and al-Mutari arrive at London High Court hearing into deaths of Iraqi civilians allegedly at the hands of British soldiers. Iraqi Daoud Mousa (L) holds photographs of his grandchildren, that he now has to look after, as he arrives at the High Court in London, with compatriot Kifah Taha al-Mutari (R), July 29, 2004. Mousa, whose son Baha died whilst being detained by the British Army, is from one of six Iraqi families involved in the test case over the deaths of Iraqi civilians allegedly at the hands of British soldiers. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel clerk, died some 24 hours after he and six others were arrested by the British army in 2003 during a sweep of hotels in the southern Iraqi city of Basra looking for weapons.

In 2007, British soldier Corporal Donald Payne was kicked out of the army and jailed for a year after he pleaded guilty at a court martial in England to inhumane treatment of Mousa and other Iraqi detainees. His lawyer claimed he was simply carrying out orders.

A public inquiry was launched in London earlier this year to establish exactly how Mousa came to die and to examine the British military’s use of banned techniques to attempt to break prisoners during interrogation.

In a statement to the inquiry, former Private Garry Reader admitted for the first time that he saw Payne and another soldier kicking and hitting a struggling Mousa as they tried to drag him into a detention facility.

“I don’t believe he was a threat. I just think he was injured and wanted to get help,” Reader said.

He said Payne and the other soldier, a private, had both been “very aggressive.”

“They did anything within their power to get him back into the room. As I left I could hear screaming coming from the room. There was no way that Baha Mousa could escape, he was in a compound full of soldiers, he looked a bit dazed and wouldn’t have got anywhere.”

Reader said he later returned to the detention room and found Mousa slumped and unresponsive, and had tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him.

He said not spoken out about the incident before as he had been a serving soldier and “didn’t want any repercussions.”

“Six years on I do feel able to say what was true and give my best recollection of what happened. I believe that Corporal Payne and Private Cooper caused the death of Baha Mousa,” he said.

Last year, the Ministry of Defence agreed to pay nearly 3 million pounds compensation to Mousa’s family and other Iraqis beaten and tortured by British troops in 2003.

“I feel the behaviour of the army in Iraq was not acceptable,” Reader said. “My feeling of the treatment of the detainees ... is that it was all wrong, it should not have been allowed to go on.”

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Tim Castle