Bad things happen in war. Worse things happen when occupying forces run amok in a country which – thanks to relentless political and cultural hostility from the West – is seen as a disposable plot of sand, occupied by people who are less-than-human.
How else can we understand the brutal murder of an innocent 26-year-old hotel receptionist called Baha Mousa, who was dragged from his workplace in Basra and beaten to death by British soldiers? Mousa was murdered in 2003. Five years later the soldiers court martialed for the killing were acquitted of negligence and abuse. The British military decreed that nobody had killed Mousa. His 93 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose, apparently just happened.
Three years on, an inquiry into the original trial has mustered, “savage criticisms of individual soldiers and officers as well as damning descriptions of poor internal communications, ‘loss of discipline and a lack of moral courage’.” The phrase “lack of moral courage” has the taint of false high-mindedness. Moral courage is not a quality prized, or promoted in soldiers. They are trained to follow orders; trained to kill, maim and destroy as brutally and effectively as possible. For the military hierarchy to cower behind a shield of words and lay the blame for atrocities on the behaviour of individuals is an especially repugnant example of lack of moral courage. It’s like the owner of a vicious dog who sets it on an innocent bystander then claims to horrified when it mauls them.
The soldiers who brutalised Baha Mousa got away with murder. It is a travesty of justice that they are not in prison. It is an even greater affront to justice for the subsequent inquiry to deride the military’s lack of discipline and morality while doing nothing to hold it accountable. According to the Guardian: “Among the humiliations forced upon the detainees… were toilets being flushed over their heads [and] beatings with metal bars.” Let’s be clear: any inquiry that classifies beatings with metal bars as mere “humiliation” has so completely lost its moral compass it is unfit to judge anything, or anyone.