15 January 2004 Edition
A Tale of Two Cities
BY DANNY MORRISON
Reproduced with the permission of the Andersonstown News
Danny McCooey was taken into the hotel through the back. Baha Mousa was taken out of the hotel through the front.
Earlier, Danny had his dinner with his family at their Falls Road home, got spruced up — it was a Saturday night — and went into Belfast city centre for a drink with his friend Michael Masterson.
Baha was working as a receptionist in the Haitham Hotel in Basra city centre, along with his friend Kifah Taha and other staff.
It was 30 April 1977.
It was 14 September 2003.
Danny and Michael left the bar and were walking along Castle Street when they ran into a British Army patrol.
Baha was on the desk when a British Army patrol ran into the hotel and ordered everyone to lie on the floor. Soldiers went to the safe and discovered two rifles and two pistols. The owner of the hotel, Haitham Vaha, the man who had hidden the weapons, had fled in the confusion of the raid.
Michael Masterson said, "As we passed, a soldier said, 'Go on you Irish bastards!' I stopped and said, 'Pardon, I can't understand what you're saying?' He kept calling me an 'Irish bastard'. He took a swing at me with his fist and I threw a punch back. Danny grabbed me by the shoulder and said, 'Na, don't get involved with them.'
"I saw another rifle butt getting swung but it missed me and must have hit Danny about the stomach because he fell to the ground, screaming, 'My stomach, my stomach!' I went to his aid and asked the Brits for a doctor but they arrested me. The cops had arrived by now. I was put in the back of a jeep. Two Brits went to where Danny was lying, picked him up, half-dragged him to the jeep and then threw him in the back next to me. He was crying about his stomach."
A workmate of Baha said: "We were taken to a barracks. We were put in a big room with our hands tied and with bags over our heads. But I could see through some holes in my hood. Soldiers would come in — ordinary soldiers, not officers, mostly with their heads shaved but in uniform — and they would kick us, picking on one after the other. They were kickboxing us in the chest and between the legs and in the back. We were crying and screaming."
The men were held for three days.
"They set on Baha especially, and he kept crying that he couldn't breathe in the hood. He kept asking them to take the bag off and said that he was suffocating. But they laughed at him and kicked him more. One of them said, 'Stop screaming and you'll be able to breathe more easily.' Baha was so scared. Then they increased the kicking on him and he collapsed on the floor."
Michael Masterson said: "We were taken to the barracks at the Grand Central Hotel. Danny was dragged away. About ten minutes later I heard him screaming. I never saw Danny again."
Twenty-year-old Danny McCooey was taken from the barracks to the City Hospital but because of the seriousness of his injuries it wouldn't admit him and he was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital. He was bleeding internally, his stomach collapsed and there was a hole in the base of his lungs. He died 20 days later.
Twenty-two-year old Baha Mousa died in the barracks and was taken to a British Army field hospital. The death certificate stated that he had died from 'cardiorespiratory arrest: asphyxia'. His nose had been broken, two of his ribs were broken, the skin had been ripped off his wrists by the handcuffs and his torso was covered in bruises.
Michael Masterson was released without charge in the early hours of 1 May.
Kifah Taha was released without charge from hospital in late September, having suffered severe bruising to his upper abdomen, which led to acute renal failure.
A 20-year-old British soldier was charged with the manslaughter of Danny McCooey but was acquitted. The judge said that the soldier "did what he instinctively thought was necessary in the moment of the threatened attack".
No soldier has been charged with killing Baha Mousa, though the British have offered his family £4,500 in compensation, provided the Mousa family do not hold British forces liable for his death. The family refused to sign the settlement and plans to take the Ministry of Defence to court.
Last week in Basra, Tony Blair declared that the prestige and reputation of the British armed forces, a party to the Iraqi 'peace process', had never been higher.
Last week in Belfast, Tony Blair's government gave itself powers outside of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and established the Independent Monitoring Commission, which will scrutinise and judge potential breaches of the Peace Process. These powers allow the British to exclude Sinn Féin from a power-sharing executive if the Commission was, for example, to find the IRA guilty of a punishment beating.
That is the policy.
"We do not accept admission of guilt. That is the policy," an MoD spokesperson said last week, in relation to the killing of Baha Mousa. The British Army carried out the inquiry into itself. There was no Independent Monitoring Commission, yet the British exercised the power of exclusion.
The lawyer representing the family of Baha Mousa was banned from the hearing.
Andersonstown News editorial comment
Efforts are being made to cover up the slaughter of innocent civilians by the British Army in Iraq.
As one people who have suffered the depredations of British 'peacekeepers' to another, might we advise the Iraqis who have taken to the streets to protest for civil rights and an end to the occupation of their country not to turn their backs on 'our boys'.
Shoot first, ask questions later has long been the policy of British squaddies when faced with unarmed civilians. After 30 years, the grieving Iraqis just might get a public inquiry into the massacre of demonstrators and the torture of prisoners... but don't bet on it. Pax Britannica comes at a price... usually paid in other people's blood.