Friday, July 11, 2008

Not justice

Five years ago, Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, was arrested by UK forces in Basra. Two days later, he was dead, beaten to a bloody pulp by British soldiers. He had been hooded, handcuffed, and then kicked and punched until he died. Now, Mousa's family and the eight other men who were tortured along with him have been awarded £2.8 million as compensation. More importantly, the British Ministry of Defence has admitted what we knew all along: that Baha Mousa was tortured to death.

This is not justice - that would require that Mousa's murderers were convicted and punished for their crimes. But a camo wall of silence - in the words of the judge, "a more or less obvious closing of ranks" - prevented that. One soldier did have the decency to plead guilty, though only to war crimes, not manslaughter. He got a year and was dismissed from the army. The rest have walked free.

Still, it is something. The task now is for the British army to ensure it never happens again - and that it can properly hold its soldiers accountable for their actions in future.

(And since someone will no doubt complain, the right to compensation for torture is enshrined in Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture. Interestingly, New Zealand has a reservation on this clause, because we have ACC...)