There were the usual urbane army spokesbods on the media yesterday expressing their concern at how the Baha Mousa Inquiry reflected badly on the army. The ‘few bad apples’ line was trotted out and largely unchallenged. The fact that there are reported to be another 160 cases in the pipeline suggests something more than a few bad apples. It’s a rotten orchard.
Robert Fisk, in a powerful piece in today’s Independent puts some context to the matter.
“I had spent years in Belfast, listening to the same kind of arrogant, vicious, indifferent reaction to the Army's brutality. It was always the same. Terrorists. Terrorist propaganda. The extraordinary discipline of British squaddies under enormous pressure, etc, etc, etc. Then – when the game was up and the evidence too fresh and too overwhelming – I used to get what we would today call the "Abu Ghraib response". A "few bad apples". Always a "few bad apples".
Where did all these "bad apples" come from, I used to ask, along with their complacent, complicit officers? I recall the day the Gloucestershire Regiment ran amok in Belfast, smashing all the downstairs windows of a Catholic street just before they returned to Britain. Untrue, of course. Terrorist propaganda. Then a "few bad apples". Was I on the side of the IRA? And so it went on. And on.
It wasn't the brutality that was "systematic". It was the lying that was systematic. In Northern Ireland, among the Americans after Abu Ghraib and Bagram and the black prisons and the renditions. Baha Mousa received 93 wounds. There was an inquiry, I was imperiously told. It was all sub judice.
Even the moment of Baha Mousa's arrest has never been truly investigated. Colonel Daoud Mousa – for Baha's father was a senior police officer, permitted by the British to carry a pistol and wear his blue uniform, hardly the father of a terrorist – actually saw his boy after his arrest, lying under orders on the floor of the hotel in which he worked.
The soldiers had found some weapons – perfectly normal in Basra where almost every household contained guns – but what the British didn't want to talk about just then was that Baha had told his father that several British troops had opened the hotel safe and stuffed currency into their pockets.
That, Colonel Mousa believed, was the real reason he was killed.” Independent 9/9/11
‘It was the lying that was systematic’ is a phrase which undermines the rotten apple argument. There was also the complicity of silence from those who did not agree with the behaviour yet colluded with the crimes by keeping quiet ‘for the good of the regiment.’
Systematic? You bet.