-- Lawyers for Iraqi families seeking legal redress in Britain for the deaths of relatives allegedly at the hands of British troops charged Wednesday that soldiers punched, kicked and battered civilian prisoners for three days and played cruel games that resulted in the death of an Iraqi hotel worker.
According to a sworn witness statement that was read to the court, "One terrible game the soldiers played involved kickboxing. The soldiers would surround us and compete as to who could kickbox one of us the furthest. The idea was to try and make us crash into the wall."
The statement, from Kifah Mutari, a detainee, said that one man, Baha Mousa, 26, was eventually taken to another holding area, where he was beaten repeatedly. Mousa later died of his injuries.
"On the third night Baha was in a separate room and I could hear him moaning through the walls," Mutari's statement read. "He was saying that he was bleeding from his nose and that he was dying. I heard him say: 'I am dying . . . blood . . . blood.' I heard nothing further from him after that."
Mousa's relatives are among six Iraqi families who have petitioned a British court for an independent inquiry into the deaths of family members, arguing that Britain's Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights should apply to British soldiers serving in Iraq.
The government has argued that human rights laws should not apply to soldiers serving in wartime outside Britain or Europe. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon has told Parliament that all allegations of mistreatment instead were being investigated by military authorities and would be turned over for prosecution in civilian or military courts where appropriate.
But Rabinder Singh, an attorney for the Iraqis, said the government should permit independent inquiries into the allegations. "When our forces go abroad, they carry not only the Union flag but also this country's commitment to human rights with them," he told the two-judge panel.
The six Iraqis died in British-occupied southern Iraq between May 1, 2003, after major fighting had ended, and last month's handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government. Five were shot; the sixth, Mousa, was allegedly beaten to death.
Mousa's case began when he, Mutari and five other Basra hotel workers were arrested and taken to a British military base by soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, according to Mutari's statement.
The statement said the workers were hooded, kicked and punched for three days. "The soldiers appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, as the beatings were accompanied by loud laughter," the statement said. "The soldiers took turns in abusing us. . . . They would mention some English names of stars or [soccer] players and request us to remember them or we would be beaten."
On the third day, detainees were roused after two hours of sleep, Mutari said, and a soldier "asked us to dance like Michael Jackson."
Most of the detainees were released without charge after three days. Mousa's father, Daoud Mousa, said in a statement that he was told by British troops that his son had died in custody. He was asked to identify his son's bloody and bruised body.
"When I saw my son's body, I was horrified," he said. "He had been beaten so severely I could not bear to look at him."
British forces have generally managed to avoid allegations of systematic or widespread abuse such as those leveled against American guards at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. The Defense Ministry has said that the Royal Military Police are investigating 93 allegations of abuse, including Mousa's death. Two have resulted in charges and 10 others are under consideration for further action.
If the petition heard Wednesday is successful, attorneys for the Iraqi families said they had 31 more cases of wrongful death, torture or serious injury that they planned to pursue.