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A Very British Killing: The Death of Baha Mousa

book_cover.pngOn September 15, 2003 Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, was killed by British Army troops in Iraq. He had been arrested the previous day in Basra and was taken to a military base for questioning. For forty-eight hours he and nine other innocent civilians had their heads encased in sandbags and their wrists bound by plastic handcuffs and had been kicked and punched with sustained cruelty. A succession of guards and casual army visitors took pleasure in beating the Iraqis, humiliating them, forcing them into stress positions in temperatures up to 50 degrees Centigrade, and watching them suffer in the dirty concrete building where they were held. Other soldiers, officers, medics, the padre, did not take part in the violence but they saw what was happening and did nothing to stop it. Some knew it was wrong. Some weren't sure. Some were too scared to intervene. But none said anything or enough until it was far too late and Baha Mousa had been beaten to death.

This book tells the inside story of these crimes and their aftermath. It examines the institutional brutality, the bureaucratic apathy, the flawed military police inquiry and the farcical court martial that attempted to hold people criminally responsible. Even though a full public inquiry reported its findings into the crimes in September 2011, its mandate restricted what it could say. The full story, told with the power of a true-crime expose, shows how this was not simply about a few bad men or 'rotten apples'. It shines a light on all those involved in the crime and its investigation, from the lowest squaddie to the elite of the army and politicians in Cabinet.


Winner of the Orwell Prize 2013


Centre Director Andrew Williams has been announced as the winner of the Orwell Prize 2013, for his book "A Very British Killing", which investigates the killing of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa by British soldiers in Iraq. The Orwell Prize is Britain's most prestigious prize for political writing. Every year, prizes are awarded for the work, which comes closest to George Orwell's ambition "to make political writing into an art." A Very British Killing proudly abides by this ambition, and as the judging panel stated:

He dissects and analyses with a clear-eyed determination to unpick the lies from the truths of this case, yet, for all its forensic detail, the book grips us emotionally, and has as keen a sense of storytelling as a horror story or courtroom drama. Ultimately, the greatest achievement of this incendiary, eloquent and angry book is that it humanises Mousa beyond the iconic and infamous figure he has become in his death. It was written in the spirit of Orwell's journalism.


Williams joins former winners of the prize including Francis Wheen, Fergal Keane and Tom Bingham

Find out more by reading the Guardian's coverage of the prize here.

To read Arifa Akbar's review of the book, click here. To find out more about the Orwell Prize and the official announcement, click here.


Review


Arifa Akbar, 16 April 2013, The Independent

Williams's narrative is no less shocking for his cool, forensic tone...One of the greatest achievements of this incendiary, eloquent and angry book is that it humanises Mousa beyond the iconic photograph.

Ben East, 16 April, The National

[A] forensic but thrilling look at the death of the Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa in the custody of British soldiers.


Response


This is a landmark book. Fluently, meticulously, A. T. Williams allows us to understand both the murderous nature of colonial war and the insidious moral corruption behind its institutional facades.” John Pilger

A meticulous, devastating account of war's modern cruelty and the pursuit of justice.” Philippe Sands QC, Author of Lawless World

Of immense value to anyone interested in the conduct, and misconduct, of war in our time... It shows why the Iraq story is far from over.” Evening Standard