Baha Mousa changed my weekend

This weekend the sun was out, the sky was blue, and your Amnesty press officer was dashing round like a mad thing. The reason? Baha Mousa, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and a little dash of Iran.

For those who don’t remember, Baha Mousa died while in British custody in Iraq. And recent court proceedings revealed that he had been subjected to hooding and stress positions – both of which Amnesty considers to be torture and both of which have been banned by the British authorities since 1972. His family received a settlement of £3m.

Now that led to a brainwave by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR). They decided to look back over their records. And what did they find? Well lo and behold, twice in the last four years seniors officials told them that all British troops in Iraq know exactly what practices are prohibited and which are not – a bit of discrepancy with the reality on the ground methinks, as The Observer rightly pointed out.

The JCHR report was embargoed to Sunday morning – a sure fire way of getting coverage in the weekend media and a equally sure fire way of ensuring Amnesty’s on-call press officer gets a load of calls. But it was worth it. We at Amnesty communicate with each other well. Despite the fact that we hadn’t been involved in drawing up the report, we were able to develop solid lines allowing yours truly to pop up on ITN for the 10 O’Clock News.

We flagged up a US memo that said it was OK to use “brutal actions” – including the infamous torture technique of waterboarding – against detainees as long as it was done in “good faith”. Quite what is good faith in torture is beyond me. We also called for a public inquiry into the Baha Mousa case, and shortly afterwards the Defence Secretary Des Browne promised one.

But it wasn’t just Baha Mousa this weekend. In Iran came the horrific news that 29 people were executed. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty and has a long-running campaign on the issue. After a quick bit of fixing, our researcher went head-to-head with John Pienaar on Radio 5 Live yesterday and you can listen back to the discussion by clicking through the 5 Live website (it was 8pm).

Away from the phones, sad news was filtering through from across the globe of a number of bomb attacks. In Iraq, 25 Shia pilgrims were killed by a suicide bomber. In Istanbul 17 people died and another 150 were injured, while in India the death toll from Saturday’s series of bombs in Ahmedabad has risen to 49.Let’s hope that next weekend is a good deal quieter.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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