It was Baha Mousa's dad I will always remember. On an oppressively scorching day in Basra, Daoud Mousa first spoke of his son's death, telling me how the boy's wife had died of cancer just six months earlier, how Baha's children were now orphans, how – not long after the British Army had arrested Baha Mousa and beaten him to death, for that is what happened – a British officer had come to his home and stared at the floor and offered cash by way of saying sorry.
"What do you think I should do?" Daoud asked me. Get a lawyer, I said. Tell Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Let me write about it. When I called at the British base at Basra airport, one officer laughed at me. "Call the Ministry of Defence," he said dismissively. He didn't care.
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".
Hundreds of thousands of fine British soldiers behaving with exemplary courage and courtesy, in danger of their lives 24 hours a day – you will read this stuff in the usual newspapers today. They were the real victims of these "bad apples" – the actual victims, the 14 Catholic dead on Bloody Sunday in Derry, Baha Mousa in Basra, were the sub-victims who had somehow got in the way. They could be lied about.
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.