The former chief legal adviser to the army in Iraq has said the UK's complicity in the unlawful treatment of detainees was "institutional" and must be wiped out to prevent future abuses by British troops.
Colonel Nicholas Mercer described how he was gagged by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after he criticised senior British commanders and MoD officials in the case of Baha Mousa, the Basra hotel worker was died in September 2003 while in the custody of British troops.
Giving the annual Baha Mousa memorial lecture, Mercer said his attempts to set up independent judicial monitoring of the treatment of detainees were blocked by the MoD. Britain's obligations under domestic and international law were routinely ignored, he added.
"Apply the rule of law and this [abuse] will all go away, it is as simple as that", Mercer said. He called on "all public servants, lawyers, professional men and women" to refuse to be part of "this shameful conduct" and end "torture by the state".
Mercer, who is now a Church of England vicar, recalled how in May 2003 – four months before Mousa's death – he drew up an order, known as a 'Frago' in which he referred to "a number of deaths" of individuals in the custody of British soldiers.
He stated: "The detained person should be treated with humanity and dignity at all times. They should not be assaulted. They should be provided with water in all cases and food if they are detained for longer. If they need to be restrained then this should only be affected were absolutely necessary and using the minimum force required.
Under no circumstances should their faces be covered as this might impair breathing. Medical assistance should be close to hand at all times." Mercer said no action was taken by UK commanders at the permanent joint headquarters in Northwood, north-west London, in response to his order.
Mercer said that after he gave evidence to the Baha Mousa court martial (where one defendant, a corporal, pleaded guilty, while the others were acquitted for lack of available evidence), he was banned from speaking to any lawyer who was not in the army, and to journalists.
Any speeches he made had to be "checked and expurgated so a 'correct' version could be delivered". He also said he was told by the MoD that he was "not a suitable person" to give lectures on how human rights bound troops on operations abroad.