Colonel David Benest reviews ‘The Death of Baha Mousa’

Colonel David Benest, now retired, is an expert on British counter-insurgency (COIN) and atrocities committed during COIN operations. His review of A.T. Williams’ shocking account of the killing of Baha Mousa in Iraq is relevant in many ways to the Scots Guards’ actions in Batang Kali in December 1948.  The essay was written originally for the British Army Review (BAR) but was rejected. I am pleased to be able to publish it here with David’s permission. On 14 September 2003 Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, was arrested in Basra by soldiers of The  Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (1 QLR) and taken to Battalion Main HQ for interrogation in connection with the murder of six RMP officers. Less than forty-eight hours later he was dead. This account is of how and why this death took place and its aftermath at a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire. The author is a professor of law and Director of the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at the University of Warwick. His account covers three parts – the events in Iraq of 2003 (148 pages), investigations within Britain (45 pages) and the eventual court martial (76 pages). It is probably the most detailed exposition available […]
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The problem of Chin Peng

The death of Malayan communist Chin Peng has provoked some heated debate in Malaysia. On one side, many have seized the moment to denounce Chin Peng’s role in Malaysian history and reiterate that his remains will never find their way back to his birthplace in Sitiawan in Perak. Chin Peng was in any event cremated in Bangkok. Other reactions range from overt sentimentalism to a reasonable insistence that Chin Peng’s place in history be properly acknowledged. So what’s going on here? Why does Chin Peng’s restless spirit still upset so many Malaysians? He can do no harm to Malaysia now – and he had not offered a genuine threat since the mid 1950s when he fled to the Thai border. So why has the reaction to his death been so divisive and angry? Why vilify Chin Peng now? The majority of his postmortem critics allude to the nightmare scenario of a ‘Communist Malaya’ (presumably not Malaysia) had the Malayan communists won. It is not difficult, of course, to point to the case of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, for example, and imply that ‘it might have happened here.’ In a broader context, communism is the god that failed; Stalin and […]
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Chin Peng has died

News from Thailand today that Malayan Communist Party leader Chin Peng whose real name was Ong Boon Hua has died in a Bangkok Hospital. He was 90. The Malaysian Daily Star quotes some divergent opinions: Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) National chairperson Dr Nasir Hashim said Monday that Chin Peng must be remembered as one of the pioneers in the struggle for independence as he fought against the colonial masters – first the Japanese and then the British. “If history is rewritten, he has a place in the country’s struggle for independence…” Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar: “He was a resourceful leader in difficult times,” he said. Less generously, Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali said: “To me, Chin Peng was not only the head of the violent communist movement but also a criminal. Chin Peng must be erased from history, so that the people especially the younger generation do not know him. There are some black moments in the county’s history that should be taken as lessons but not the history of terrorist and criminals who did harm to the country.” Erasure would be regrettable, Datuk. Chin Peng was an integral part of Malaysian history – whatever view we take of his political beliefs. […]
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