Did somebody say torture?
Army must come clean on torture in Iraq, say MPs
'Stark inconsistencies' emerged in evidence about the death of an Iraqi detainee. Now the MoD is being pressed for answers
Jamie Doward, home affairs editor
Sunday May 27, 2007
An influential committee of MPs is demanding that the Ministry of Defence urgently explains what, it claims, are 'stark inconsistencies' over the army's use of interrogation techniques in Iraq.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has written to the MoD asking it to reconcile what appear to be glaring differences between the department's official line on what is permissible and evidence given at the recent court martial of seven British soldiers.
The court martial into the death of Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa, who died after sustaining 93 separate injuries, heard evidence that senior British officers in Iraq sanctioned the 'conditioning' of prisoners, which included the use of hooding and forcing detainees to stand for hours in stressful positions.
The MoD, however, told the joint committee during its recent inquiry into the UK's compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture that the use of hooding and stress positioning for the purpose of interrogation has been prohibited since 1972.
The Committee has now written to the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, seeking an explanation.
The move threatens to become a major embarrassment for the MoD, potentially pitting the department against international human rights laws.
'The Government should now accept our recommendation that the provisions of the torture convention should apply to all of our armed forces' actions,' Andrew Dismore, the committee's chairman, said. 'It should ensure that our troops are suitably trained to equip them with the skills and knowledge needed to comply fully with our international obligations.'
Leanne MacMillan, director of policy and external affairs at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, welcomed the decision to seek answers from the MoD. 'It is quite clear that assurances given to parliament by the then Prime Minister Edward Heath in March 1972 have not been honoured,' MacMillan said.
'He stated quite unequivocally in the House of Commons that conditioning techniques such as hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, the withholding of food and drink, and bombardment with loud noise would not be used by Britain's armed forces unless sanctioned in advance by parliament. It is quite clear, however, both from the court martial, and from what the Medical Foundation has learnt from former army interrogators, that the techniques have continued to be used.'
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that such techniques are inhuman and degrading. More recently, the United Nations Committee Against Torture said that they amounted to torture.
Mousa, 26, was detained in 2003, with a number of other Iraqis, by members of The Queen's Lancashire Regiment at a hotel in Basra where weapons and suspected bomb-making equipment were found.
The prosecution said that, while undergoing 'conditioning' for interrogation, the detainees were forced to stand with their arms outstretched and their knees bent. The seven soldiers faced a variety of charges ranging from manslaughter, inhuman treatment, perverting the course of justice, causing actual bodily harm and negligently performing a duty.
Six of the accused, including the regiment's commanding officer, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, were cleared. Corporal Donald Payne pleaded guilty to 'inhuman treatment of persons protected under the Geneva Convention' and was jailed for a year.