Iraq: Treatment of Prisoners

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 12th May 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative 2:30 pm, 12th May 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in response to representations from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International on the regime of treatment for prisoners in Iraq, they have withdrawn any instructions on coercive treatment techniques to break resistance to interrogation; and, if so, which instructions have been withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, there has been no need to amend or withdraw any part of the standard operating instructions in relation to tactical questioning, commonly known as interrogation, for operation TELIC. The instructions specify that individuals being questioned must be treated at all times fully in accordance with the Geneva protocols and must not be subjected to physical punishment. The instructions also direct that only personnel who have successfully completed a stringent Ministry of Defence course may undertake questioning. The course also directs that the Geneva protocols must be adhered to.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. As he speaks for government, when the daily narrative concerning the ICRC representations of 4 February is self-contradictory and opaque, is it not requisite that clarification should be given? In the immediate interests, not only of the Armed Forces but of those detained, and of due administration, may I ask when the report on the regime of treatment as constituting serious violations of humanitarian law was received by any department of state in this country? If before last weekend, why was it not at once made available to the Prime Minister and Ministers, in particular those who answer at the Dispatch Box?

As the report was discussed at a meeting on 26 February, to which Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the Prime Minister's special envoy, sent his chief adviser, and that was also attended by three British officials and Paul Bremer, why was it not then made available to the Prime Minister and Ministers?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I shall have to repeat a little of what I said in my Statement to the House two days ago. The ICRC report to which he refers raised two serious concerns in respect of British forces' treatment of prisoners and internees. The vast majority of that report had nothing to do with British internees or prisoners. Ministers were aware of the issues that the reports raised some five months before the report itself was handed over to Mr Bremer in February this year. Ministers have commented on those two issues both in public and in the House. The necessary action to address those concerns was also taken some five months before the report.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Shadow Minister, Defence

My Lords, further to the Minister's earlier Statement that no further action had to be taken, one of the recommendations made by the International Committee of the Red Cross was that hoods should no longer be used. Obviously, the Armed Forces stopped using hoods on the original recommendation. It was a very serious allegation made by the Red Cross and the MoD reacted to it. Has an investigation been undertaken into why hoods were placed over prisoners' heads in the first place? At what point did Ministers investigate whether that use of hoods was against the Geneva Convention?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, directions were issued on 30 September last year that all hooding should cease. As I understand it, that was not because of representations from the ICRC at all; it was a decision taken by the Chief of Joint Operations off his own bat. It is not accurate to link that with the Red Cross report.

Prisoners would be hooded from time to time to ensure that while the arrest process was under way the arresting officers or soldiers could sensibly divide their time between arrest procedure and general force protection, which in Iraq includes the protection of the prisoners themselves. They might also be hooded on arrest to protect their own interests in preventing future identification, because they might be considered to be future possible collaborators by fellow prisoners. It would be a temporary measure only and would be used only to achieve the safe arrest and transit of suspects.

Hooding is not a recognised technique for interrogators. As I have said already today, it is specifically taught as an unacceptable technique at the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre. If there are examples of hooding, apart from on arrest, of course they will be investigated.

Photo of Baroness Goudie Baroness Goudie Labour

My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Boothroyd, my concern is the breakdown of reasonable relationships that were being built up between British service personnel and the Iraq people. Given what we have seen over the past few weeks and continue to see in the Daily Mirror, did the editor at any point telephone the Ministry of Defence or the Prime Minister's private office to give notice of what the newspaper was doing? This has caused me and others great concern for the lives of British troops in Iraq at present.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I agree entirely with the feeling behind my noble friend's question. The House probably knows by now that we understand that the photographs—the notorious photographs, I dare call them—were in the possession of the Daily Mirror for some time before it decided to publish them. The Daily Mirror was kind enough to give the Ministry of Defence some 12 hours' notice—perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, rather less than 12 hours' notice—of the fact that it was going to publish the photographs. I do not know whether phone calls were made.

As the House will want to know, thorough and detailed investigations had been undertaken in relation to the photographs published by the Daily Mirror. These photographs are, of course, central to accusations concerning the behaviour of British troops, in particular the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. There are strong indications that the vehicle in which the photographs were taken was not in Iraq during the relevant period. Of course, additional lines of inquiry are being pursued to corroborate that. If it is right that the vehicles in which the photographs were taken were not in Iraq during the relevant period, that is a pretty fair clue as to whether these are fake or genuine photographs.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Shadow Minister, International Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, much has been made of the US forces in Iraq using private contractors as interrogators. Can the Minister confirm that Britain does not, and will not, use private contractors for interrogation?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while there is great respect for our troops—rightly and deservedly so—the impact of the allegations that have been made is extremely serious? As the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, pointed out, the allegations have had a grave effect on the reaction of the Arab world to our claims to be a society committed to democracy and the rule of law. The impact of the allegations has also put our troops in considerable danger, as is tragically indicated by the terrible events today concerning Mr Nick Berg and those of his family, who have been profoundly affected by such awful behaviour. There is a kind of slow descent into barbarism on one side, and degradation on the other.

Given that, can the Minister say absolutely clearly that any act by our troops, or by civilians associated with the running of prisons, that breached the Geneva Convention will—as his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, promised me on 27 April in her reply—be investigated by a senior officer, be investigated without pressure from any quarter, and that the House and the country will be fully informed of the result of those investigations? I am sure that the Minister will agree that the matter is too serious to be dismissed by looking at such incidents, silly though they may be, as the enhancing or fraudulent presentation of pictures in the Daily Mirror.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I absolutely agree with what the noble Baroness has said. This is an extremely serious matter. She will know that the Government take the allegations extremely seriously. Of course, if cases are proved following proper investigation, looking after the interests of all sides involved, action will be taken against those who it is proved are responsible.

The point about the photographs cannot be just put on one side. There is no doubt that if the cliché is right that a picture speaks a thousand words, the point of putting those photographs in the newspaper was surely to convince people that there were true allegations of wrongdoing by British troops, not by reading the scripts of the Daily Mirror, but by looking at that photograph. If the photograph is false, first, there may have been a fraud committed on the Daily Mirror, but on the other hand, and much more seriously, it almost certainly has had the effect of putting British soldiers' lives at greater risk than they already are.

Photo of Baroness Nicol Baroness Nicol Labour

My Lords, does the ICRC have a policy on the publication of its reports to governments, and if so, what is that policy?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

Yes, my Lords, as I understand it, the ICRC has a policy that reports are normally kept confidential between it and the authorities to whom they are presented. That is for a pretty good reason; not just to maintain a positive working relationship between governments, but also sometimes to protect those mentioned in the reports. We would not dream of publishing an ICRC report without its express permission.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister recall the debate before the invasion of Iraq, when the view was expressed by some extremely experienced Members of this House that while the war would certainly be winnable, the peace would be a much more difficult matter? In that connection, with regard to the treatment of prisoners of war and the treatment of those detained following public order situations, what specific instructions were given by Ministers? What particular attention was paid by Ministers to those issues that were bound to arise in the course of winning the peace?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am not in a position to tell the noble Lord here and now what specific instructions were given, but he can be content that Ministers across government were concerned that we should look carefully at what the position would be once conflict ended, and do our very best to ensure that we moved to a free, democratic Iraq as quickly as we could. This has proved to be a very difficult process. Ministers realised that at the time, and they realise it now. I would resent—and I am sure that this is not what the noble Lord implies—any implication that somehow Ministers did not do their duty at that time.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, has the editor of the Daily Mirror conceded that the photographs that were published in the Daily Mirror were premature in relation to any offence that might have been committed in Iraq?

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree, having read the full report, as I have, that any public official who took the decision not to make it known to Ministers was wrong to take that decision? Does he further agree that for our Prime Minister to negotiate with President Bush, unaware of this time bomb ticking away, would have had his position severely weakened?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with either of the propositions that the noble Lord puts forward.