My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Private Ryan Wrathall, Marine Darren Smith and Lance Corporal Stephen Kingscott, who were killed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan recently.
"Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on the results of a recent MoD review of records of detention resulting from security operations carried out by UK Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is essential that our Armed Forces are able to detain people who pose a real threat either to our troops, to those of our allies or to the local population we are seeking to protect. These operations are conducted by our forces with courage, integrity and professionalism.
In undertaking these operations, we take fully into account our obligations under international law. In February last year, allegations were made that persons captured by UK forces in Iraq and transferred to US detention facilities were mistreated and removed unlawfully from Iraq. My predecessor rightly launched a review into these matters. Much of the work was led personally by a very senior serving British Army officer. My right honourable friend was right to satisfy himself that appropriate procedures were in place to ensure that persons captured by UK forces and transferred to US detention in Iraq were treated in accordance with UK policy and legal requirements. Separately, he also set in hand work to examine all available documentary material relating to detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to review the parliamentary record. The Ministry of Defence has now completed a detailed review of records of detention in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of each campaign. I am placing in the Library details of all detentions in southern Iraq in each year since 2003.
In Iraq, we have reviewed the record of detainee numbers, listing all individuals held in UK detention facilities, first at Shaibah logistics base and subsequently at the contingency operating base at Basra. In December 2003, when the facility at Shaibah was first opened, records show that 105 internees captured by UK forces were transferred into it from US custody at Camp Bucca, and a further 19 were released at this stage. After December 2003, an additional 546 individuals were interned in these facilities. The majority, 491, were released once it was judged that they no longer represented an imperative threat to security; 141 were transferred to the Iraqi authorities; a further 12 escaped; six were transferred to US detention facilities; and one sadly died in custody.
In conducting this review, it became apparent that in three parliamentary Answers since February 2007, we overstated by approximately 1,000 the number of detainees held by UK forces in the period since January 2004. Nine further Answers contained minor inaccuracies. I have written separately to honourable Members setting the record straight, and have placed copies in the Library of the House. I apologise unreservedly for these inaccuracies.
We have also reviewed our records of detentions in the period from March to December 2003, when large numbers of individuals were captured by UK forces during the initial high-intensity combat phase of the operation. Many of them were held for very short periods of time, or were transferred to the US facility at Umm Qasr and then released. This facility was run by the UK from late March to mid-April 2003, and was then transferred to US control. Given the circumstances in which the database was compiled, we cannot be confident that the data we hold are entirely complete. On a small number of occasions, answers or statements provided by my department have included figures relating to the position in 2003 that indicated that we initially held up to 5,000 Iraqi prisoners during this period. However, a significant number of these were held on behalf of other coalition forces. We now believe that UK forces transferred around 3,000 individuals to the detention facility at Umm Qasr between March and December 2003. However, I would ask the House to treat this figure as a best estimate.
In areas outside Multinational Division (South East), UK forces have undertaken operations to capture individuals who were subsequently detained by the US. These individuals do not feature in the data that I set out above, and I do not intend to provide any further details on these detentions today. The review, however, concluded that UK forces have exercised appropriately their responsibilities towards all captured personnel handed to US custody, whether in MND (South East) or elsewhere, and uncovered no evidence of mistreatment.
During the final stages of the review of records of detentions, we found information about one case relating to a security operation conducted in February 2004, a period that saw an increased level of insurgent activity as the transfer to Iraqi sovereignty drew closer. Two individuals were captured by UK forces in Iraq. They were transferred to US detention, in accordance with normal practice, and then moved subsequently to a detention facility in Afghanistan. This information was brought to my attention on
I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my department. I must stress that this was based upon information available to Ministers and those who were briefing them at the time. I have written to the honourable Members concerned correcting the record, and I am placing a copy of these letters in the Library of the House. I want to apologise to the House for these errors.
The individuals transferred to Afghanistan were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a proscribed organisation with links to al-Qaeda. The US Government have explained to us that they were moved to Afghanistan because of a lack of relevant linguists necessary to interrogate them effectively in Iraq. The US has categorised them as unlawful enemy combatants, and continues to review their status on a regular basis. We have been assured that the detainees are held in a humane, safe and secure environment meeting international standards consistent with cultural and religious norms. The ICRC has had regular access to the detainees. A due diligence search by US officials of the list of those individuals captured by UK forces and transferred to US detention facilities in Iraq confirmed that this was the only case in which individuals were subsequently transferred outside Iraq.
This review has established that officials were aware of this transfer in 2004. It has also shown that references to this case were included in lengthy papers that went to the then Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary in April 2006. The particular significance of this case was not individually highlighted, or made sufficiently apparent at that point, to raise concern. My predecessors as Secretary of State for Defence have confirmed to me that they had no knowledge of these events.
In retrospect, it is clear to me that Her Majesty's Government should have questioned the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals. We have discussed the issues surrounding this case with the US Government. They have reassured us about their treatment, but confirmed that, as they continue to represent significant security concerns, it is neither possible nor desirable to transfer them either to their country of detention or country of origin. The UK has no power to detain suspects in Iraq, and only limited powers of detention in Afghanistan.
For Afghanistan, robust checks have confirmed that we have detailed and precise numbers of all those detained by UK forces since we deployed Task Force Helmand in July 2006. As of
We hold capture details relating to a total of seven individuals detained by UK forces between 2001 and April 2006 and I believe that this represents a complete record. I am also placing the complete details of the detainee numbers for Afghanistan in the Library of the House.
Our detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are underpinned by arrangements we have in place with our international partners. We have place a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Afghanistan, signed on
For the initial stages of the campaign in Iraq, we had in place an MoU with the US and Australia covering arrangements for the treatment and transfer of detainees. We worked on the mutual understanding that the key provisions of this MoU continued to apply until it was replaced last year by a further MoU with the US. We have also confirmed with the US that the provisions on arrangements for the treatment and transfer of captured persons remain under the new legal framework in Iraq, and that no person captured with assistance from UK forces will be removed from the territory of Iraq without prior consultation with the UK.
I finish with this final observation. We ask our Armed Forces to operate in highly dangerous environments, where there is often a limit to the capacity of local agencies to enforce security and the rule of law. In those circumstances, it is essential that we provide our forces with the authority and capabilities to deal effectively with individuals who represent a serious threat to our troops or those they are there to protect; these two detainees fall into that category.
We recognise the sensitivity of detention operations. We have put in place rigorous safeguards to ensure that detainees are treated properly. We will continue to carry out detention operations in accordance with our legal and policy obligations, in concert with the US and other allies. This is, and will remain, absolutely central to the way our Armed Forces conduct these vitally necessary operations".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I join the Government in sending condolences from this House to the family and friends of those who have died in the service of their country.
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We on these Benches share the view that in the absence of local agencies with the capacity to enforce security and the rule of law, we must provide our Armed Forces with the authority and the capabilities to deal effectively with individuals who represent a serious threat to our troops and law-abiding citizens.
Detention operations undertaken by our forces must, as the Minister made clear, be in accordance with our legal obligations and policy objectives. The Statement notes that we have various Memoranda of Understanding with international partners that underpin detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. What legal authority and force do the MoUs have? In 2005, the Intelligence and Security Committee published a report on the handling of detainees. One of the committee's recommendations was, in our view, important; it said that,
"UK authorities should seek agreement with allies on the methods and standards for the detention, interviewing or interrogation of people detained in future operations".
Are the Government satisfied that the MoUs that are now in place meet that recommendation?
The Government's Statement corrects the parliamentary records relating to detention operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some serious errors in data capture were made by the Ministry of Defence, and I note the Government's apology for that. Why were the mistakes made? What procedural changes—this is the more important point—have been made to ensure that the MoD's future records of detention are accurate?
Much of the Statement concerns the transfer of two members of Lashkar-e-Taiba to Afghanistan in 2004, following their capture by British forces and subsequent transfer to US forces. The account given to us today contradicts assurances given by the then Foreign Secretary in February 2006, that he was unaware of any transfers to US forces. We now know that officials were aware of these cases in 2004, and that they were referenced in papers sent to the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary in 2006 before he delivered his assurances. It would be helpful to know why officials did not make Ministers aware of the error they had made in 2004 and why it has taken so long for the Government to correct themselves. What changes have been made to ensure that, in future cases where the Government should question the transfer of detainees, Ministers are made aware of the situation immediately?
Although the Government have corrected mistakes in information already given to Parliament over the MoD's records of detention, I am concerned that the Government have not provided your Lordships' House with details on those individuals captured by UK forces in areas outside Multinational Division (South East) in Iraq. These were people who were subsequently detained by the United States. The Statement says that the Government,
"do not intend to provide any further details" on the individuals who were captured outside that area and transferred to the US. Surely, though, that is to gloss over the main issue.
Many in your Lordships' House will, I am sure, be aware of allegations by a former member of the SAS, Ben Griffin, that British forces were involved in operations to seize terror suspects to be handed over to American forces for extraordinary rendition. These alleged operations would have taken place outside Multinational Division (South East). Ben Griffin made a significant charge against the UK. Before he was injuncted by the Government, he said:
"Throughout my time in Iraq I was in no doubt that individuals detained by UKSF"—
UK special forces—
"and handed over to our American colleagues would be tortured".
He made allegations that they had witnessed brutal interrogations that involved the use of torture by such methods as drowning and the use of an electric cattle prod. These are serious allegations which the Government must be prepared to answer. Detail about official and ministerial oversight about two specific men is fine, but the Government must now complete the story. We do not have the necessary context and background information to put these allegations to rest. I am sure I speak for your Lordships' House when I say that we do not want Statement after Statement. The Government must make a clean breast of it rather than dribbling out the truth.
Do the Government ever intend to publish data on persons captured outside MND (South East), which is the area we are talking about, and transferred to the US? If that is the Government's intention, when can your Lordships' House expect to receive the information? Why have the Government not published the actual review of the procedures the Armed Forces have in place to ensure that detention operations and transfers were, and are, in line with this country's legal obligations and policy objectives? A number of serious questions remain outstanding to which I hope the Minister will be able to provide answers.
My Lords, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier condolences.
As far as we are concerned, this Statement is extremely unsatisfactory. It consists of five carefully crafted pages on which clearly the MoD has been working for weeks. It has been sprung on Parliament with no notice—a couple of hours' notice at the most—it is extremely detailed, it involves international law and human rights and it covers a number of corrections of answers that have been given to noble Lords and parliamentarians over the years. The whole issue and the way it has been handled warrant a full debate rather than this Statement.
Reference is made in the Statement to a number of documents that have been placed in the Library—details of detentions in Iraq since 2003 and a number of the corrections to earlier answers. By 1 pm today, none of these was in the Library. I was unable to trace them. I finally managed to get one sheet of paper half an hour before this Statement was made. The sheet that I was shown and have here is quite interesting; it touches one of the points that the noble Baroness made earlier. It is headed "Summary of Individuals Detained by Conventional UK Forces in Iraq". I ask the Minister whether it covers those detained in Iraq by our special forces.
The Statement says:
"It is essential that our Armed Forces are able to detain people who pose a real threat either to our troops, to those of our allies or to the local population we are seeking to protect".
I concur entirely with that. Does the Minister agree, however, that it is also essential that our forces operate to the highest standards, that proper records of detainees are kept and that the human rights of the detainee, international law and the Geneva Convention are properly adhered to? What confidence can we have in military records when the number of personnel detained since February 2007 was overstated by approximately 1,000?
In the Al-Skeini case, details of which I have here, the House of Lords, in its judicial capacity, found that people detained by our forces in Iraq were under UK jurisdiction so UK law, including the Human Rights Act, applies to them. Torture is prohibited and the right to life is confirmed. How can one be satisfied that human rights are being upheld when the records themselves are so manifestly unsatisfactory? Sadly, we are reminded today of the Baha Mousa case—that unfortunate detainee was tortured and killed, and the MoD has now agreed to pay compensation.
I would like to ask the Minister two specific questions. The first one was partly covered by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, on the question of operations outside Multinational Division (South East). The Statement says:
"I do not intend to provide any further details on these detentions today".
Why not? Does the Secretary of State who made the original Statement actually have the details that he is not providing? When are they likely to be provided?
The Statement refers to some detainees—those who are alleged to have links with al-Qaeda—being sent by the US from Iraq to Afghanistan for questioning,
"because of a lack of relevant linguists necessary to interrogate them effectively in Iraq".
Surely it would have been easier for a small number of linguists to be sent from Afghanistan to Iraq rather than the other way round—sending substantial numbers of detainees. Does not the UK have any linguists in Iraq whom the Americans could have called on without sending those detainees to Iraq?
Today's Statement raises far more issues than it reassures. Sneaking it out—I use that word advisedly—without adequate notice, indeed without any notice, leaves a rather unpleasant taste and, frankly, fails to inspire confidence.
Our troops have very difficult and dangerous roles to perform in Iraq and Afghanistan. We earlier heard about the very sad deaths. They conduct operations by and large with great bravery and professionalism but we owe it to them, to the civilian population and to the detainees themselves to keep proper records and to behave correctly at all times.
My Lords, referring first to the points made by the noble Baroness, I am pleased that there is an acceptance of the importance of the authority to make detention operations. We have agreements with our allies. They do not have the force of law but we have every confidence that they are effective and that they are being obeyed. We are in constant conversation with our allies on this and we believe the MOUs are being honoured.
The procedural changes to allow an improvement in the records essentially involve the creation of a database in the United Kingdom at PJHQ where data from individual operations are collated. We believe that gives us an accurate picture of what is happening today and we believe that the scrutiny of the data that go back to the period in the Statement where we have given accurate figures is a good historical record. We recognise there was a period earlier in the campaigns when the records are poorer.
We will not be providing details to the House of operations outside conventional operations. It is not our normal practice to give details of these sorts of operations and we have been consistent in that answer. The review is not being published because of the extent to which it contains classified information.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, does not find the Statement complete. We believe that it is complete in the matters it addresses. I am sorry that the papers are not in our Library. I was reading the Statement as if I were the Secretary of State in another place and his assurance, which I was giving second-hand, was that they were in the House of Commons Library. I shall make sure that officials follow this up.
As I said earlier, it is not our policy to reveal any details about operations of our special forces. However, our troops, be they special forces or regular forces, operate to the highest standards and obey international law. We are confident that, in our relationships with our allies, where individuals are apprehended by ourselves but handed over to the US authorities, the memorandum of understanding is honoured and that the standards under which they are detained are to the levels of international law. With regard to these individuals the International Committee of the Red Cross was able to give that kind of support.
There is a series of questions which I shall loosely call "Who knew and when?" and which are entirely reasonable. It is clear from the record that UK officials at a certain level knew about the detention of the two individuals in the records. It is not clear why they did not raise it at a higher level. We have inspected the record: it is not clear. The US assures us—we have no reason not to accept its assurance—that its own systems failed in these two cases and did not make it clear that they had been captured by UK forces. Therefore, it did not ask us before they were transferred. It was learnt after they were transferred, but only by officials. It was not raised at a senior level until much later and, as I said earlier, there were references, although indirect, to documents which were available to the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary in 2006.
In general, we are absolutely clear that, where our own forces are involved with other coalition partners, we shall not be complicit with torture or involved in any situation where we believe there will be torture. We have taken on board all the allegations made by the Special Forces individual, which have been repeated by both noble Lords. They have all been thoroughly investigated where he has provided evidence. My understanding is that there is limited evidence and that none of the allegations has been proven. If they were proven, we would of course take action. Our troops work to the highest standards. We are trying to create high standards; we are proud of how troops perform; and we believe that any limitations shown by our present procedures have been addressed.
My Lords, I welcome the fact that there has been a review and that the Statement mentioned access by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Does the Minister agree that that is always necessary if abuses are to be prevented in respect of detainees?
I am more concerned with the present position than with what may have happened in the past. Does the Minister agree that many thousands of detainees are still being held by the United States authorities in Iraq and that those persons may be at risk of being transferred to other countries? Furthermore, is it not a fact that many other thousands are being held by the Government of Iraq without trial, despite the fact that some have been released under the Iraqi amnesty law? Will Her Majesty's Government press for the earliest possible release or trial of those people still held in Iraq? Is the Minister aware that several hundreds of detainees are being held by the United States in at least four locations in Afghanistan? There are rumours of a further detention centre in Djibouti in Africa, and of other people being held on various naval ships scattered around the world. Does the Minister agree that democracy cannot be defended properly by indefinite detention without trial?
My Lords, I agree that the International Committee of the Red Cross is an excellent and valuable organisation and should be involved in any areas of detention. On the holding of prisoners in Iraq by the US, the US has an agreement with the Iraqi Government as to its responsibilities in that area. In our own case, we have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqis covering the treatment and handling of detainees. Iraq has committed to honouring its international legal responsibilities towards detainees. The Iraqi Interior, Justice and Defence Ministers have confirmed to us that Iraq's detention procedures maintain consistency with the principles set out in that MoU. Our support for our Iraqi partners continues on that basis.
I am afraid that I cannot advise the House on numbers of individuals held by the US. I do not know of the various rumours that the noble Lord referred to; I do know that the new Administration have committed themselves to a thorough examination of detention as a result of these events. Of course, the United Kingdom Government are delighted that the US Administration are taking this open and thorough approach.
My Lords, does not the Minister's previous comment make it even more necessary that, instead of this drip-feed of admissions after years of denials and what some of us would call cover-ups, the UK Government agree to an independent inquiry which can give a comprehensive overview of the sorry history of what appears to have been UK official complicity in torture and secret detention? Sooner or later, the truth will come out, probably out of Washington, and this partial information coming out on a Thursday afternoon will be seen to be deeply unsatisfactory.
I bear the scars of Geoff Hoon making a complaint about me when, as vice-chair of the European Parliament's inquiry on extraordinary rendition, I led a delegation to London in October 2006. I made a press comment, and said:
"Ministers and officials would be pressed on the extent to which intelligence and security personnel had been involved in the transport and interrogation of suspects in possible violation of the UK's human rights obligations".
He said that I had prejudged the issue, since when we have heard David Miliband's admission about Diego Garcia being used for refuelling of rendition flights, we have heard a lot about Binyam Mohamed, and we have heard about the apparent collusion of MI5 in the abduction of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna. Would it not be better to grasp the nettle and get everything out into the public domain? As the noble Lord said, what the Minister is saying is the tip of the iceberg; there are thousands of detainees whose status is of concern and who appear to be in legal limbo. Will the Government agree sooner rather than later to get the whole story out so that we can really lance the boil?
My Lords, I am sorry that I can give no assurances to that effect. We have said categorically that the United Kingdom's forces are not involved in extraordinary rendition. In no way have we been involved in facilitating torture of detainees. We think that we have answered that question over and again and we do not intend to go any further in that area. We think that is entirely right that the ISC continues its interest in this matter; indeed, it held an inquiry on rendition and published a report. That report concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the UK had been complicit in US extraordinary rendition operations. We believe that the ISC and its processes, and the extent to which the security services in this country are now liable to proper supervision and have to work to proper legal standards, put us in a very good position to deny the allegations.
My Lords, remembering the extraordinary care which we were required to take, when I was serving in places such as Northern Ireland, to record the numbers of people who were detained, I am appalled that there is a discrepancy as large as 1,000 between the numbers of people who have been detained and the figures released. Is there more to come? Will the Minister assure the House that we will not hear of charges that may follow against members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who have been involved in this detention process?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reminder about Northern Ireland, where, because of the length of the campaign, we ended up with a proper and accurate system of recording it. There is no question that, in Iraq, we ended up with multiple records and double counting. We have constructed an historically accurate database; the figures from that are in the Statement, and I will not repeat them.
As to whether I believe that there are there further corrections to come out, the answer is no. I have been briefed on the thoroughness of this project and believe that the answers that have come out are right. However, I stress that this Statement is one of contrition; we have apologised to Parliament for not keeping the records accurately and have promised to change the procedures to ensure that they are, in future, accurate. The procedures, on which I have been briefed, are clearly different. We will have an accurate picture of any future detainees.
In a sense, the noble Lord has asked me to prove a negative. There is nothing to suggest that any events will be revealed from future data, whereby individuals and the Armed Forces will be at some risk, because there is nothing to suggest that the data have any holes in them when it comes to transferring individuals to other custody. However, regarding how individuals were treated when they were apprehended and detained by the United Kingdom or, when under our various Memorandums of Understanding, handed over to the US, two individuals were treated, in a sense, outside of the terms of that Memorandum of Understanding. That is regrettable—it was an error and the Statement apologises for it.
My Lords, what is implied by the term "unlawful enemies"—as opposed to "lawful enemies"—by which the United States categorises the two people we handed over to them? How does that distinction affect their treatment by the United States under United States law? That is something that we will need to know if we are to hand people over.
My Lords, it is fair to say that the categorisation is a US one, but not one that we recognise. It is important to seek and to be given reassurance about detainees' welfare and treatment and the safeguards and guarantees that the United States has put in place to prevent any repetition. The US has this categorisation and a process that results from it, of a six months' review of the risk represented by held individuals. It has reviewed, and regularly reviews, all held detainees to see whether they represent a serious danger. These individuals have fallen within that review process and are currently assessed as being an imperative danger. I cannot go much further on that point.
My Lords, I am in a minority in the Joint Committee on Human Rights in having supported the Government on the issue of Memoranda of Understanding. I have done so in the face of criticism by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; I have done so on the basis that the assurances contained in Memoranda of Understanding would be honoured and there would be independent monitoring to make sure that they were complied with.
The Minister may not be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is investigating some issues relating to what he has just said and has asked Ministers to appear in front of it. I do not want to say anything that would prejudice that. Will the Minister, in his mood of contrition, which is appreciated, at least tell the House that the Government will publish information, not about individual detainees and their treatment, but about the system? What instructions were in place? What safeguards were sought? What went wrong with that system? Above all, what is the new system in place that will give some assurance of proper safeguards against abuse? I ask that question because, when we debated the invasion of Iraq, I was the only Member of the House who raised issues about humanitarian and human rights' compliance rather than about the legality of the war. I am most dismayed by what I have heard today.
My Lords, the Memoranda of Understanding are crucially an assurance against abuse. People whom the UK transfers to US, Iraqi or indeed Afghan custody are transferred on the basis of commitments that they will not be abused, that they will be treated within international law, and that international law will be respected. That is a live issue between us and we continue to seek assurances about it. If the Government are able to say any more on that point, I will write to the noble Lord and place a record in the Library.
What has gone wrong in the detail of this is not that people have been abused. We are confident that these individuals have not been abused. We are confident that they are in proper facilities and that the International Committee of the Red Cross has access to these individuals, therefore underwriting that confidence.
My Lords, there is another question that troubles me slightly. The noble Lord said, making a perfectly respectable defence of his position, that we do not discuss the operations of Special Forces. Your Lordships do not want to hear about the operations of Special Forces, but about the treatment of the people who may have been captured by them. Will he tell us anything about that?
I will simply give the straightforward commitment that our forces are not involved in operations which would lead to the abuse of individuals captured by them in these joint operations. That is a commitment both for conventional and non-conventional operations. I cannot go into any more detail than that. All our operations are compatible with international law and our humanitarian obligations. That is an essential part of our policy. The reason for peacekeeping, and for being in Afghanistan and Iraq, is about those standards and our forces maintaining them. They are not complicit in any operations that offend those standards.
My Lords, I accept the intention, but is inquiry being made about those individual cases or are the Government simply resting on the assumption that their standards are always adhered to?
My Lords, it would be more sensible at this point for me to examine the record and the detail of the noble Lord's question. If we can usefully add to it, we will write to him and place a copy in the Library.