MPs and peers on the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights are demanding answers from defence chiefs over ‘discrepancies’ in their evidence to the committee’s inquiry into torture by UK troops in Iraq.
In a report published yesterday, the committee said it had been given assurances by Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram in 2004 and Lieutenant General Robin Brims, Commander Field Army, in 2006 that interrogation techniques illegal under the Geneva Convention, known as ‘conditioning’ practices, were not being used.
Ingram had assured that the UK ban on such techniques, introduced in 1972 following allegations that their use in the north of Ireland amounted to torture, was ‘still in force’.
Brims had assured that ‘conditioning’ was not in use.
However, not all troops had known ‘conditioning’ techniques such as hooding, imposing stress positions for long periods and sleep deprivation were banned, according to the committee.
The use of such abusive interrogations emerged after the killing of Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa in British army custody, in 2003.
The committee’s report says: ‘At the conclusion of the court martial – at which only one person, Corporal Payne, was convicted of inhumane treatment – the head of the army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, accepted that Baha Mousa and others “were subjected to a conditioning process that was unlawful”.
‘He went on to state that the duty of British military personnel to behave in accordance with the law “was forgotten or overlooked in this case”.’
The committee said that assurances given in a review of the lessons learned from Baha Mousa’s death conducted by Brigadier Robert Aitken were not satisfactory.
The committee’s report said: ‘Aitken did not address the question of why soldiers in 1 Queen’s Lancashire Regiment came to think that the proscribed conditioning techniques were, in fact, lawful, explaining that this was an issue to be considered by a subsequent, broader enquiry.’
The UK government announced in May that a public inquiry would be held into the death of Mousa, who suffered asphyxiation and had 93 injuries to his body.
Committee chairman, Labour MP Andrew Dismore, said he hoped the public inquiry would give some indications as to why it was given ‘wrong evidence’.
‘And certainly when that inquiry is over we’ll want to look at this again, to try and find out what was going on and why we were told something different to what was actually happening on the ground,’ he added.
Earlier this month, the MoD agreed to pay almost £3m in compensation to Mousa’s family and nine Iraqi men after admitting breaching human rights.
l A Nobel-prize-winning rights group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), last Thursday said US officials committed war crimes by ordering what it says was torture of detainees, and called for them to be probed and prosecuted.
Allen Keller of PHR told a briefing in the US House of Representatives: ‘There must be a complete and independent investigation of what happened in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other places where terrorist suspects were detained.’
PHR president Leonard Rubenstein said: ‘There must be accountability . . . accountability must include prosecuting individuals who have committed war crimes, whatever their place in the chain of command.’
The doctors described graphically how detainees held at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan had been subjected to ‘torture and abuse while in US custody that was sadly second to none.’
Keller added: ‘We have violated the golden rule that we preached for years: don’t torture. So what do we do? We change the name. We called it “enhanced interrogation techniques”.’
In the preface to the PHR report entitled ‘Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical evidence of torture by US’, retired US Army general Antonio Teguba said bluntly that there was ‘no longer any doubt that the current administration has committed war crimes’.
‘The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account,’ said Teguba, who led the official investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.