US ‘Pressed British in Iraq to Toughen Up Interrogations’

December 14th, 2006 - by admin

Ben Mitchell / Guardian – 2006-12-14 23:20:36

LONDON (December 14, 2006) — An army brigadier in charge of intelligence gathering in Basra said yesterday that British forces had been put under pressure by the US to step up interrogation techniques because their current methods were failing to produce results.

Brigadier Euan Duncan, director of the Intelligence Corps, also said he believed “hooding” of detainees was an acceptable practice despite legal advice that it could be against the Geneva convention.

He was speaking at the court martial at Bulford, Wiltshire, of seven Queen’s Lancashire Regiment soldiers who face charges including the manslaughter of hotel receptionist Baha Musa, 26, in September 2003.

Brig Duncan said that American commanders had criticised the British forces for failing to extract enough intelligence from detainees. The implication was that “firmer” interrogation techniques should be used and there was a “growing diversion” of opinion on what practices were suitable.

He said: “The US had the view that we weren’t getting as much information out of prisoners we held as we should, in their opinion.” But he had not advocated stepping up interrogations and his view was they should be wound up if “there was no value in them”.

He believed the use of “hooding” — placing Hessian sacks over a prisoner’s head — was acceptable. He said they were necessary to protect the prisoner from being identified as a potential informer by fellow detainees in group cells.

Brig Duncan said the use of hoods was at the “milder end of the spectrum” of conditioning techniques being used by US forces in Iraq. These included placing detainees in stress positions, sleep deprivation, no chairs or beds in cells and no contact with the outside world. He believed these techniques were not acceptable.

The prosecution alleges that such techniques were used against a group of Iraqi civilians and suspected insurgents arrested at a Basra hotel on September 14 2003. Brigadier Robert Aitken, who was commissioned to prepare a report on alleged abuse by UK forces in Iraq for the Ministry of Defence, told the hearing that he believed under-preparation had led to confusion over what interrogation practices were appropriate.

Asked by Timothy Langdale QC, representing Colonel Jorge Mendonca, if he agreed with the statement, “Some of the conditions which exacerbated acts of abuse could have been avoided if there had been thorough joined-up planning for after the fighting finished,” he replied: “Yes.”

All but one of the seven soldiers on trial at Bulford deny all of the charges they face. The hearing continues.

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