Kim Sengupta / The Independent – 2010-06-14 23:20:35
Hoon: “I Did Not Know
British Troops Hooded Iraqi Prisoners
LONDON (June 11, 2010) — Geoff Hoon, the former defence secretary, insisted yesterday that he did not know until the death of Baha Mousa that British troops hooded prisoners in Iraq as standard operating procedure.
Mr Hoon told an inquiry into Mr Mousa’s death: “I was clearly deeply shocked that a man had died in such circumstances at the hands of apparently British soldiers,” and that the abuse he had suffered, manacled and hooded, while held by British soldiers was “appalling” and “reprehensible”.
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, the Army’s senior legal officer in Iraq at the time of the invasion, had earlier told the hearing that his “very serious” concerns about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners were passed to military headquarters in the UK “and or ministers” before Mr Mousa’s death.
The inquiry had also heard Mr Hoon had been sent a memorandum soon after Mr Mousa’s death in 2003 revealing that the 26-year-old hotel receptionist had been kept hooded for nearly 24 hours of the 36 in UK custody before he died with 92 separate injuries.
Mr Hoon, asked by Gerard Elias QC, counsel for the inquiry, whether he was aware Mr Mousa had been hooded, said: “I was aware hooding was an issue in his death, I was shocked and concerned that should have happened.” However, he said his knowledge of the matter was based on information received after the prisoner had been killed.
He said the death raised a number of questions. “Why was this man hooded for so long? What were the circumstances? Why was hooding being used? Was it being used for purposes that were for example unlawful?”
Mr Elias asked if Mr Hoon knew some of Mr Mousa’s fellow detainees were hooded prior to interrogation. He replied: “I’m not aware of any suggestion that they were hooded in either tactical questioning or interrogation.”
Mr Hoon was shown footage of hooded prisoners, including Mr Mousa, moaning in pain while being beaten and being forced to maintain “stress positions”. The film had been extensively broadcast in the media since it was shown at a court martial of soldiers accused over the killing in 2007.
But Mr Hoon, who avoided the waiting photographers and cameramen by entering the inquiry building via a back door, said yesterday: “I’ve never seen that film before. If it is what it appears to be, it looks pretty appalling. If British soldiers engaged in that, it’s reprehensible.”
The then armed forces minister Adam Ingram was also copied into memorandum sent after Mr Mousa’s death revealing that he had been subjected to prolonged hooding.
In June 2004, nine months after Mr Mousa’s death, Mr Ingram assured the parliamentary joint committee on human rights that hooding was used only while detainees were being transported for security reasons. Giving evidence last week the former minister was forced to admit that this was “not accurate”.
The inquiry has heard that British troops used “conditioning” methods on Iraqi prisoners which included hooding, sleep deprivation and forcing them to stand in painful “stress positions” with their knees bent and hands outstretched. The techniques were outlawed by the Government in 1972 after an European court ruling on their use in Northern Ireland.
In October 2003, a month after Mr Mousa’s death, the chief of joint operations at the military’s Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) in the UK, Lieutenant General Sir John Reith, issued a fresh order banning hooding. However, the hearing was told, UK special forces had continued to place sandbags over the heads of detainees and the practice did not end until May 2004.
Earlier Lieutenant General Robin Brims, a senior officer in southern Iraq, was asked by Mr Elias: “Did you know at the time of issuing that order that there were troops on the ground that believed it was a standard operating procedure to hood prisoners at the point of capture? Lt Gen Brims responded: “I didn’t know at the time.”
Asked whether questions surrounding the legality of hooding should have been raised at government level or with the Attorney General to get a “definitive view to what the law was”, Lt Gen Brims replied: “I didn’t need to raise it… because I was told what the legal adviser at various levels was saying and I was aware that the legal debate was going on at the higher level.” Mr Elias asked: “Was this your understanding that this was a decision likely to be taken at the highest level, to go up to the Attorney or ministers?” Lt Gen Brims replied: “If necessary.”
Asked how he felt after learning of Mr Mousa’s death, the Lt Gen said: “I was appalled that anybody could die while in custody of soldiers.”
Inquiry chairman Sir William Gage asked: “About the time of your going into Iraq, if anybody had said to you is there a danger of soldiers beating up people they have captured, what would you have said?” Lt Gen Brims said: “No, because they know it’s wrong.”
Torture: The History of ‘Hooding’
The Gestapo became renowned for using hooding during the Second World War and over the decades it would become a global form of “stealth torture”.
In the post-war years, there was a determined reaction to end all forms of torture and numerous conventions were signed. In particular, Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibited the humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees.
However, hooding, among the so-called “five techniques” — which also included wall-standing, subjection to noise, lack of sleep or food and drink — was an interrogation practice adopted in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s.
In November 1971, the government commissioned a committee of inquiry chaired by Lord Parker, the Lord Chief Justice of England, to look into the legal and moral aspects of the use of such practices. The “Parker Report” found the five techniques to be illegal under domestic law. On the same day, prime minister Edward Heath announced in the House of Commons that the techniques “will not be used in future as an aid to interrogation”.
In February 1977, during a trial brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by the Irish government on behalf of the men subjected to such “sensory deprivation”, the then Attorney General insisted the UK government had considered the question of the use of the “five techniques” with very great care, and gave an unqualified undertaking that it would not be reintroduced. The following year, the ECHR trial “Ireland vs the United Kingdom” ruled that the five techniques “did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture… [but] amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment”, in breach of the European Convention.
Amnesty International experts believe that, with the changing standards of today, a new trial before the ECHR would most likely classify such techniques as torture.
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