Today I am calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) failure to properly advise our armed forces on how to capture and detain prisoners before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The terrible circumstances of the Baha Mousa case, when an Iraqi man died while in British Army custody in Basra in September 2003, are well known. However, what has been entirely overlooked is the MoD’s failure to properly prepare, train and instruct our armed forces in relation to capturing and detaining prisoners prior to deployment to Iraq.
What had shockingly been forgotten and written out of all MoD training manuals was the Parliamentary Directive of 1972 given by then Prime Minister Edward Heath, banning certain methods of interrogation when capturing and detaining prisoners. It was made clear in this statement that this directive would cover all future circumstances.
The five banned techniques are wall standing, hooding, subjection to noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and drink. One also has to understand the total lack of infrastructure and law and order in Iraq at the time. There were no judges, police force or prisons in which to place detainees, so the British military were left capturing a large number of suspects with nowhere to put them and no training on how to properly detain them.
What occurred in the Baha Mousa case was that the incoming regiment witnessed the outgoing regiment hooding prisoners outside as they moved them from one building to another, presumably so they couldn’t orientate themselves in an attempt to escape. Seeing this, and without any further guidance from the MoD, it was presumed that the hooding of prisoners was common practice and acceptable. This doesn’t excuse the terrible events that followed but it sets the scene.
The Aitken Report into cases of abuse and unlawful killing in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, published in 2008, contained one paragraph on the lack of training and preparation for the detention of prisoners in Iraq and in particular why the five banned techniques had been written out of every MoD training manual and directive.
One can never excuse what happened in the Baha Mousa case but, in my opinion, the MoD must bear some responsibility. I have long called for corporate responsibility on behalf of the MoD and this is a case in point.
IHAT now looks to be heading to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has already commented that if these cases are reopened by the ICC she will not be looking to investigate abuse on the battlefield but in capture and detention only. Is this a hint that the MoD may be required to answer for its lack of training in capture and detention? I believe we need a Parliamentary Inquiry into this urgently.