When did British ministers know of prison torture?

By Andy McSmith and Severin Carrell

09 May 2004


Defence ministers will face angry questions from MPs this week about why the Government claimed to know nothing about allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British troops, months after the authorities had been tipped off by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, is facing fresh claims about the conduct of British troops in Basra over eight new cases of Iraqi civilians allegedly being shot dead in cold blood, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The eight cases ­ detailed for the first time in the IoS today ­ will be added to a dossier of more than a dozen cases of unarmed Iraqis allegedly killed by British soldiers that is being presented to the High Court in London this Tuesday.

Meanwhile, soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers face prosecution after an investigation into photographs apparently showing Iraqi prisoners in British custody being force to engage in homosexual acts, The Sunday Times reported

The new cases came on a day of clashes between British troops and followers of the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra which left four soldiers wounded and at least two Iraqis dead.

Last week, the Armed Forces minister, Adam Ingram, emphatically denied in the Commons that he had received any reports about conditions in British jails from any outside organisation.

But since then, the Red Cross has broken its traditional silence to reveal that it has been holding private meetings with coalition leaders for months to plead with them to end the ill treatment meted out to Iraqi detainees. During these talks, the Red Cross raised "concerns" about British-run prisons ­ though not on the scale of the allegations about abuses by US troops. The revelations mean that Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, will be grilled in the Commons tomorrow about what he knew and when.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory defence spokesman, said yesterday that it would be a matter of "gravest concern" if it emerged the Government had known about the allegations "quite some time ago".

"No 10, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Office must say whether these questions were indeed raised with them and what
actions were subsequently taken," said Mr Soames. Mr Hoon must "make a full and detailed statement on this and other matters relating to investigations by the Royal Military Police into the allegations made by the Daily Mirror and others."

Last week, Mr Ingram denied that he had had any reports from the Red Cross or anyone else about the treatment of detainees.

Questioned by Tory MP Andrew Murrison about any warnings from "external organisations", Mr Ingram said: "I have received no such reports, but some may be in the process of being compiled. The ICRC is authoritative and operates in a precise and structured way. It will make known its concerns, and if we need to act on them, we will."

But it has since emerged that the Red Cross sent an "interim" report to the MoD earlier this year.

The ICRC has been complaining to the United States authorities for more than a year about alleged abuse.

Last week the ICRC director of operations, Pierre Krahenbuhl, complained about a "pattern" of abuse in US-run jails in Iraq.

But he was more circumspect about the British: "We raised our concern at the British prisons, but I would not like to comment on the British in the same way."