Panorama asks why the British Army in Iraq used interrogation techniques that were banned over 30 years ago.
Panorama: On Whose Orders? BBC One 8.30pm on Monday 25 February 2008
In 1972 the techniques – hooding, stress positions, constant noise, sleep deprivation and being starved of food and water – were banned by the Heath government which said they would never be used again. Their reintroduction in 2003, whether official or unofficial, could have had serious consequences. Now solicitors are launching claims for compensation on behalf of Iraqis alleging mistreatment.Ministry of Defence (MoD) rules now specifically state the five techniques should never be used. However, immediately after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 British soldiers witnessed Iraqi prisoners hooded and made to stand for hours with no food or sleep.
The Attorney General is responsible for setting the rules under which the British Army operates. Lord Goldsmith held this position during the Iraq war and the resulting occupation.
When we asked him how it was that the ban had been side-stepped, he told Panorama:
“There is no question of anyone in my office, let alone me, advising me that it was legitimate to interrogate whilst hooding or using sleep deprivation or any of those techniques. Full stop.”
When asked why it was happening despite this, he said:
“I think the Ministry of Defence are probably the responsible department to understand with the army what actually took place, to learn the lessons from it to make sure it never happens again.”
In response to the allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq which went beyond the five techniques and included beatings and in the case of hotel worker Baha Mousa, death, the then Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Michael Jackson commissioned a report.
Brigadier Robert Aitken’s findings were published last month and said that abuse was not widespread.
General Sir Michael Jackson told Panorama:
“Robert Aitken makes the point in his report that he would need another look at why that statement by the Heath government appears to have gone into a black hole… I don’t know the answer to that.”
“There was no evidence whatsoever on any endemic behaviour of that nature.”
The programme goes on to weigh the evidence from the Battle of Danny Boy, that is at the centre of the latest legal challenge.
Iraqi prisoners have made serious allegations of abuse against the British Army that the MoD is now re- investigating despite previous inquiries that found nobody to be at fault.
Iraqi prisoners captured by the army on 14 May 2004 and taken back to Camp Abu Naji claim other prisoners taken alive with them off the battlefield were killed that night by the British in Camp Abu Naji.
Iraqi medical staff who received the bodies returned by the army the next day say some of the bodies show signs of torture.
They claim that there is evidence that people died later in Camp Abu Naji and not in the battlefield.
The MoD deny the allegations.
They say the injuries are consistent with modern battlefield injuries and that the claims of deaths at the camp may have arisen from an unusual decision to remove bodies from the battlefield and take them to the base. A full statement from the MoD is available above.
Panorama has spent over a year talking to battlefield survivors, medical staff, and Iraqi former prisoners in Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.
The programme critically examines claims made by lawyers who are representing the Iraqis in their action against the British Government and who held a press conference last Friday.
Panorama has seen no proof that prisoners died at the hands of their captors and concludes that the case being brought by solicitors Phil Shiner and Martyn Day represents the most extreme interpretation of a troubling but confusing incident. They are asking for the bodies to be disinterred and evidence to be handed to Scotland Yard.
General Sir Michael Jackson, speaking generally and not about this incident specifically, says that the army’s best defence is the law:
“I would look… what are the facts? If they make an allegation the allegation gets investigated, people don’t always say truthfully as they might such things as I’m afraid some of the court cases revealed but I would say that any allegation of ill treatment should be investigated and the due process of law must take place.”
Whatever the outcome of any potential court case it maybe that bringing back the five techniques – banned as inhuman in 1972 – would appear to have made the army’s position more difficult.
Panorama: On Whose Orders? BBC One 8.30pm on Monday 25 February.