Lack of advice for soldiers on holding prisoners is ‘shocking’
Britain’s armed forces need urgent advice and guidelines on the law around detaining prisoners, a leading military specialist lawyer said yesterday.
Last week the High Court ruled that British soldiers breached the Geneva conventions by inflicting “inhuman and degrading treatment” on Iraqi civilians. The ruling came in a test case that could result in the Ministry of Defence having to settle with another 628 claimants in cases that could cost the government more than £1 million.
Yesterday Hilary Meredith, a specialist military affairs solicitor, called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Ministry of Defence’s “failure to properly advise our armed forces on how to capture and detain prisoners before the 2003 invasion of Iraq”. Meredith highlighted “the terrible circumstances of the Baha Mousa case” in which an Iraqi man died while in British Army custody in Basra in September 2003.
She said that while cases of abuse had been well documented, “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”. According to the lawyer, a parliamentary directive from 1972 had “shockingly been forgotten and written out of all MoD training manuals”. That guidance banned various methods of interrogation when capturing and detaining prisoners. And, according to Meredith, it was clear at the time that the “directive would cover all future circumstances”.
The directive, which was backed at the time by the prime minister, Edward Heath, banned “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,” said Meredith. “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.”