Legislative Scrutiny: Armed Forces Bill - Joint Committee on Human Rights Contents


1.5 The treatment of detainees by members of the armed forces in Iraq is a subject into which our predecessor Committee inquired and on which it reported on a number of occasions.[8] The allegations of ill-treatment are acknowledged by the Secretary of State to be of the utmost seriousness. They include a range of forms of ill-treatment which include all of the so-called "five techniques" (hooding, stress positions, subjection to noise and deprivation of sleep, food and water) which were prohibited in the UK in 1972 following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Ireland v UK.

1.6 The allegations are currently the subject of a number of different public inquiries and investigations. The Baha Mousa inquiry, chaired by Sir William Gage, has finished hearing evidence and may report in the next few months. The Al Sweady inquiry, into alleged unlawful killings and ill-treatment in a different incident, will be chaired by Sir Thayne Forbes and will not begin hearing evidence until May 2011. Both inquiries will make findings about the allegations and, if appropriate, recommendations for the future.

1.7 The Secretary of State has set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team ("IHAT") to investigate the allegations with a view to the identification and punishment of anyone responsible for wrongdoing. He has also set up a separate Iraq Historic Allegations Panel ("IHAP") to ensure proper and effective handling of information concerning cases subject to investigation by IHAT and to consider the results of IHAT's investigations, any criminal or disciplinary proceedings brought, and any other judicial decisions concerning the cases, with a view to identifying any wider issues which should be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has not ruled out the possibility that a public inquiry into systemic issues may be required, in the light of IHAT's investigations and the outcome of the existing public inquiries, nor that there may be prosecutions in the light of those outcomes, but he says that it is premature to set up such a public inquiry now while these other inquiries and investigations are going on.

1.8 We decided not to return to the substantive question of the alleged ill-treatment of detainees by members of the armed forces in the context of this Bill, but to keep open the possibility of doing so in a future Report. We made this decision in light of the fact that the allegations are currently the subject of a number of different public inquiries and ongoing investigation by the Ministry of Defence. If it is established by any of these inquiries or investigations that the allegations disclose the existence of systemic abuse of detainees by members of the armed forces, it might be appropriate to consider whether any legislative responses are required to prevent such abuse from happening again. We may therefore return to the issue in a future Report in the light of any relevant findings and recommendations.

8   See for example, Twenty-eighth Report of 2007-08, UN Convention against torture: Discrepancies in evidence given to the Committee about the use of prohibited interrogation techniques in Iraq, HL Paper 157/HC 527. Back

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Prepared 17 May 2011