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Old 05-11-2004, 03:55 PM   #1
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Default UK Defence Secretary Also Facing Criticism,00.html

Troops broke the law, admits Hoon

Forces breached directive on hooding
Red Cross report kept from ministers

Nicholas Watt and Richard Norton-Taylor
Tuesday May 11, 2004
The Guardian

British forces broke the law when they forcibly placed hoods over the heads of Iraqi captives last year, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, was forced to admit yesterday as he faced intense criticism over the government's handling of a Red Cross report into alleged abuses.
Amid Tory claims that the government has "lost its grip in Iraq" - after ministers admitted they had not read the three-month-old report until last week - the defence secretary conceded that a 30-year-old rule banning the hooding of captives was broken.

His admission heightened a sense of crisis at Westminster as Mr Hoon came under fire from across the political spectrum, including normally loyal backbenchers. In one of the most savage Tory attacks on the government over Iraq, the shadow defence secretary, Nicholas Soames, said: "The government's handling of these events are part and parcel of their fundamental and tragic incompetence and failure in the post-conflict planning for Iraq."

Even supporters of the war on the Labour benches condemned the government for failing to realise the significance of the Red Cross report until days before it was leaked to the media last week.

Ann Clwyd, the prime minister's human rights envoy to Iraq, made clear she was furious that the report had not been brought to her attention. "As [you] know I supported action to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein," she told Mr Hoon. "Can [you] explain why [your] officials failed to show me the Red Cross reports when they arrived?"

Mr Hoon admitted last night that it would have been better if he had read the report earlier. He told the BBC that the matter could have been han dled differently "in process terms".

But he insisted that he had acted properly in "substance". Ministers believe they have done nothing wrong because military officials decided to withhold the Red Cross report from them because criticisms of British troops were being dealt with.

In his statement to MPs yesterday Mr Hoon said that senior military officials at the permanent joint headquarters at Northwood decided that three areas highlighted by the Red Cross were being handled properly by British forces in Iraq.

But in a surprise move, Mr Hoon admitted to MPs that one of those areas - the hooding of prisoners - breached a 30-year-old British rule.

In response to a question from Adam Price, a Plaid Cymru MP who has campaigned on the issue, Mr Hoon indicated that British troops were wrong to hood captives because the Heath government outlawed the practice in 1971 after troops were accused of human rights abuses in Northern Ireland.

The defence secretary declared that hooding had ended in September in an attempt to show that the British authorities had already taken action on the criticisms in the report before it was passed to British authorities in February.

But Mr Hoon's admission that British forces were in breach of a 33-year ruling will strengthen the hands of critics who believe Britain has been involved in the systematic abuse of prisoners.

Defence sources said after Mr Hoon's statement that the hooding was unauthorised. "When people are captured there is a tendency to do that," one source said. "We would not have authorised such activity. We do not know how widespread the practice is. But we have seen the pictures."

The admission about hooding came as Mr Hoon declared that he did not read the Red Cross report until last week. But he said there were two reasons why the military top brass at Northwood decided not to alert ministers:

the report was "interim" - a description not used by the Red Cross - because the Red Cross is due to submit a full report after it visits prisons under British control in Iraq next week

the three allegations relating to British forces were already being dealt with -the death in custody of Baha Mousa in September last year; the hooding; and the case of a prisoner who said his car had been confiscated.

"It is fair to say that the [Red Cross] are generally satisfied with our approach and that they described conditions of internment as 'fairly good'," Mr Hoon told MPs. "We will continue to work closely with them to ensure prisoners' concerns are addressed."

Mr Hoon indicated that charges will shortly be made over the death of Mr Mousa and also in the case of a soldier from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who was questioned a year ago about photographs of alleged torture of Iraqi prisoners of war, including a pic ture showing one gagged and bound and dangling in netting from a fork-lift truck.

Mr Hoon went on the offensive last night when he described as "a hoax" photographs published by the Mirror which purportedly showed British troops abusing an Iraqi prisoner. In the Commons Mr Hoon said there were "strong indications" that the vehicle in which the pictures were taken "was not in Iraq during the relevant period".

But Mr Hoon went further on Channel 4 News last night when he said: "As far as the photographs published in the Mirror are concerned, I'll take them together and certainly it is important that the Mirror now answer why they have perpetrated this hoax."

But in a sign of the immense pressure on Mr Blair, loyal backbenchers voiced serious unease about the government's handling of the affair. Some of the anger was fuelled by the prime minister's attempt to play down the report.

Speaking at lunchtime at a press conference in London with his Chinese counterpart, Mr Blair said: "I hope that whatever has happened in respect of the minority - a small minority of people - should not detract from the work that British troops are doing in Basra helping ordinary Iraqis."

Last edited by Xanthaar; 05-12-2004 at 04:34 AM. Reason: Removed Adverts picked up in the 'cut and paste'
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Old 05-12-2004, 04:23 AM   #2
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I have no prolem with hooding, I have a problem with people sticking broomsticks up their arses
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