British military intelligence 'ran renegade torture unit in Iraq'

Secret operation 'reporting only to London' deprived prisoners of sleep, documents show

Fresh evidence has emerged that British military intelligence ran a secret operation in Iraq which authorised degrading and unlawful treatment of prisoners. Documents reveal that prisoners were kept hooded for long periods in intense heat and deprived of sleep by defence intelligence officers. They also reveal that officers running the operation claimed to be answerable only "directly to London".

The revelations will further embarrass the British government, which last month was forced to release documents showing it knew that UK resident and terror suspect Binyam Mohamed had been tortured in Pakistan.

The latest documents emerged during the inquiry into Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel worker beaten to death while in the custody of British troops in September 2003. The inquiry is looking into how interrogation techniques banned by the Government in 1972 and considered torture and degrading treatment were used again in Iraq.

Lawyers believe the new evidence supports suspicions that an intelligence unit – the Joint Forward Interrogation Team (JFIT) which operated in Iraq – used illegal "coercive techniques" and was not answerable to military commanders in Iraq, despite official denials it operated independently.

In a statement to the inquiry, Colonel Christopher Vernon said he raised concerns after seeing 30 to 40 prisoners in a kneeling position with sacks over their heads. He said those in charge said they were from the Defence and Intelligence Security Centre, based at Chicksands, Bedfordshire, the British Army's intelligence HQ.

He was informed that "they were an independent unit and reported directly to their chain of command in London". Hooding was "accepted practice" and would continue, he was told. "They reiterated the point they were an independent unit and did not come under the command of the GOC1 (UK) Armed Div (the Iraq command)," he said. Asked by the inquiry last week whether there was "some sort of feeling generally in the Army the intelligence people were slightly on their own and running their own show", Col Vernon replied: "I think you could say that."

In a second statement, Colonel David Frend, a British Army legal adviser in Iraq, said he was told by a senior military intelligence officer in London that "there was a legitimate reason for it [hooding], they had always done it and they would like to continue to do it." Col Frend said: "My recollection is that he said that they – ie those at JFIT – had been trained to hood. My understanding from the conversation was simply the use of hessian sandbags as hoods were something that had been taught to members of the JFIT at some point prior to deployment [to Iraq] and that it was not a unilateral act by them."

In a further email disclosed by the inquiry this week, Major Gavin Davies, a member of the Army's legal team, wrote in March 2003: "I have just spoken to S002 [code for an army intelligence officer in Iraq] about the subject of placing [prisoners] in hoods in the UK facility." He goes on to say that he was told that hooding is only until "high value" prisoners can be interviewed, and the length of hooding can last from an hour to 24 hours. The only other restriction, he wrote, "is that they may not sleep". Sleep deprivation is considered torture.

Chicksands has always denied that it trained soldiers to use hoods, claiming that there may have been some confusion with its "conduct after capture" training programme.

However, a further email from a military legal officer based at Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, also published last week, stated: "I have heard that Chicksands have denied teaching hooding and suggested that there may be confusion in the minds of those who have completed the conduct after capture course during which students are hooded. I find this implausible. The people I have spoken to are not stupid. It seems to me more likely that hooding is taught but for actions immediately on capture or for prisoner handling."

In November, the human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, who represents Baha Mousa's family and forced the public inquiry, lodged a further 14 cases of abuse, naming JFIT. This is the first time that evidence to support the claims from the British military has emerged. There are now 47 claims of abuse lodged against the Government.

Yesterday Mr Shiner said: "It's been established that JFIT were a separate compound and their personnel were not accountable to a military chain of command. There is a mass of evidence from this and other cases which shows JFIT used coercive interrogation techniques – forbidden under law – as standard operating procedure. We need an independent inquiry to examine who was responsible."

A MoD spokesman declined to comment while the inquiry was ongoing.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links