Goldsmith's advice on treatment of Iraqi prisoners is censored

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The Independent Online

The Government has blocked the release of the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith's advice about whether human rights law applied to British troops in Iraq when handling prisoners.

Lawyers for Iraqi detainees allegedly abused by UK soldiers claim Lord Goldsmith's legal opinion would cast light on allegations being considered by a public inquiry into the death of the Basra hotel receptionist Baha Mousa. But the inquiry's chairman, Sir William Gage, has accepted the Ministry of Defence's argument that it must remain secret.

Lord Goldsmith's advice on whether the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) applied to UK operations in Iraq is contained in seven documents dated between 16 February and 16 April 2003.

The MoD argued in submissions to the inquiry that the papers were covered by legal professional privilege, which protects communications between lawyers and their clients. But lawyers for Mr Mousa's family said the advice was important because the ECHR made it clear that prisoner-handling techniques employed by British troops in Iraq should not have been used.

Lord Goldsmith summarised his position when he gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war in January this year. He said: "Fundamentally, my advice was that the obligations about the proper treatment of people, which are contained in the European Convention, did apply in relation to detainees." The inquiry is currently looking at who in the chain of command told British soldiers serving in Iraq in 2003 they could use these banned methods. Lord Goldsmith, the Government's chief legal adviser at the time, insisted the authorisation did not come from him.

Sir William read the seven documents drawn up by the former attorney general before giving his ruling. He said: "In my opinion the documents which form the advice remain confidential and I cannot direct that any of them be produced by the MoD."

The inquiry is investigating allegations that British soldiers beat Mr Mousa to death in Basra, southern Iraq, in 2003.