British army sanctioned hooding Iraqi prisoners

The routine hooding of Iraqi prisoners was sanctioned by British army commanders despite repeated warnings that the practice broke human rights laws, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Ministers have also admitted for the first time that hooding was banned only because its use played a direct part in the death of the hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, who was allegedly killed by British soldiers last September.

Mr Mousa, the son of an Iraqi colonel, was allegedly tortured and beaten along with seven other men who had been arrested at a hotel in Basra by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.

As the IoS disclosed in May, five of the men allege that QLR soldiers placed two or three hoods over their heads while they were beaten and abused in cells at the British army's headquarters in Basra. One of the detainees, Radif Tahir Muslim, claimed: "Soldiers placed three hoods over my head and hand-strapped me. I felt suffocated due to the hoods on my head. They started beating us with their hands, boots and an iron bar."

In witness statements, the men claimed the hoods were only lifted immediately before they were interrogated by an officer who threatened them with further violence if they failed to give him information about an Iraqi fugitive.

Last Thursday, the Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram admitted to the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price that Mr Mousa's death had forced military commanders in Iraq to issue new orders banning the use of hoods.

The minister said: "Military commanders became aware that the practice of hooding could be harmful to prisoners, especially if it was applied inappropriately. They judged that these concerns outweighed the military justification for the continued use of hooding as a means of blindfolding, and that the most prudent, immediate response was to introduce a ban."

Ministers have repeatedly denied the Army used hooding during interrogation. However, British officials, intelligence officers and army commanders were warned on at least three occasions that hooding during questioning was illegal under international law, and also posed a serious risk to detainees' health.

Mr Price said he would challenge Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, in the Commons tomorrow to explain why senior officers had sanctioned the use of hooding since previous governments had officially banned the practice.