Former defence minister admits misleading MPs

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A former Labour defence minister admitted today that he gave MPs a misleading account of when British troops used hooding on Iraqi prisoners.

Ex-armed forces minister Adam Ingram denied in a Parliamentary answer that UK forces hooded detainees as an interrogation technique despite seeing a document suggesting they did, a public inquiry heard.

The inquiry is investigating allegations that British soldiers beat to death hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, 26, in Basra, southern Iraq, in September 2003.

Mr Ingram was copied in on a memo revealing that the Iraqi was hooded for a total of nearly 24 hours during 36 hours in UK military custody before he died.

He also received another briefing document stating that Mr Mousa and colleagues detained with him were apparently hooded on the advice of an interrogation expert.

Nine months after the Iraqi's death, Mr Ingram assured then-Labour MP Jean Corston, chair of the Parliamentary joint committee on human rights, that hooding was only used while detainees were being transported for security reasons.

In a letter dated June 25 2004, he wrote: "The UK believes that this is acceptable under Geneva Conventions but I should make absolutely clear that hooding was only used during the transit of prisoners. It was not used as an interrogation technique."

The former minister accepted today that this information should have been "more specific".

He said: "It (hooding) could have been used within an interrogation area for the security of the individual because that individual may be coming to give evidence... It's clearly not a very precise term."

Rabinder Singh QC, counsel for Mr Mousa's family and the other detainees, suggested to him: "It's just not accurate, is it?"

Mr Ingram replied: "That's correct."

Mr Ingram also assured Labour MP Kevin McNamara that the British military did not employ hooding to question suspects.

He said in a Parliamentary answer dated June 28 2004: "We are not aware of any incidents in which United Kingdom interrogators are alleged to have used hooding as an interrogation technique."

This appeared to contradict a Ministry of Defence briefing document about Mr Mousa's death which Mr Ingram saw, the inquiry heard.

The memo, dated September 18 2003, stated: "In this instance the tactical questioning (TQ) of the suspects was conducted by two intelligence corps staff sergeants, both fully trained in TQ.

"It would appear that the hooding of the suspects took place on the advice of one of the staff sergeants."

Mr Ingram said: "In hindsight it would have been better if the department had reminded me of all the documentation.

"It certainly would not have been within my power to remember everything that I had been informed in writing or verbally."

Gerard Elias QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked whether he would have answered Mr McNamara's Parliamentary question as he did if he had recalled the memo.

The former minister replied: "No... whether the interrogation took place while there were hoods on the individual or whether there were hoods in advance of the interrogation, I think it's a bit ambiguous."

Mr Elias also asked whether he was "horrified" to learn that detainees had been kept hooded for 24 hours by British troops.

He replied: "Horrified is a strong word... I wouldn't have put a value judgment on it until I had established best information and ground truth."

The inquiry has heard that British troops used "conditioning" methods on Iraqi prisoners such as hooding, sleep deprivation and making them stand in painful stress positions with their knees bent and hands outstretched.

These techniques were outlawed by the Government in March 1972 after an investigation into interrogation in Northern Ireland.

Then-prime minister Edward Heath told MPs that any future Government wanting to authorise conditioning would probably have to ask Parliament for the powers to do so.

The inquiry is currently looking at who in the chain of command told British soldiers serving in Iraq in 2003 they could use these prohibited methods.

It has heard that UK commanders issued orders banning hooding in May 2003 and October 2003 - but the practice continued to be used until the following May.

Shortly after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) complained to the British military about prisoners being hooded, left in the sun and possibly put in stress positions.

By early May, Major General Robin Brims had outlawed hooding throughout 1st (UK) Armoured Division, then serving in Iraq.

And on May 2 Mr Ingram wrote to Labour MP Michael Foster: "There were a small number of occasions at the start of the conflict where prisoners were hooded for short periods - this practice has now been stopped...

"We have worked very closely with the ICRC, who have expressed themselves content with the way we have treated prisoners and detainees throughout the conflict."

Questioned about whether this was accurate, Mr Ingram said he could not recall being made aware of the concerns expressed by the ICRC in March 2003.

But he added: "If the ICRC made observations about failings or things that needed to be attended to, and then they were attended to, then they would express themselves being content."

Mr Ingram also admitted he was not aware of the 1972 Heath ruling until around May 2004.