Former defence secretary Geoff Hoon said today he was "deeply shocked" to learn that an Iraqi detainee had been hooded and allegedly beaten to death by British soldiers.
Mr Hoon told an inquiry into the death of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, 26, who died in Basra, southern Iraq, in September 2003, that prior to the incident he had no knowledge that some British troops had hooded Iraqi prisoners as standard operating procedure.
He said: "I was clearly deeply shocked that a man had died in such circumstances at the hands of apparently British soldiers."
The hearing in central London has heard that 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 1972 after an investigation into an interrogation in Northern Ireland.
Mr Hoon said he had been advised that hooding was only lawful for purposes of "limited security" in the immediate aftermath of a conflict.
He added that Mr Mousa's death had resulted in a number of questions that had to be answered.
He said: "Why was this man hooded for so long? What were the circumstances? Why was hooding being used? Was it being used for purposes that were for example unlawful?"
In April 2003, Major General Robin Brims, later promoted to Lieutenant General, outlawed the hooding of detainees throughout 1st (UK) Armoured Division, then serving in Iraq.
Then, in October 2003, the chief of joint operations at the military's Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) in the UK, Lieutenant General Sir John Reith, issued a fresh order banning hooding.
Mr Hoon, who avoided the waiting press by entering the inquiry building via a back door, explained that ex-armed forces minister Adam Ingram had been responsible for the day-to-day issues relating to the treatment of detainees.
Mr Ingram admitted last week that he was "not accurate" when he told an MP in June 2004 that hooding was only used for security reasons while suspects were being transported.
The hearing has previously been told that Mr Hoon and Mr Ingram were copied in on a memo revealing that Mr Mousa was hooded for a total of nearly 24 hours during 36 hours in UK military custody before he died.
Both ministers received another briefing document stating that Mr Mousa and the colleagues detained with him were apparently hooded on the advice of an expert interrogator.Reuse content