Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, may have only seen details of allegations of brutality by British troops within the past week, but the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International began investigating claims that coalition forces had abused and humiliated Iraqi captives more than a year ago.
The Red Cross raised its concerns orally and in writing with force commanders on the ground. It is unclear how high up the complaints went in the Ministry of Defence. In February, the Red Cross completed an interim report listing apparent Geneva Convention breaches and sent it to Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq. The breaches included the hooding of prisoners and the death of a man named Baha Mousa, who was in custody at the time.
Mr Bremer forwarded the report to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who was Britain's envoy to Iraq, and he passed it to the Army's planning headquarters in Northwood, London. And that, Mr Hoon said, is as far as it went.
Mr Hoon said yesterday that the Red Cross report "was not seen by ministers until very recently ... because it was an interim report to ambassador Bremer passed to the UK in strict confidence".
Amnesty said it raised its human rights concerns with the MoD and the Foreign Office at least five times in the past 12 months. The first occasion was last May when the organisation sent a memo detailing allegations of abuses. The MoD replied that a "number of allegations concerning war crimes or human rights issues" were being examined. That prompted exchanges between Amnesty and the MoD, with letters signed by Mr Hoon and by Mr Ingram. Mr Hoon said yesterday that Amnesty's complaints had focused on "general interactions between British troops".