Questions that have put ministers on the defensive

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What have the Red Cross and Amnesty International alleged about British troops?

What have the Red Cross and Amnesty International alleged about British troops?

The Red Cross listed breaches of the Geneva Conventions, including the routine hooding of prisoners and the death in custody of a man named Baha Mousa.

Soldiers have been accused by Amnesty of beatings with rifle butts, the kicking of people on the ground and denial of food and water to captives. Yesterday it said UK soldiers had shot dead unarmed civilians.

Why did the reports plunge the Government into crisis?

Apart from the reports' shocking contents, ministers have given widely different accounts of the date when claims that Iraqi captives were humiliated were first brought to their notice. The confusion comes after photographs in the Daily Mirror purporting to show a prisoner being beaten helped undermine the moral case for the war in Iraq.

What prompted the crisis?

The leaking of the Red Cross report to an American newspaper last Friday showing widespread violations of human rights by coalition troops; the worst were carried out by US forces but the allegations extended to British soldiers. It exacerbated existing outrage on both sides of the Atlantic about images of degrading treatment by occupying forces.

How did the Government react?

On Saturday, Downing Street confirmed "the Government" was shown a copy of the report in February. Yet on 4 May, Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister, told an MP: "You asked whether I had received any adverse or other reports. To date, I have received no such reports..." The inconsistency brought the first opposition claims of a possible cover-up and forced Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, into making a Commons statement on Monday.

What was Mr Hoon's explanation?

He said the Red Cross had passed its interim report to Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq. Mr Bremer forwarded the report to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, then Britain's envoy to Iraq, who passed it to the Army's planning headquarters in Northwood, north-west London. Mr Hoon said it had reached neither his desk nor Mr Ingram's.

He faced mocking laughter when he told MPs that it "was not seen by ministers until very recently ... because it was an interim report to Ambassador Bremer passed to the UK in strict confidence".

Tony Blair's spokesman gave the same version of events. The claim also explains why the Prime Minister said on Monday he only became aware of "specific allegations" in the "last few days".

How did the confusion deepen yesterday?

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, told the Commons that Sir Jeremy had not in fact seen the report. Downing Street later clarified that it had been passed to "British representatives that included Sir Jeremy's legal advisers".

Why is the pressure intensifying on Mr Ingram?

Amnesty International said it had sent a dossier on alleged abuses to the MoD last November and - despite Mr Ingram's protestation to the contrary last week - received an acknowledgement from him.

Mr Hoon has insisted the cases highlighted by Amnesty International were not about detainees but "the general inter-action on the ground between British forces and Iraqi civilians". However, he has conceded that his deputy needs to clarify his position. Amnesty fiercely disputes his explanation.

For how long have the two organisations been airing human rights concerns in Iraq? To whom have they been speaking?

For at least a year. The Red Cross has raised its worries both orally and in writing - and in the strict confidence with which it prides itself - with force commanders

It remains unclear how high up the Ministry of Defence they were passed.

Amnesty International says it has raised its human rights concerns in writing and face to face with the MoD and the Foreign Office at least five times in the past 12 months, starting last May.

It says it has received letters over that time from both Mr Hoon and Mr Ingram.