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Ministerial Corrections

Volume 485: debated on Thursday 11 December 2008

Ministerial Correction

Thursday 11 December 2008

Defence

Iraq: Detainees

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) when (a) officials and (b) Ministers in his Department were informed of the allegations made by the International Committee of the Red Cross about abuses by United States forces at Abu Ghraib prison in its report of February 2004; (228972)

(2) whether Ministers in his Department were informed by officials of (a) allegations concerning the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and (b) the interim report of the International Committee of the Red Cross of February 2004 on the treatment of prisoners by coalition forces in Iraq.

[Official Report, 26 November 2008, Vol. 483, c. 1550-551W.]

Letter of correction from Mr. Hutton:

Errors have been identified in the fourth paragraph of the written answer given to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on 26 November 2008. The answer contained references to UK forces where it should have read US forces and an incorrect date of 8-9 March 2004 should read 8-9 May 2004. The original paragraph was as follows:

“In their meeting on 18 March 2004, the President of the ICRC, Dr. Kellenberger, did mention briefly to my hon. Friend the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Rammell) that the February ICRC report contained allegations concerning treatment of detainees by forces other than UK forces, although naturally the part of their discussion which covered detainees in Iraq focused on specific allegations against UK forces. The Minister discussed the concerns raised by Dr. Kellenberger with officials on his return to London. Officials had already received assurances that UK investigations were under way into allegations of abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Defence Ministers became aware of the specific allegations against UK forces contained in the ICRC report when they read the report over the weekend of 8-9 March 2004. A copy had been passed by officials to the Defence Secretary’s office on 7 May 2004.”

The correct answer should have been:

I refer the hon. Member to the answers given by my right hon. Friend the then Defence Secretary on 27 May 2004, to the then hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton), Official Report, column 1843, and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), Official Report, column 1845W, and by my right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) on 16 June 2004, Official Report, column 992W.

An advance copy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report “The Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons by the Geneva Convention in Iraq during Arrest, Internment and Interrogation”, dated 10 February 2004, was received by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and, on 12 February, copies were passed to the offices of the UK Special Representative and the Senior British Military Representative in Iraq (SBMR-I). SBMR-I passed a copy to Headquarters Multi-National Division (South East) in Iraq on 13 February, to the Permanent Joint Headquarters in the UK on 16 February, and posted a copy to the Ministry of Defence in London that arrived on 27 February.

On 26 February 2004, the ICRC formally presented the report to Ambassador Bremer as Head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq at a meeting attended by an official from the Office of the UK Special Representative. The proceeds of this meeting were reported by telegram to the FCO in London within 24 hours.

In their meeting on 18 March 2004, the President of the ICRC, Dr. Kellenberger, did mention briefly to my hon. Friend the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Rammell) that the February ICRC report contained allegations concerning treatment of detainees by forces other than UK forces, although naturally the part of their discussion which covered detainees in Iraq focused on specific allegations against UK forces. The Minister discussed the concerns raised by Dr. Kellenberger with officials on his return to London. Officials had already received assurances that US investigations were under way into allegations of abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Defence Ministers became aware of the specific allegations against US forces contained in the ICRC report when they read the report over the weekend of 8-9 May 2004. A copy had been passed by officials to the Defence Secretary’s office on 7 May 2004.

The ICRC report summarises a series of working papers handed over to coalition forces based on observations and interviews during the 29 visits the ICRC conducted in 14 places of detention throughout Iraq between 31 March and 24 October 2003. Ministers had been aware of those issues relating to UK forces for five months before they were aware of the report itself. Allegations of abuse are taken very seriously and, by the time the ICRC report was published, the Royal Military Police were already engaged on several investigations into specific alleged incidents of abuse by UK forces.