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Records of Detention (Review Conclusions)

Volume 488: debated on Thursday 26 February 2009

Before I begin my statement, I should like to pay tribute to the three soldiers from 1st Battalion The Rifles who died on operations in Afghanistan yesterday, and to the Royal Marine from 45 Commando who died yesterday from wounds received earlier this month. Today is a sad day for our armed forces and a reminder of the exceptional challenge that our personnel meet with such extraordinary resolve every day. We owe our security to these brave servicemen and women, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending condolences to the families and friends of those whom we lost yesterday.

I wish to make a statement on the results of a recent Ministry of Defence review of records of detention resulting from security operations carried out by UK armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is, I believe, essential that our armed forces are able to detain people who pose a real threat to our troops, our allies or the local population whom we are seeking to protect. These operations are conducted by our forces with courage, integrity and professionalism. In undertaking them, we take fully into account our obligations under international law.

In February last year, allegations were made that persons captured by UK forces in Iraq were transferred to US detention facilities and were mistreated and removed unlawfully from Iraq. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), rightly launched a review, and much of the work was led personally by a very senior British Army general. My right hon. Friend was right to satisfy himself that appropriate procedures were in place to ensure that persons captured by UK forces and transferred to US detention in Iraq were treated in accordance with UK policy and legal requirements. Separately, he also set in hand work to examine all available documentary material relating to detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to review the parliamentary record.

The Ministry of Defence has now completed a detailed review of records of detention in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of each campaign. I am today placing in the Library details of all detentions in southern Iraq in each year since 2003.

In Iraq, we have reviewed the record of detainee numbers listing all individuals held in UK detention facilities, first at the Shaibah logistics base and subsequently at the contingency operating base at Basra. In December 2003, when the facility at Shaibah was first opened, records show that 105 internees captured by UK forces were transferred into it from US custody at Camp Bucca. A further 19 were released at that stage. After December 2003, an additional 546 individuals were interned in these facilities. The majority, 491, were released once it was judged that they no longer represented an imperative threat to security, while 141 were transferred to the Iraqi authorities. A further 12 escaped, six were transferred to US detention facilities and, as hon. Members will know, one sadly died in custody.

In conducting this review, it became apparent that, in three parliamentary answers since February 2007, Ministers had overstated by approximately 1,000 the numbers of detainees held by UK forces in the period since January 2004. Nine further answers contained minor inaccuracies. I have written separately today to hon. Members setting the record straight, and I have also placed copies of the letters in the Library of the House. I want to apologise unreservedly for these inaccuracies.

We have also reviewed our records of detentions in the period from March to December 2003, when large numbers of individuals were captured by UK forces during the initial, high-intensity combat phase of the operation. Many of them were held for very short periods or were transferred to the US facility at Umm Qasr and then released. This facility was run by the UK from late March to mid-April 2003, at which point it was transferred to US control.

Given the circumstances in which the database was compiled, we cannot be confident that the data that we hold today are entirely complete. On a small number of occasions, answers or statements provided by my Department have included figures relating to the position in 2003 that indicated that we initially held up to 5,000 Iraqi prisoners during that period. However, a significant number of these were held on behalf of other coalition forces. We now believe that UK forces transferred around 3,000 individuals to the detention facility at Umm Qasr between March and December 2003, but I would ask the House to treat this figure as a best estimate.

In areas outside multinational division south east, UK forces have undertaken operations to capture individuals who were subsequently detained by the United States. These individuals do not feature in the data that I have set out today, but I want to reassure the House that the review has concluded that UK forces have exercised appropriately their responsibilities towards all captured personnel handed to US custody, whether in Multi-national Division (South-East) or elsewhere, and that it has uncovered no evidence of mistreatment.

During the final stages of the review of records of detentions, we found information about one case relating to a security operation conducted in February 2004. I am sure that hon. Members will recall that that period saw an increased level of insurgent activity as the transfer to Iraqi sovereignty drew closer. During the operation, two individuals were captured by UK forces in and around Baghdad. They were transferred to US detention, in accordance with normal practice, and subsequently moved to a US detention facility in Afghanistan.

This information was brought to my attention on 1 December 2008, and I instructed officials to investigate the case thoroughly and quickly so that I could bring a full account to Parliament. Following consultations with US authorities, we confirmed that they transferred the two individuals from Iraq to Afghanistan in 2004 and they remain in custody there today.

I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my Department. However, I want to stress that that was based upon the information available to Ministers and those who were briefing them at that time. My predecessors as Secretaries of State for Defence have confirmed to me that they had no knowledge of these events. I have written to the hon. Members concerned correcting the record, and am placing a copy of these letters also in the Library of the House. Again, I want to apologise to the House for these errors.

The individuals transferred to Afghanistan are members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a proscribed organisation with links to al-Qaeda. The US Government have explained to us that those individuals were moved to Afghanistan because of a lack of relevant linguists to interrogate them effectively in Iraq. The US has categorised them as unlawful enemy combatants and continues to review their status on a regular basis. We have been assured that the detainees are held in a humane, safe and secure environment that meets international standards that are consistent with cultural and religious norms. The International Committee of the Red Cross has had regular access to the detainees.

A due diligence search by US officials of the list of all those individuals captured by UK forces and transferred to US detention facilities in Iraq has confirmed that this was the only case in which individuals were subsequently transferred outside Iraq. This review has established that officials were aware of the transfer in early 2004. It has also shown that brief references to this case were included in lengthy papers that went to the then Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary in April 2006. It is clear that the context provided did not highlight its significance at that point to my right hon. Friends.

In retrospect, it is clear to me that the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the time. We have discussed the issues surrounding this case with the US Government. They have reassured us about their treatment but confirmed that, as the individuals continue to represent significant security concerns, it is neither possible nor desirable to transfer them to either their country of detention or their country of origin. The UK no longer has power to detain suspects in Iraq, and only limited powers of detention in Afghanistan.

For Afghanistan, robust checks have confirmed that we have detailed and precise numbers of all those detained by UK forces since we deployed Task Force Helmand in July 2006. As of 31 December 2008, our database holds the capture details of 479 individuals, including 254 who were subsequently transferred to the authority of the Government of Afghanistan, 217 who were released, and eight who died as a result of injuries sustained on the battlefield.

We hold capture details relating to a total of a further seven individuals detained by UK forces between 2001 and April 2006, and I believe that this represents a complete record. I am also placing the complete details of the detainee numbers for Afghanistan in the Library of the House.

Our detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are underpinned by arrangements with our international partners. We have a memorandum of understanding in place with the Government of Afghanistan, signed on 23 April 2006, covering the treatment of individuals detained by UK forces and transferred to Afghan custody. We also have a memorandum of understanding with Iraq, agreed on 8 November 2004, on the treatment of detainees transferred to Iraqi custody. Iraqi Interior, Justice and Defence Ministers have confirmed to us that Iraqi detention procedures remain consistent with the principles set out in that memorandum of understanding.

For the initial stages of the campaign in Iraq, we also had in place a memorandum of understanding with the US and Australian Governments covering arrangements for the treatment and transfer of detainees. We worked on the mutual understanding that the key provisions of the memorandum of understanding continued to apply until it was replaced last year by a further memorandum of understanding with the US. We have also confirmed with the US that the provisions on arrangements for the treatment and transfer of captured prisoners remain under the new legal framework in Iraq and that no person captured with assistance from UK forces will be removed from the territory of Iraq without prior consultation with the UK.

Let me make a final observation. We ask our armed forces to operate in highly dangerous environments, where there is often a limit to the capacity of local agencies to enforce security and the rule of law. In those circumstances, it is essential that we provide our forces with the authority and capabilities to deal effectively with individuals who represent a serious threat to our troops or those they are there to protect; the two detainees to whom I referred earlier fall into that category. We recognise the sensitivity of detention operations. We have put in place rigorous safeguards to ensure that detainees are treated properly. We will continue to carry out detention operations in accordance with our legal and policy obligations, in concert with the US and other allies. This is, and will remain, absolutely central to the way our armed forces conduct these vital operations.

May I fully associate the Conservative party with the Secretary of State’s comments about the deaths of the four soldiers yesterday? It was a black day for the armed forces, and it was particularly sobering for me as my old regiment is shortly to go to Afghanistan. I entirely associate the Conservative party with the comments made by the Secretary of State at the end of his statement, when he made clear the challenge faced by the armed forces on operations overseas in very difficult circumstances.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of the statement and I note that it follows the undertaking in his letter of 17 November to the Chairman of the Defence Committee to answer the questions put to him by the Chairman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) in the sitting that he had three weeks earlier with the joint committees. It is a serious concern that there is an underlying charge of complicity with serious abuse of people detained by British forces on operations overseas. Properly, I presume that it is to address that charge that the Secretary of State has decided to come to the Chamber to make an oral statement, and we thank him for treating the issue with the seriousness that it deserves.

Much of the Secretary of State’s statement dealt with the transfer of two members of Lashkar-e-Taiba to Afghanistan in 2004 following their capture by British forces and their being handed over to the American forces. I am grateful for his candour on the details uncovered by the review. It is clear—I know that he has had a conversation with the shadow Secretary of State, who is abroad, about this—that this is a specific rather than systemic failure. I also accept that there appears to be no legal or practical alternative to their continued detention, where they have access to the International Committee of the Red Cross and appear to be detained in proper circumstances.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his account contradicts the specific assurances given by the then Foreign Secretary to my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary on 6 February 2006? It is at the very least unfortunate that both officials and Ministers overlooked the significance of the cases, not least since the issue of rendition was already highly controversial. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) had already formed his all-party group on the issue. The Secretary of State says that in retrospect it is clear to him that the transfer to Afghanistan of the two individuals should have been questioned at the time. What is his explanation for that not being done at any level and not being rediscovered until 1 December 2008?

I acknowledge the Secretary of State’s unreserved apology for overstating by about 1,000 the number of British detainees since 2004. Again, will he provide the House with an explanation for that? I visited the prison facilities in our area of operations with the Defence Committee in early 2004 and I acknowledge that they had been much improved since serious concerns surfaced about operations there in 2003, but in those circumstances I am astonished at the inaccuracy arising from conditions in 2004 and afterwards. Equally, my experience would lead me to accept that the figures for 2003 could only be an estimate.

Let me turn to our current operations in Afghanistan. What confidence does the Secretary of State have that some of the 254 detainees handed over to the Afghan authorities have not been mistreated or tortured? On what basis does he claim in his letter to the Chairman of the Defence Committee of 17 November 2008 that there is no legal obligation to detainees once they are transferred to another state? Does he acknowledge that a moral obligation exists? Was that not implicit in the memorandum of understanding between the USA, Australia and the UK of March 2003? Why would not that wider obligation also apply between the UK, Iraq and Afghanistan?

The statement avoids the principal public issue, which is the charge about complicity by UK forces operating in Iraq outside the Multi-national Division (South-East). That is a glaring hole and it must be addressed. I suspect that as Secretary of State he might not be inclined to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester for his dogged persistence on the issue. However, I rather suspect that, as a parliamentarian, the Secretary of State will admire my hon. Friend’s achievement in ensuring that the issue remains at the front of parliamentary concern. I hope that the Secretary of State will confirm that for all the difficulty that the statement brings the Government and the embarrassment at procedures that apparently undermine and sometimes disgrace our values my hon. Friend has done Parliament and our wider values proud by holding the Government to account.

This is about more than thoroughly indifferent administration. The statement has partly been prompted by the work of my hon. Friend and, not least, by the evidence produced by the former SAS trooper Ben Griffin before he was injuncted by the Government almost exactly a year ago. Let me remind the House of the gravity of the charge. Ben Griffin said:

“Throughout my time in Iraq I was in no doubt that individuals detained by UKSF and handed over to our American colleagues would be tortured. During my time as member of the US/UK Task Force, three soldiers recounted to me an incident in which they had witnessed the brutal interrogation of two detainees. Partial drowning and an electric cattle prod were used during this interrogation and this amounted to torture. It was the widely held assumption that this would be the fate of any individuals handed over to our America colleagues. My commanding officer at the time expressed his concern to the whole squadron that we were becoming ‘the secret police of Baghdad’.”

How is the public interest served by the injunction when Ben Griffin had left the Army over two years earlier and had made numerous public statements on the nature of those operations in 2006, when he left, and on the role of UK forces in detaining Iraqis and other suspects? The injunction did not come until two years later. Surely, given the serious nature of his allegations and the time elapsed since his operational experience, his account should be publicly scrutinised. The Secretary of State must be prepared to answer those charges.

Exquisite detail about official and ministerial oversight concerning two men is all very well and it is appreciated, but it sits ill with simply sweeping under the carpet the apparent evidence of direct British service involvement with delivery to gross mistreatment amounting to torture involving hundreds if not thousands of people. The evidence available is that the conduct of American forces has significantly improved since Ben Griffin served in Iraq, but the country is owed an account of what happened. Nothing does more to undermine our fight against terrorism and violence than departing from the rule of law and the values that we seek to defend. That does the terrorists’ work for them. Is that not further cause for the Government finally to set up the comprehensive inquiry into Iraq without any further delay?

I welcome some of the hon. Gentleman’s early remarks, although I did not agree with some of the remarks towards the end of his questions. I think that with hindsight and the ability to reflect on them he might well want to say something different at some point in the future.

I want to pay tribute to all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who have championed the issue. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of UK armed forces and HM Government as a whole operating firmly within the framework of the rule of law. These are our values, and we seek to uphold them throughout the world. We have made every effort to do so in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let me deal with some of the specific points that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. There is no truth whatsoever in any allegation that British officials were complicit in the abuse of these two individuals. There is no evidence of abuse in relation to these two individuals and I made that very clear in my statement. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman suggested that that was not the case. There were errors in relation to the records on the two individuals, which largely explains why the approval of the UK was not sought about their transfer in 2004. My understanding is that the records of the US authorities had those two individuals down as detained by US forces, not UK forces, and I think that largely explains the error, but it should not have happened.

The hon. Gentleman asked me specifically about errors in detainee records in Iraq. The best explanation that I can offer him, because it is the best one I have seen—that has come to me—is that there was significant double counting at the time in respect of records on detainees. We have put that right, and Permanent Joint Headquarters now maintains one central database, which is regularly updated, and we have dealt with that particular problem.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the legal position of the two detainees. I have to say that it is far from clear. I do not want to opine on the subject of the legality or otherwise of the position of those detainees—I am not in a position to do so—but I strongly welcome the review that the President of the United States recently announced about detention policies across the range of operations in which US forces are engaged. I am sure the whole House will welcome the outcome of that review.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman and I began to part company when he ended his comments with allegations that Ben Griffin has made about abuse. The hon. Gentleman gave the very strong impression that he thought that those allegations were true and correct. There is no evidence to substantiate those allegations. They have been looked at by a very senior serving British Army general, who found no evidence to support them. It is important that the point is re-emphasised; I tried to deal with it in my statement, so I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman raised it in the way he did.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the injunction against Ben Griffin as though it were some constitutional outrage. Every member of the special forces agrees a confidentiality deal when they sign up, and if the hon. Gentleman ever has the responsibility of standing at the Dispatch Box to deal with such matters he will find that that is for a very good reason: it preserves the safety and security of special forces operations, and it must not and should not be challenged in the way that the hon. Gentleman challenged it. That is a mistake and he will rue the day if that is the view he takes into government, should he be given that opportunity.

I finalise my comments with this point: we are not sweeping anything under the carpet. The hon. Gentleman implied that today we were somehow sweeping things under the carpet—he used that expression. It is simply not true. We have extended an open hand and an open invitation to people to come forward and confirm those allegations. None has done so.

I echo the words of condolence that the Secretary of State rightly gave for those who died yesterday. I thank him for his statement and like him I sympathise with the plight of those who have to make difficult decisions in the chaos of the battlefield.

The Secretary of State has come to the House today and presented the conclusions as comprehensive. Will he guarantee to the House that every record and every piece of information held by any element of the British Government armed forces, security and secret services and so on has been scrutinised exhaustively and that this is indeed the last word on the matter? At the heart of it is our relationship of trust with the United States. Does he agree that the new Administration in America now acknowledge that things happened in the past that should not have happened, which they are defining as torture, for example, whereas the previous Administration denied that emphatically? Were not most of the assurances on which we are relying in the account the Secretary of State has given us today in fact assurances given by the previous Administration?

If the memorandum of understanding between us and America, on which we are relying, was as strong as the Secretary of State invites us to believe, how was it so easily pushed to one side in this specific case? Did the British Government really buy the explanation that the US, with hundreds of thousands of personnel out there in its hunt for al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq, did not have a single person in the country who could speak the relevant Pakistani language, and that that amounted to an adequate reason to move the detainees elsewhere? Have we explicitly asked the Americans whether anybody handed over was at any point tortured or water-boarded? What is our policy for our personnel? Are British personnel explicitly told not to be complicit in abduction, rendition or torture?

Perhaps the most disturbing thing in the statement was the fact that information was available and made available to the then Foreign and Home Secretaries, so in a sense it was missed at the time. Were the lawyers asleep on the job? Did they not come back later and give legal advice? As the temperature on the issue rose, with allegations of extraordinary rendition and the use of Diego Garcia for flights, did no official revisit the information that had been given to Ministers and draw their attention explicitly to it?

My final point relates to the allegations made a year ago by Ben Griffin. Looking closely at what he said, we see that he was talking about joint operations, with UK and US troops working alongside each other. In the statement today, the Secretary of State gave a detailed account about people who were detained by the British, but later in his statement he said that, in the new arrangements that have existed since 1 January, we have probed with America their arrangements for treating people captured with assistance from UK troops. I ask myself whether there were instances when UK troops actually captured people but from the very word go they were deemed to be held by the Americans. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can reassure me that that is a distinction that does not really exist, because it seems to me that Ben Griffin’s allegation may be slightly different from the explanation that the right hon. Gentleman has given today.

These are very serious issues. The statement raises almost as many questions as it answers. The Secretary of State took the Conservative spokesman to task, saying that the hon. Gentleman might come to rue some of the things he said. I should like the Secretary of State to reassure the House that he is absolutely confident that nothing will come to light subsequently, either from more whistleblowers or investigative journalists, that might cause him or any other Minister in the future to have to come back to the Dispatch Box and acknowledge that we have not had as comprehensive a version of the truth today as he might like to think.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks about the members of the UK armed forces who lost their lives recently in Afghanistan. I appreciate what he said.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that we have looked in very great detail into the records of detention arising in both Iraq and Afghanistan that involve UK armed forces in whatever category and in whatever role. I believe, because we spent a lot of time on it before I came to the House today, that the review is as comprehensive and as thorough as it can possibly be.

On the hon. Gentleman’s points about the two Lashkar-e-Taiba detainees, I have tried to explain the circumstances of that case and the error in the way that the records were maintained that gave rise to the failure to consult the UK properly. I do not really have anything further to add, other than to say again that I bitterly regret the mistakes that were made; in retrospect, things should have been done differently.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the operational framework for UK armed forces. It is made absolutely clear that UK armed forces will not participate in operations where there is a danger or a risk of inhuman, degrading or cruel treatment for individuals. We operate to a very high standard. It is right that we do so, because as I said earlier those values define the nature of our country, and our armed forces are part of that and reflect it. We have always stood on the side of human rights and freedom and we shall continue to do that.

Order. I appreciate the significance of the statement and the interest of Members, but the main business of the House is still to follow, so I ask for brief supplementary questions and a concise response.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, which is helpful. Can he confirm whether, when the two Lashkar-e-Taiba people were handed over, British forces knew or suspected that they would be held anywhere other than Iraq? Can he confirm that they were not subjected to water-boarding, because our view is very different to that of the Americans? Can he let us know whether we received any intelligence or information from the interrogation of those suspects in Afghanistan?

I can confirm that we have had no evidence of abuse in the treatment of the two individuals. I understand the position to be that we had no information at the time they were detained that they would subsequently be sent to Afghanistan.

Is it the case that, in a number of operations, a small number of US soldiers are attached to British forces, so that subsequent detainees are classified as US detainees from the start? I hope that the Secretary of State will understand that, among the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, there is great disappointment that such statements have to be made.

I began some years ago to make a number of very serious allegations that Diego Garcia had been used for rendition, that armed services were being dragged into that, and that the security services had facilitated rendition. All those allegations were vigorously denied, and all of them have been confirmed in three ministerial statements over the past year and by a High Court judge. Given that all those assurances were baseless, I hope that he can understand that we have less confidence than we did in assurances being made now. Will the Government now agree to instigate a more comprehensive inquiry to bring closure to this sad and sorry business?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the honourable and distinguished role that he has played in highlighting these issues, and I have no issue in that regard at all. He raises an important point that goes to the heart of the matter. His question raises a concern about the accuracy of the records that we have been reviewing. I remind him that the two individuals who are in focus were classified in the records as detained by US forces and that that came to light because of the review of all the records where UK and US forces worked together in joint operations. I understand what he says, and I want to reassure him, as far as I am able today, that this has been a thorough and comprehensive review that has got right to the heart of the issue.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who caused the awful deaths of our soldiers, which increased by four this week, do not differentiate between various Ferengi? We are all in the same group of alien invaders to their country. One group—America, under Bush—was certainly responsible for torture, with water-boarding and other methods, and that deep sense of grievance is the recruiting sergeant for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Should not we in this country embark on a new policy? That is happening in America, which is turning its back on the previous policy of Bush and seeking a new peace strategy that will be based on talks with the enemy. Is it not time that we also embarked on a peace strategy?

I do not accept my hon. Friend’s characterisation of coalition forces as alien invaders. They are working under the clear authority of a succession of UN Security Council resolutions and have operated for many years in Iraq under the explicit authority of a UN Security Council resolution. Our approach in Afghanistan does not just involve the use of military means, but I do not believe that it will succeed without the use of military means. There is a chronic lack of security in Afghanistan, and we need to correct that, but we are pursuing a range of strategies in Afghanistan to bring about what he and I both want: an end to hostilities and a resumption of peace and democracy in that country.

I commend the Secretary of State for coming to the House and facing this issue today—he did the right thing in doing so—but he is handicapped by the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) said, this is the latest in a series of issues where the Government have been less than straightforward. With Diego Garcia, the Intelligence and Security Committee was given information that turned out to be wrong. The ISC raised the Gambian issue, where the rules were broken quite clearly. In the Binyam Mohamed case, the ISC was not given the 42 documents until very recently and not when it was said that that would happen. A dispassionate observer would think that there are one of three explanations. First, the Government are deliberately turning a blind eye. I hope that that is not true. Secondly, possibly, the covert agencies are using deniability to operate outside the law. We hope that that is not true. Thirdly, there is a reprehensible lack of control of our agencies in their operations abroad.

The Secretary of State was wrong about one thing in what he said. Our responsibilities on torture with respect to our prisoners are absolute under international law and British law. That responsibility means that he has to meet my hon. Friend’s request for an inquiry that covers all these issues.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He speaks with a lot of personal experience, and I want to acknowledge that, too. He raised the point about further inquiries, as did the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), and referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I want to make it clear that we briefed the ISC pretty fully on a range of issues to do with rendition and the involvement of the two individuals in that wide sweep of operations. That evidence was brought to the ISC’s attention as it prepared its report on rendition, which was pretty thorough and comprehensive, and the right hon. Gentleman would have read it very carefully. The ISC has looked very carefully at these issues of rendition, and we have not withheld information. The review that we have instigated in the light of Mr. Ben Griffin’s allegations has been thorough and comprehensive. So we are doing all that we possibly can to expose problems when they have arisen, to provide a very strong justification for UK forces—whether special forces or otherwise—to have the ability, the power and the means to detain people who mean us serious harm and have the intention to do so. In that, I have been completely honest and frank with the House today.

I thank the Secretary of State for his candour and diligence in this matter. I should like to focus on the narrow issue of parliamentary accountability, with particular reference to the fifth and eighth paragraphs on page 2 of the statement, which relate to the way that the matter of the two individuals was reported to the House. Was the omission—the wilful ignorance—that of the officials in his Department or that of members of the security and intelligence services? People have laughed at me before when I have said that the security and intelligence services are unaccountable and out of control, but this case underlines yet again the fact that either they or people in his Department do not understand the importance of candour to Parliament.

I fully accept that the Home and Foreign Secretaries reasonably did not take full cognisance of what was flagged up to them in documents. The duty was with the officials either in his Department or in the security and intelligence services. I want to know whether people have been disciplined and whether the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is seriously deficient and not a parliamentary committee, will at least look at the error. Parliament was misled; Ministers were misled. It is a very serious matter.

It is a serious matter, and that is why I am here today to try to respond to it. I have tried to explain to the House today how the errors and mistakes arose. I have nothing further that I can say to my hon. Friend to add what I said in my statement. I am, however, absolutely clear about one thing: Ministers in my Department acted in good faith at all times, and so, I believe, is the case for my officials, who acted on the basis of the information that they had at their disposal. In relation to Ministry of Defence officials, there is no question whatever of any disciplinary action being taken.

The Secretary of State gave a very careful answer a moment or two ago, when he said that the Government had no information about the treatment of the two men, but I hope that he will address a further question. What inquiries did the Government make when they were being given assurances? In particular, what inquiries did they make about the forms of interrogation to which those men may have been subject? In further particular, did the Government ask whether either of those men had been subject to water-boarding?

Inquiries have been made, and I am quite satisfied on the basis of the information that has reached me that there is no substantiated evidence of the mistreatment or abuse of those two individuals.

We should not forget that some of the individuals who have been captured pose a very significant and dangerous risk to our armed forces and British interests. Can the Secretary of State confirm that, when special forces go in to capture a target, they do so only after intelligence is analysed and upholds a standard to suggest that those individuals pose a serious threat to our country’s and our forces’ interests? Does he not recognise that, if such a muck-up is to be avoided, the best way forward is to have an Intelligence and Security Committee that has a proper ability to investigate our agencies and to drill into such requests, so that our agencies do not go freelance and that our forces are better protected in future?

It is very important when we are conducting these security operations that there is a clear policy framework and that everyone understands the nature of the jurisdiction in which they operate and is aware of the legal parameters in which their behaviour could be ultimately judged. We make very great efforts to ensure that that is the case. I agree strongly with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of these security operations. None of us in the House should be under any illusion: we are dealing with some extremely dangerous people who mean us, our values and our way of life serious harm, and we are entitled to protect ourselves against them.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the frank statement that he has made. To put some balance into the picture, every day, British personnel risk their lives to rescue Taliban who are injured on the battlefield. RAF personnel fly in and bring them back to be patched up in hospital, and their lives are saved, although they may be interrogated afterwards. Our forces are doing a fantastic job, not only protecting our troops but recovering injured Taliban as well.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to strike that balance, but he has done it better than I did. Our forces operate in a humane environment. They are deeply humane men and women, and it is right that he should pay tribute to them.

My constituent Jamil el-Banna was rendered from the Gambia to Bagram, where he alleges that he was tortured, so the Secretary of State will forgive me if I am left rather uneasy by his assurances to the House today that the two individuals were treated humanely. Further to the questions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), may I ask whether the reassurances that the Secretary of State has been given by the US were given under the current or previous US Administration? Furthermore, he did not specifically answer the question about whether he made inquiries about water-boarding or torture.

Our discussions with US officials date from early December and have only recently concluded.

Will the Secretary of State say what inquiries had been made on behalf of the Ministry of Defence? Neither my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) nor my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) got a straight answer when they asked that question. The Secretary of State did say that there was no substantiated evidence of mistreatment, but was there any evidence? Can we strip away any mealy-mouthed adjectives? Was there any evidence whatever of mistreatment?