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Iraq: Deaths in Custody

Volume 698: debated on Monday 28 January 2008

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In February 2005, the then Defence Secretary (Geoff Hoon) undertook to publish the findings of the review instigated by General Sir Mike Jackson into the cases of deliberate abuse of Iraqi citizens in 2003 and 2004. I am pleased to announce that the report, entitled The Aitken Report: An Investigation into Cases of Deliberate Abuse and Unlawful Killing in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, is today being released in full.

The report by Brigadier Aitken is critical in places, and rightly so; only the highest standards are acceptable to the Army and to the Ministry of Defence as a whole.

Since the events that Brigadier Aitken has examined in his report, the Army has already done a great deal to improve its procedures. I am satisfied that the Army is doing everything possible to ensure that its personnel do not repeat the appalling acts that were perpetrated in these cases. I believe that Brigadier Aitken has demonstrated this in his report, but we must not be complacent.

The report makes three broad recommendations:

the Army needs to ensure that it learns and implements lessons from the disciplinary process in the same way that it does for wider operational issues;

the Army needs to find better ways to inculcate its core values of selfless commitment, courage, discipline, loyalty, integrity, and respect for others and its standards of behaviour and discipline, into the everyday lives of its personnel; and

the Army must educate itself to ensure that it is using administrative action correctly.

The report is part of a continuing process of review, investigation and continuous professional development for the Army. It details the work that has already been completed, or is in progress, to ensure such acts as are examined by the report are not repeated. This work includes enhancements to training packages for both routine and specific training, and the implementation of a standard operating procedure for use in Operation TELIC, which includes the treatment of detainees and prisoners.

I am proud to acknowledge that the vast majority of our personnel who have served in Iraq have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour—some displaying extraordinary qualities of courage, self-discipline, integrity and selfless commitment far and above what might reasonably have been expected under the circumstances they faced.

One of the cases of abuse examined by Brigadier Aitken and referred to in his report is that of Mr Baha Mousa, In September 2003, an Iraqi civilian, Mr Baha Mousa, lost his life whilst in British military custody. He and eight other Iraqis had been subjected to varying degrees of abuse. I should like to take this opportunity to also update the House on recent developments in this case.

Last year, the court-martial of seven British Army officers and soldiers concluded. That trial resulted in the conviction of one individual, who had pleaded guilty to the inhuman treatment of prisoners; the other defendants were acquitted.

Following the trial, and in line with normal procedures, the Royal Military Police (Special Investigation Branch) reviewed the case to establish if there was any new evidence (including evidence from the trial) and any further lines of criminal inquiry into the death of Mr Mousa and ill-treatment of other Iraqi nationals. They reported their findings to the Army Prosecuting Authority, which, in turn, having considered the report, consulted the Attorney-General.

The criminal review concluded that no further criminal lines of inquiry could be pursued on the basis of the existing evidence. This does not mean that a further investigation will not be instigated should new evidence be made available. Those individuals who were under investigation, and Mr Mousa's family, have been informed that no further disciplinary action will be taken based on the current evidence. The Army's chain of command is now considering whether individuals should face administrative action.

The next step is to consider what form any future inquiry into these appalling incidents should take. I have agreed to receive representations from the legal representatives for Mr Mousa's family, and I will make a further Statement when a decision has been made. The conclusions of Brigadier Aitken's work and the subsequent actions already carried out by the Army will then be taken into account in this process.