§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I desire to put the Question standing in my name—namely, to ask if all the Turkish war criminals formerly in British custody have been released, and if so, on what conditions; whether specific charges were formulated against all or any of these men; and whether any of them were brought to trial. It will be remembered that upon the conclusion of the war there was a great outcry from many quarters, which took the form of a demand, that the various 278 war criminals should be put upon their trial, and it will be in the recollection of the House that the first criminal to be dealt with was the German Emperor himself.
As regards Germany, as we all know, the question was decided in this sense—that certain individual cases were selected and were tried in the German Courts. It is the view of many people in this country, and the view of a large section of the Press, that the sentences which followed were grossly inadequate to the crimes committed. But it is not the opinion of the best instructed persons. I do not include myself amongst the experts, but I have certainly gathered that in legal circles it is not considered that the result of these trials was, on the whole, unsatisfactory, and if the Lord Chancellor were present, I believe he would corroborate my statement. That is what was done in regard to Germany.
With regard to the war criminals of Turkey, a totally different course was pursued, and a very sensible one. We insisted upon the delivery of all the Turkish war criminals into our hands. These criminals consisted chiefly of men who were guilty of most abominable treatment towards the British captives in their power. I have often thought that the British public were so much occupied in denouncing the German Government for the ill-treatment of British prisoners in Germany that they overlooked the even worse conditions which prevailed in Turkey. From personal experience of both Governments I have no hesitation in asserting that, upon the whole, the treatment of our prisoners in Turkey was certainly worse than it was in Germany, and I can prove that by a very simple illustration. The number of prisoners captured by the Germans in the course of the war was, roughly speaking, 168,000, and of these 8 per cent. either died or have been unaccounted for. The Turks, on their side, captured between 15,000 and 16,000 of British and Indian prisoners, and of this number no less than 38 per cent. died or have completely disappeared. Those are to my mind perfectly appalling figures, and reveal the conditions under which our unfortunate prisoners lived.
The German Government was infinitely a more satisfactory Government to deal with than the Turkish Government where 279 this particular question was concerned. At all events, they were amenable to argument, they were able to give facts, and were properly acquainted with the subject. During the course of the war I, in company with other British delegates, twice met them in conference, and the result of one of our meetings, the one in 1917, resulted in enormous benefits to all the prisoners concerned. I am ready to admit that upon the whole the German bargain was honestly kept. I took part in similar negotiations with the representatives of the Turkish Government, also during the war, and we carried on protracted negotiations in Switzerland which produced very little result.
I cannot forbear mentioning one circumstance which protracted the discussions. When we arrived the Turkish delegates, who, I am perfectly certain, were blatant atheists, asserted that they wished to worship in the mosque on Friday, and therefore it was impossible to work on that day. The Swiss in charge of the negotiations on their side said that they were not in the habit of working on Saturday, and we naturally represented that it would be unreasonable that we should work on Sunday. Therefore, three days were cut off the working week, and I always think that a certain amount of credit was due to us that the negotiations, in such circumstances, ever came to an end at all, more especially as the Turkish delegates were drawing high subsistence allowances. Anyhow, the result of those prolonged and protracted discussions was practically nil. We arrived at elaborate conditions upon paper, but no steps were really taken to ameliorate the condition of our prisoners, and the impression left upon my mind was that the Turks whom I met were not only grossly ignorant of all the details of the business, but that they were perfectly callous. I afterwards realised, and suspected at the time, that they were absolutely devoid of any kind of good faith.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, after the Armistice the Turkish war criminals were handed over into our possession. I do not know the exact number of these criminals, but I gather from what fell from the noble Marquess yesterday that they numbered sixty-four. They were men who were chiefly accused of crimes towards prisoners. The charges against these men included murder, the manslaughter of hundreds, if not thousands, of British prisoners by neglect, merciless 280 flogging, gross cruelty of various kinds, unnatural offences committed upon British prisoners, and wholesale theft of property. You could not have a much more serious catalogue of crime brought up than that. What I have risen for to-day is to ask—and I should like, if possible, to insist upon an explanation—why these men, when they were in our possession, were not tried immediately after the Armistice. There was nothing whatever to prevent these men being tried nearly three years ago. They had committed offences against International Law, and if it was in our power to arrest them I presume it was equally in our power to try them. What I wish to emphasise is that there was any amount of evidence available against these men. That fact is not generally realised, because it is a common assumption that the British Government took little or no interest in prisoners.
The fact is not generally realised that during the whole course of the war the greatest pains were taken by the Government to find out what the experience of the prisoners had been, and every prisoner who came to this country during the war—and they numbered thousands—was subjected to an elaborate examination as to his experience and as to his treatment, and when the Armistice was proclaimed every single man had an opportunity afforded him of making any complaints that he chose to formulate against the Government whose prisoner he had been. In this connection I should like to pay a belated tribute to the invaluable services rendered by the Committee presided over by the present Lord Justice Younger, which conducted these investigations. I cannot speak too highly—and I have considerable experience of their work—of the way in which the various members of that Committee, who were unpaid, discharged their duties, and I can only think with gratitude of the amount of time which they spent, and the enormous trouble which they took to elicit the facts. The evidence was all at the disposal of the Government. One of the Committee rooms upstairs was, without exaggeration, half-filled with the evidence collected by this Committee. What was there to prevent this evidence being immediately used and supplied to the military authorities in Malta, who were in a position to try these men All the labour and all the expense incurred in preparing this elaborate evidence have been absolutely and completely wasted.
281 I would ask your Lordships carefully to mark what has resulted in consequence of the opportunity of trying these men not having been taken advantage of. Long after these criminals were in our possession in Malta we became involved in hostilities with the Turks, and the Turks succeeded in capturing a few Englishmen, apparently about twenty or thirty. Immediately the position changed. The Turks knew very well that they had something to bargain with, and what actually happened is obvious to everyone. According to the statement which was made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs yesterday, in reply to a Question addressed to him, we were guileless enough to hand over forty of these men to the Turks, and for those forty criminals we, for a long time, received nobody at all in exchange. Eventually we appear, according to the statement made yesterday, to have received ten men, amongst whom was not the particular man we wanted. Since then the position has become much worse, because it has now transpired that all these criminals have been released, and all we have to show for them are the twenty odd prisoners who were in the hands of the Turks.
I ask your Lordships to mark what this so-called exchange means. Those men who were in our possession were the worst type of criminal, as I have explained in enumerating their offences. The British who leave been obtained in exchange, were ordinary prisoners of war who had committed no crime at all. They had been taken prisoner merely through the treachery of the Turks, or through their own misfortune, and in order to recover these perfectly innocent men we have had to give up these criminals who are men of the very worst type. I think it must be admitted that this is a most unsatisfactory business.
When I think of the criticisms to which I and my colleagues were subjected during the war with regard to our management of prisoners' questions, I wonder what would have been said of us if it had transpired that we had allowed between fifty and a hundred criminals to slip from our grasp. I shudder to think what would have been my individual fate had I been guilty of a folly of this kind. At all events, I can take credit for this, whatever crimes I may have committed, that I was never silly enough to be deluded into giving up a Turkish prisoner or trusting the Turkish Government in any way, although considerable 282 pressure was put upon me to do so with regard to a particular individual.
It is perfectly plain that someone has blundered in the most inexcusable manner and I am rather curious to know who the culprit will prove to be. This is a matter which should not be allowed to rest where it is. There has been the grossest mismanagement on the part of someone or other, and it should be brought home to him. I do not wish to appear only in the character of a destructive critic and I will, therefore, make a suggestion to the Government. I presume that before very long we shall come to some arrangement with Kemal Pasha, and I presume that we shall be entitled to make certain conditions. I would suggest—and I do not think this is unreasonable—that when we do come to terms with him we should insist upon the worst of these criminals being handed back, or else take effective steps to secure their trial and punishment at the hands of their own Government.
I desire to add one word on a somewhat different point. I observe in the Press violent criticisms of the Government for alleged neglect of these prisoners in Turkish hands. I am extremely familiar with this type of criticism, and I know that in most cases it is totally unfounded. I am firmly convinced that no Government ever showed so much solicitude for its prisoners as did the British Government, and that will be admitted by any one who has had any experience of prisoner questions. But it appears, from statements made in responsible quarters, that the case of these few British prisoners in Turkish hands has not, on the whole, been happily dealt with. I am informed that they leave suffered great hardship. I am not satisfied in my own mind as to whether the allegation is correct or not, but I should like, as a matter of curiosity, not personal curiosity but on behalf of the public generally, to ask what Department of the Government has been responsible for the interests of prisoners during the last two years?
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I presume the Department of State responsible is the Department which has to reply to these Questions in Parliament, and as the reply to the noble Lord has been prepared by the Foreign Office I take it that that Department is the one which, in point of fact, is responsible. I fancy that while Lord Newton was concerned with the 283 interests of British prisoners he acted through the Foreign Office.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
But there must have been a Department which answered in Parliament, and that Department was the one responsible. In the case of a Department, with a Minister in charge, which looked after any subordinate branch or Commission formed during the war the Department was, from the constitutional point of view, responsible, and that was the case during the time the Prisoners of War Department existed.
The Leader of the House in reply to a private notice question yesterday by the noble Lord gave a full account of the circumstances in which, in order to extricate our own prisoners in Anatolia before the rigours of winter set in, it was decided by His Majesty's Government to release the Turkish prisoners awaiting trial in Malta. It was not possible to attach any conditions to their release. No specific charges had been formulated against them, as the trial of war criminals would not in fact have been legal until the Treaty of Sevres entered into force, although evidence was in the hands of His Majesty's Government, both as regards their implication in the massacres of Christians and as regards cruelty to British prisoners. None of the Turks therefore were brought to trial. The decision arrived at was admittedly made in the interests not of Justice but of expediency and of humanity to our own fellow countrymen, and if His Majesty's Government can reap no credit from it the Angora Government can derive nothing but dishonour.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I cannot help remarking that the answer just given by the noble Earl leaves the question in a still more unsatisfactory position. These criminals were demanded by us for the purpose of trial. Now we are told that it was never contemplated to try them until the Treaty of Sevres was signed. Why should we stand on these questions of legal pedantry with the Turks at all? The Turks are a semi-civilised Power and it is perfectly unnecessary to make any stipulation of the kind. I am under the impression that if a man has committed an offence against International Law you are at liberty 284 to try him during the war, and it seems to me to stand to reason that. if you have power to arrest a man, you have power, equally, to try him. This is an ingenious excuse to conceal the fact that a gross blunder has been committed by some one or other.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I think many of your Lordships will consider the reply made by the noble Earl to the complaints of Lord Newton a purely technical one and not altogether satisfactory.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Because it appears to hinge on the purely technical point that it is not within the competence of the Government to place these criminals on their trial before a certain date—namely, that of the signing, or possibly the ratification, of the Treaty of Sevres.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
A fundamental point, if the noble Earl prefers that epithet. But one would have supposed that if it was common knowledge that these people had been guilty, and were perfectly certain to be proved guilty, of the most atrocious crimes, more atrocious than any that were alleged against any Germans, although those were bad enough. His Majesty's Government would have thought twice before releasing them en bloc, particularly as the terms of exchange seem to have been so very unfavourable to this country and so greatly in favour of the Turks. I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord opposite that this question can hardly be allowed to remain where it is. I quite understand that His Majesty's Government were placed in a difficult position owing to the power possessed by a semi-barbarous Government to blackmail us by inflicting torture of all kinds, or of any kind, upon our prisoners, whereas, of course, we could not retaliate in the same way. I fully apprehend that; but it certainly does seem to me that something more might have been done, and I should like to press once more the question that was asked by the noble Lord opposite—With whom does the real responsibility rest for action of this kind?
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who, as we all know, has taken so much interest in the question of prisoners, some time ago asked me a question of a somewhat legal character to which I should like to give an answer if I can. The difficulty regarding war criminals is, as a rule, of course, to get them into your possession at all. That was the difficulty as regards the Kaiser, lie was not handed over by the Dutch Government, I think rightly, because they said that in handing him over they would interfere with what they regarded as the international Law of Asylum. But these are quite different cases. These are oases where criminals did not need handing over to us, but were in our possession. Now if anything like the crimes which Lord Newton has referred to have been committed— I am not myself cognisant of the details—undoubtedly they were criminals in our possession who could be tried, and ought to be tried, for the crimes which Lord Newton has alleged against them, and that entirely independent of whether the Treaty of Sevres has been ratified or not. That question is entirely outside the point when you have criminals in your power who, according to your view, have committed crimes of the character which Lord Newton has suggested. Accordingly, the question seems to me to arise, why were they not tried?
§ LORD PARMOOR
They were in our power, I understand, for nearly three years. Why were they not tried? I should have thought that, according to every legal principle, they ought to have been tied, arid were liable to be tried.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I can only say that thou Foreign Office is advised in a different legal sense from that which the noble and learned Lord indicates. I evidently did not make it clear. These men, criminals without definitely formulated charges against them by witnesses in our possession, have been released, unconditionally released, and this has been done on the responsibility of the Government—for which Lord Curzon, as Minister in charge, takes personal, as opposed to collective, responsibility—in order to save the lives of a handful, but none the less a precious remnant of British prisoners who have been done to death by this Angora Government.
§ LORD NEWTON
I must apologise for speaking again, but that is not the point. What we want to know is why these men were not tried when they were in our power. The question of their exchange against British prisoners is a totally different one. What we say is that they ought to have been tried long ago, and there is no reason why they should not have been brought to justice while they were in our possession.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
If my noble friend will read the answer to-morrow, lie will see the legal view of the Foreign Office.