HL Deb 22 June 2004 vol 662 cc1116-8

2.58 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the United States Government about the maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners; and whether such maltreatment is the result of official United States policy.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, we have expressed our disgust and anger at the mistreatment and abuse of a number of Iraqi prisoners to our American colleagues. We have stressed the need to ensure that anyone found guilty of these disgraceful abuses is punished appropriately, that detention and interrogation procedures meet international standards, and that safeguards to avoid abuse are put in place. A discussion of individual cases is clearly inappropriate, but United States officials have assured us and the international community that official US policy is to accord prisoners of war and security internees in Iraq the protections of the Geneva Convention.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and I hope very much that it is right. Has she seen the report of the Pentagon legal panel obtained by the United States Center for Constitutional Rights and published in the Wall Street Journal on 7 June, showing beyond reasonable doubt that at one time the best legal minds in the Pentagon were trying hard to find ways to sidestep both US and international laws banning torture? Has the Minister seen further reports in the Washington Post of 12 June indicating that the actions at Abu Ghraib prison were not just those of a few rotten apples, but that some practices such as the use of military dogs in interrogation were sanctioned at a senior level?

Would the Minister accept that, since we are partners with the United States, all these actions have implications for the security of British personnel, both military and civilian, and have not the British Government not only the right but the duty to find out what American policy has been?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I have not read either of the reports to which the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, has referred, but of course I know of the concerns expressed by him about the attitudes of the United States. I strongly agree with him that we have a duty to find out from the United States what their official attitudes have been. We know that Major General Fay, the deputy chief of staff of the US Army Intelligence and Security Command, began an investiga tion in April of this year into military intelligence practices in Iraq, including in Abu Ghraib prison. Also, I was in Jordan a few weeks ago attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum at which Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, made a full apology to what was largely an Arab audience for any abuse of Iraqi prisoners. So while I understand the fears articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the official United States position has been made clear at very senior levels.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness accept that what has been happening in Iraq merely mirrors what happened behind closed doors in Guantanamo Bay and that some of its personnel were transferred to Iraq to carry out those practices? Does she not further accept that the institutions in Guantanamo Bay were part of the policy of the United States Government about which this Government have so often complained?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Question is specifically about Iraq. While I understand that fears will be mirrored in Guantanamo, I am not in a position to answer in any detail. However, as the Minister concerned with the British people who have been detained in Guantanamo, obviously I have looked into welfare issues in that regard. We have made welfare visits to Guantanamo, as has the International Red Cross. In saying that, I declare an interest as a patron of the British Red Cross.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, would the Minister care to refer to the other part of the noble Lord's Question? It has been authoritatively reported that supervisory personnel from the Guantanamo Bay prison have had a supervisory role in the Abu Ghraib prison. If it is the case that the United States Government declined to apply the Geneva conventions in the Guantanamo Bay prison, is not that a cause for concern?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord reiterates what is already a matter of public knowledge: that personnel were moved from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib. I have expressed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government not only our disgust at the reports of what has gone on in Abu Ghraib but also, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, I have acknowledged that there is a duty upon Her Majesty's Government to make inquiries and to press these points very hard with the United States Government.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, does not the interview by John Humphreys in the "On the Ropes" programme last week of General Janis Karpinski—in which she stated that she was told by General Miller, when he was transferred from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, that he intended to "Gitmoise" Abu Ghraib on the Guantanamo model—suggest that further questions should be asked about whether the standards that applied at Abu Ghraib applied also at Guantanamo Bay?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I did not hear the interview to which my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours refers. I remind him that in my original Answer I said that a discussion of individual cases is clearly inappropriate. I hope your Lordships will accept that position because three trials of United States military personnel are beginning in Iraq right now. Nothing I say in any way detracts from the seriousness and importance with which these matters ought to be considered. However, I do not believe that it is right or appropriate for me, as a Government Minister, to comment from the Dispatch Box upon guilt or lack of it.