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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Iraq detainees 'treated humanely'
Lord Goldsmith
Lord Goldsmith is the government's chief legal adviser
British troops in Iraq are bound by "strong requirements" to treat detainees humanely, the attorney general Lord Goldsmith says.

He dismissed a media report claiming he had advised military commanders that the Human Rights Act did not apply when detaining and interrogating prisoners.

He called the Independent story "ridiculous" as soldiers were still bound by the Geneva Convention.

However, he said he was concerned that some interrogation practices continued.

The Independent reported that emails between Lord Goldsmith, the government's legal adviser, and British military headquarters in Iraq suggested he had advised that it was not necessary to follow the "higher standards" of the Human Rights Act when handling prisoners.

Courts to decide

It also suggested that Lord Goldsmith's views were at odds with those of Lt Col Nicholas Mercer, the Army's most senior legal adviser on the ground, who felt the European Convention on Human Rights did apply.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, Lord Goldsmith said the question of whether the Human Rights Act - which incorporates the ECHR - applied to British soldiers worldwide, was still being tested in the courts.

The requirements of the Geneva Convention are that there can be no inhuman or degrading treatment
Lord Goldsmith

But he added: "They are bound by British criminal law, they are bound by the Geneva Convention, they are bound by Hague regulations.

"These are strong requirements which is why, of course, we have seen prosecutions in Camp Bread Basket [and] in relation to the death of Baha Mousa, and other cases."

In 2005, after photographs of abuse were uncovered, three British soldiers were jailed for abusing Iraqi civilians at Camp Bread Basket in Basra.

Death in custody

In April 2007 Cpl Donald Payne was dismissed from the Army and jailed, after admitting inhumanely treating detainees in Basra in 2003.

Six other soldiers were cleared of abusing the detainees - who included hotel worker Baha Mousa, who later died in British custody.

The Law Lords are currently considering whether the deaths of six Iraqi civilians, including Mr Mousa, at the hands of the British are subject to UK human rights law.

Baha Mousa
Baha Mousa died in British custody

But Lord Goldsmith said it was wrong to suggest that the Human Rights Act required higher standards of treatment, than the Geneva Convention.

"In terms of the treatment of detainees ... the requirements of the Geneva Convention are that there can be no inhuman or degrading treatment, that there can't be torture, that people have got to be treated humanely."

The court martial heard that senior officers had sanctioned the "conditioning" of detainees, including the use of hooding and stress positions, before interrogation.

Lord Goldsmith added: "I was very concerned as to how it came about that certain people thought it was appropriate to use certain treatment - hooding, so-called conditioning - when many of us thought these particular practices had been outlawed in 1972, and I still want to see that looked into."

Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights has also asked the Ministry of Defence to explain its use of interrogation techniques.


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