Lord Goldsmith questions the MoD's practices in Iraq

Lord Goldsmith
Image caption Lord Goldsmith said Britain's reputation for justice must be upheld

The former Labour government's top legal adviser during the Iraq war has questioned whether the British military justice system is fit for purpose.

Lord Goldsmith told Panorama that some evidence has emerged that queries about the legality of hooding detainees were deliberately not put to him by the MoD.

Hooding detainees for interrogation purposes was banned in 1972.

The MoD denies any systemic attempt to circumvent the law or the Geneva conventions prohibiting hooding.

Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, made his comments as two separate inquiries investigate the deaths of Iraqi civilians while in British army custody.

Reputation suffered

The reputation of the British army suffered after revelations during the two-year public inquiry into the death of Iraqi citizen Baha Mousa, who died in 2003 while in British army custody in Basra.

The Baha Mousa inquiry looked beyond the actual death into the legality of interrogation techniques, including hooding, after evidence emerged that it had been used on detainees in Iraq.

Hooding of prisoners was permitted during transportation for security reasons but has been banned for 30 years - along with the use of physical stress positions - as a tactic to soften up prisoners ahead of interrogation.

Lord Goldsmith, who stood down as Attorney General in 2007 after six years, said that he was not asked for his legal advice on hooding: "There's some evidence that has since emerged that I deliberately wasn't asked that question.

"It shows a bad approach to the role of the senior law officer because if there are important legal questions that is what the senior law office is there to answer, whatever the answer. On this occasion the MoD didn't want to know," he said.

Image caption Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa died in British custody in 2003

Brigadier John Donnelly, the Head of Military Liaison at the MoD, said of the instances of hooding: "There were incidents of hooding in Iraq in 2003, but the MoD has placed a ban on hooding. The MoD no longer does hooding."

The Royal Military Police has also come under scrutiny following a separate investigation into claims that prisoners died while in British custody after a gun-battle in 2004 known as the Battle of Danny Boy.

The investigation into the Battle of Danny Boy incident was conducted by the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police (RMP).

Following complaints of interference by the chain of command during the SIB investigation, a judicial review was ordered to assess the quality of the initial investigation.

Colonel Dudley Giles, then deputy head of the military police, was asked to explain delays in granting RMP investigators access and one instance of an officer instructing other soldiers not to assist investigators.

Col Giles was obligated to provide the court with all relevant documents.

'Unreliable evidence'

However, the judicial review found Col Giles's evidence to be unreliable when it emerged that a document stating 12 live Iraqi prisoners were brought onto the base was not initially disclosed. This document contradicted Col Giles's witness statement that only nine live prisoners were brought onto the base.

A former SIB detective, Major Andre Ramsey, who served in the RMP for six years before leaving in 2005, said it is inevitable that the military investigating its own can cause a conflict of interest.

"The SIB performance in Iraq sadly led to a situation where generally they cannot be regarded as fit for purpose," Maj Ramsey said.

The MoD's failure to disclose evidence led to a new inquiry into what happened on the British base after the battle of Danny Boy, which will begin taking evidence in the coming months.

Brigadier Donnelly says the latest inquiry will "get all the information out in the public domain so the MoD can refute the claims in a way that will retain the confidence of the court."

Lord Goldsmith said of the MoD's performance at the judicial review: "There wasn't a desire to get the truth and sadly there wasn't a desire to be frank and candid with the court either."

Lord Goldsmith said he welcomed the debate on the British army - and the MoD - policing itself.

"I thought it was important in the interests of justice and of the many thousands of service personnel who were doing the right thing and part of our overall strategy of winning hearts and minds," he said.

He added that Britain's overall strategy needed to include a reputation for justice.

"You don't do that if people can look at you and think 'actually these are people who don't follow through their own ideals in relation to justice'."

Panorama: Britain in the Dock, is available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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