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UK military report finds detainee treatment in compliance with domestic, international law

The UK military's handling of detainees in overseas operations is "in compliance" with UK and international law, according to a report [text, PDF] released Tuesday by the Ministry of Defense (MOD) [official website]. According to British Army Inspector Brigadier Robert Purdy, a nine-month investigation of legal documents, army procedures and testimony from personnel showed that UK forces' attitudes toward proper treatment of detainees have changed "significantly" in the two years since the 2008 release of the Aitken Report [text, PDF; BBC report], which attributed responsibility for the deaths of six Iraqi detainees in 2003 and 2004 to the actions of "a small number of individuals." According to the new report, proper handling of detainees "has been an issue that has received direct attention from commanders at all levels in the Army and MOD" since, and "soldiers clearly understand the basic procedures to follow" for the treatment of prisoners. Purdy did identify areas for improvement—primarily the need to more thoroughly ingrain standards for detainee treatment into the training of all soldiers, as opposed to just specialists. Ultimately, though, the assessment found little fault in UK military practices:

There is positive assurance that the UK facilities in Afghanistan are run in compliance with applicable international law, UK regulations and Defence policy. No evidence was seen or obtained to suggest that pre-deployment and in-theatre training are failing to prepare forces to carry out detainee handling in accordance with the law and policy. On operations in Afghanistan, commanders are clearly focused on this issue; governance mechanisms are in place to monitor and assure detainee handling processes, with any allegations of improper behaviour (including complaints by the detainees themselves) being formally investigated.
Also Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] announced [press release] that it and eight other advocacy groups have sent a letter [text, PDF] to Sir Peter Gibson, the head of a forthcoming UK government investigation [JURIST report] into alleged abuses of overseas detainees, calling on UK officials to conduct a transparent inquiry with the inclusion of victim testimony. "[The inquiry] must be independent, impartial and thorough," said AI Europe and Central Asia Director Nicola Duckworth. "[S]ecrecy cannot be used as an excuse to withhold embarrassing information from the public."

In July, a UK High Court of Justice allowed a lawsuit to proceed [JURIST report] that seeks to force the UK government to hold a public inquiry into torture allegations [JURIST news archive] made against the UK military during the occupation of Iraq. The suit was brought by 102 men who claim they were subjected to torture, including hooding, electrical shocks and sexual abuse while being held in UK detention centers. The court held that the accusers had adduced sufficient evidence to suggest that their treatment was systemic. The forthcoming investigation stems from a similar civil action, brought by 12 ex-detainees who allege that British agents participated in their abuse while they were held in prisons in Pakistan, Morocco and other countries. The UK will ask them to drop their lawsuits in exchange for possible compensation and a promise that the impending inquiry will fully investigate their claims. In June, the UK government indicated that it will issue a new set of regulations regarding the use of information obtained via torture [JURIST report] as claims of complicity in torture were made against the government in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] report [materials] released the same day.

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