UK government guidelines on interrogation practices condemned

June 30, 2011

On 28 June 2011, a group of leading forensic experts including IFHHRO’s Executive Director Adriaan van Es issued a strong condemnation of the practice of ‘hooding’, a form of interrogation practised among others by UK intelligence officers on detainees overseas.

According to the experts united in the International Forensic Expert Group the practice can constitute torture. The British government is currently being challenged in the High Court on its guidance to intelligence officers on the detention and interviewing of detainees abroad, e.g. in Iraq. In an article in the scientific journal Torture, the group of 33 experts established by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) attest that hooding is associated with a number of physical and psychological effects.

Hooding practices

The practice of hooding typically involves covering the head of a detainee in some manner. Hooding practices may vary and the effects of hooding may depend on a number of factors related to the application and context of its use, including:

  • the material composition of the hood (i.e. the effectiveness of sensory deprivation and interference with air exchange),
  • duration and frequency of its use,
  • tightness of the hood around the head,
  • the presence of contaminants (i.e. urine, feces and blood) in the hood,
  • the use of additional methods of torture and/or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Mock executions, beatings and other methods of torture are often practiced in conjunction with hooding to maximise the infliction of physical and psychological pain.

Risk to health

Public interest lawyers and the British Equality and Human Rights Commission are challenging current UK government guidelines with regard to hooding, published as an annex to a document titled Standards of Arrest, Detention and Treatment. This text states that methods of obscuring vision and hooding are unlawful, “except where these do not pose a risk to the detainees physical or mental health and is necessary for security reasons during arrest or transit.” However, as the forensic experts assert in their article, “interrogation personnel are rarely aware of such conditions and cannot reasonably be expected to be able to make an assessment of whether the use of a hood would pose a risk to health.” 

Other coercive techniques

According to Miriam Reventlow, Head of Advocacy at the IRCT, hooding is already illegal under international law: “Key international human rights bodies have consistently considered that hooding constitutes a method of torture and/or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, where it is used together with other coercive techniques – which it regularly is! In order to ensure the absolute prohibition of torture, national courts and legislation should follow this interpretation and declare the use of hooding illegal under all circumstances”, she said.

The IRCT is therefore calling on the British government, and other governments around the world to bring an end to this practice.

About the UK High Court case

The judicial review claim is being brought by an Iraqi male, Alaa’ Nassif Jassim Al-Bazzouni, and challenges the UK government’s condoning of hooding prisoners in its “Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel”. Mr Al-Bazzouni was subjected to hooding by British forces in Iraq in 2006. The Guidance explicitly permits the use of hooding of prisoners, despite the recognised serious health risks associated with the practice. The claim is to be heard jointly with a separate claim brought by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which challenges other aspects of the same guidance.

Full statement from the International Forensic Expert Group (PDF)

Source: As UK practice of “hooding” is challenged in the High Court, leading international forensic experts state that it can constitute torture,