Defence Secretary Ben Wallace appeared to condone mock executions

September 9, 2019

Image of prisoner being dragged by guards

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace appeared to condone mock executions of detainees, it’s been revealed in the Guardian.

Human rights NGO Reprieve uncovered comments Wallace made to the Scotsman newspaper in 2003. He said:

“Short, sharp interrogation where the prisoner is manhandled fairly roughly to give them an idea of the seriousness is absolutely the norm…It’s taught to soldiers that’s how it’s done. You might pretend to pour petrol over them, when it’s actually water.”

Mr Wallace is currently Secretary of State for Defence under Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mock executions of the sort that Mr Wallace described in his comments were a hallmark of CIA torture of detainees at detention facilities during the so-called ‘war on terror’.

But torture is prohibited under the European Convention on Human Rights, and the British Army’s field manual clearly prohibits such treatment of detainees by British forces: “The exploitation of detainees within the rule of law by well trained personnel is critical. Poorly conducted detention operations will be damaging and may drive large numbers of the uncommitted population into the ranks of the insurgency.”

Similarly, the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Doctrine publication on captured persons states: “There are no circumstances in which torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment can ever be justified. Our Armed Forces are required by law to act humanely towards all CPERS (captured persons). To that end, certain specified acts, as listed below, are absolutely prohibited in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of the operation or category of the CPERS.” It goes on to include the threat of an execution as an ‘absolutely prohibited’ act.

Commenting, Reprieve Director, Maya Foa, said: “It’s hard to see why Mr Wallace would pretend he was pouring petrol on a detainee other than to make them think they were about to be burned alive, which quite obviously amounts to a mock execution. Mock executions were repeatedly deployed by the CIA in its infamous war-on-terror torture programme, and it was later shown these techniques failed to produce any actionable intelligence at all. The behaviour Mr Wallace is endorsing is not simply ineffective, it is illegal, immoral, and undermines principles which generations of British service personnel risked their lives to protect”.

In July of this year, the government announced it would renege on its longstanding commitment to hold an inquiry into UK involvement in rendition and torture, a pledge made by Prime Minister David Cameron. Reprieve is exploring legal action to challenge the decision.  At the same time as announcing that it would not hold an inquiry, the Government presented an updated version of Whitehall’s Consolidated Guidance – the so-called ‘torture policy’ – that fails to expressly prohibit Ministers from authorising action carrying a real risk of torture.