Mistakes in Iraq were results of lack of clear mandate

18 June 2007

Mistakes in Iraq were results of lack of clear mandate

The treatment of prisoners in Iraq was marred by serious errors which were primarily the result of an unclear mandate and inadequate preparation for the mission. That is the conclusion drawn by SP Member of Parliament Krista van Velzen after studying the findings of the official body charged with investigating the affair, the Van den Berg Commission. “I am relieved that it has turned out that no Dutch military personnel were involved in the torture of prisoners in Iraq, but I'm shocked by the abuses which were uncovered. It's good that this enquiry has been conducted and we must now draw the lessons from it.” For the SP, it has now been shown without doubt that Henk Kamp, at the time Defence Minister, was guilty of serious errors of judgement.

Dutch soldiers went against orders in interrogating all prisoners, despite the fact that they had been told that interviews should be carried out only with the agreement of the individual. This happened in part because the legal mandate for the mission was never clear, but also because the troops, especially those from the Royal Military Police, were inadequately trained for the work. "The whole mission was a mess," said Van Velzen.

Former Minister Kamp should, in the SP's view, never have allowed military intelligence to conduct 'interviews' with the detainees without the presence of a legal adviser. “Kamp has continually hidden behind the Public Ministry, which did not proceed to criminal prosecution, a decision made on the basis of an investigative report from the Royal Military Police. The Van den Berg Commission concluded that this report was not of sufficient quality and that Kamp should not have been satisfied with it. This was another error of judgement.”

Van Velzen argues that current Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop should be asked to look further into the question of what mistakes were made in the preparation and carrying out of the mission. “We must do all we can to ensure that the correct lessons are drawn from this affair," she said, "so that the Defence Ministry won't repeat such errors in the future. The commission concluded, for example, that the spirit of the Geneva Convention was not always respected, and that in one case there was a breach of human rights. This is not how you win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local population. It's damaging to the reputation of our country's armed forces, with all the consequences that can have for the safety of our troops.”

Van Velzen is pleased that the Minister of Justice has now charged the Public Ministry with conducting a closer enquiry. She expects to see, as a result of this, any military personnel who breached their orders dealt with.

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