The location of a secret camp used to torture 14 victims of internment, long kept secret by the British government, has finally been exposed.
The Pat Feinucane Centre said it had found documents which show that the location of the torture centre was at Ballykelly in County Derry, now a British Army base.
One of the so-called 14 ‘hooded men’ held there says further investigation is needed into why the British government failed to reveal its true location when it gave evidence to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the 1970s.
The 26-County government is also being asked to investigate why the existence of the base was kept hidden for so long.
In January 1978 the European Court of Human Rights found that the British government was guilty of subjecting 14 men to the inhumane and degrading treatment after they had been subjected to controversial deep interrogation techniques. This included having had hoods placed over their heads and forced to stand spread-eagled against a wall for seven days with little or no food, water or sleep.
It has now emerged that preparations for the use of deep interrogation began six months before interment, when in April 1971, the British Army’s Joint Services Interrogation Wing (JSIW) began training RUC Special Branch officers in Belfast.
The interrogations were to be conducted by Special Branch, with JSIW officers providing ‘technical’ advice.
On August 11 then Stormont Prime Minister Brian Faulkner authorized the transfer of 12 detainees to a secret interrogation site, now known to be Ballykelly, under the Special Powers Act.
The deep interrogation was conducted by 20 RUC Special Branch officers, 12 JSIW advisers, and 26 RUC guards.
Throughout the seven day interrogation the detainees, were hooded, forced to constantly stand spread eagled against a wall, were deprived of sleep, bread and water and subjected to ‘white noise’.
Forty years on the 14 detainees have still not been officially informed where they were interrogated.
Jim Auld was a 21-year-old dental technician at the time he was interned and subjected to the special interrogation techniques.
“Officially they said I was made to stand up against the wall for 42 and a half hours but that was nonsense. We were there against the wall morning, noon and night for the seven days. There was no break at all.”
Outlining how ‘white noise’ was used to disorientate the detainees, he explained:
“At the beginning there was a hissing sound in the background. To be truthful in the beginning I hadn’t thought an awful lot of it, but after a few hours it increased in volume and when you were standing against the wall it became the centre of your world. It penetrated your brain because you couldn’t think of anything else. It was a high pitch hissing sound but it became all encompassing. It took everything. You couldn’t think.”
The use of deep interrogation techniques was only officially brought to an end after one of the detainees, Paddy Joe McClean, succeeded in smuggling out a note from Crumlin Road jail to Cardinal Conway, who immediately flew to London and confronted Prime Minister Ted Heath.
Following the allegations of torture the Dublin government took a case to the European Commission on Human Rights, which found the London government guilty of torture.
That judgement was appealed by the British government and in 1978 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that while the British government was not guilty of torture, it had subjected the 14 interrogatees to inhumane and degrading treatment.
The use of torture is acknowledged as a low point in Britain’s occupation in the north of Ireland, and its exposure marked a turning point.
Questioned whether he had ever fully recovered from the mental and physical effects suffered during deep sensory interrogation at Ballykelly, Mr Auld says:
“I certainly haven’t got over it. There’s others who may be in a better position. I have been able to control it.
“The difficulty is that every year from it happened there is an anniversary there and it brings back very painful memories. This is the only time of year I’m willing to talk about it and for many, many years I wouldn’t talk about it because it was too painful.
“It stressed me very much for a long period of time. As the years have gone on I’ve learned to control that stress and one of the main reasons why I would talk about it now is to expose the British government for what they’ve done on its citizens, but also to expose what other countries, particularly the Americans, have been doing because they’ve been doing exactly the same thing. They may have changed some of the techniques but the effects on individuals are exactly the same, particularly people who they’ve kept in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.”
In a confidential memo, dated October 1971, the British army’s Director General of Intelligence, Harold J. Maguire, states that the five techniques of sensory deprivation interrogation used against the Ballykelly detainees had previously been used against prisoners in British camps in Malaysia, Kenya, Cyprus, Brunei and Korea.
Despite Ballykelly being the only location where the detainees were subjected to deep interrogation methods, its use was never disclosed to the ECHR. It was long believed that the men were held at Palace Barracks near Holywood and Ballykinler in County Down.
Another memo marked ‘For UK Eyes Only’, outlines the public defence which the government should take to defend its use of hooding, white noise, sleep, food and sensory deprivation on the detainees.
One senior army officer absurdly claimed that most of the detainees had wanted to keep hoods _on_ their heads for seven days “quite voluntarily” and described the sensory deprivation suffered by the detainees as an advantageous “spin-off”.
Despite previous assurances that the detainees had been allowed regular sleeps during the seven day interrogations, the confidential papers instead reveal that in “general” it was only when a prisoner had begun “cooperating” with interrogators that was he allowed to sleep.
“However if a man was giving a lot of information and there was more to come the interrogator would want to continue probing rather than let him off the hook at that stage. In some cases an interrogatee could last for a couple of days without sleep.”
The British memos confirm six of the detainees were forced to spend in excess of 30 hours “on the wall” - standing hooded, in a stress position against a wall. One detainee spent 49.5 hours “on wall”.
The uncovered evidence contradicts information provided to the European Commission for Human Rights. Such information was also not disclosed to either the Compton or Parker inquiries of the Westminster parliament.