Both the Dublin and London governments were fully aware that torture techniques such as waterboarding were being used against nationalists in the north of Ireland but remained silent, according to documents uncovered by the Pat Finucane centre.
The British Ministry of Defence documents dating back to the 1970s show that then 26 County Taoiseach Jack Lynch privately raised concerns about the use of torture on prisoners in the north of Ireland with the British prime minister.
The memos indicate that Lynch brought up the use of waterboarding on a prisoner with then-British prime minister Ted Heath during a visit to London in November 1972.
The Pat Finucane Centre in Belfast, which helped uncover the documents, said for the first time some accounts of torture “are backed by official documents providing new evidence of what both British and Irish governments knew at the highest level.”
In one memo, Lynch raised the case of one man who “had been forced to lie on his back on the floor, a wet towel had been placed over his head, and water had been poured over it to give him the impression that he would be suffocated...”
There was also documentation showing that, in order to avoid adverse publicity, legal advice was given to the British ministry of defence to settle a case where a 19-year-old man had been subjected to electric shock and waterboarding in February 1972. His face had been “immersed in water for prolonged periods”, the papers show.
Another Belfast man suffered similar treatment in late August or early September 1972 at a school in Ballymurphy in Belfast requisitioned by the British parachute regiment.
His mother made a statement at the time saying that her then 17-year-old son was “brutally beaten” and that he “had a wet towel tied tightly around his head and face”.
“This was filled with water at intervals, causing him great distress and suffocation,” she said.
The centre’s director Paul O’Connor told Channel 4 News that “a country which condones torture is diminished in the eyes of the world. A government which covers up evidence of torture is diminished in the eyes of its own citizens.”
A documentary in June 2014 revealed separate evidence that the British government at the highest levels authorised “deep interrogation” tactics of Irish prisoners in the 1970s. Last week, a British MP admitted to having served as ‘a kind of torturer’ in t!!m
Mr O’Connor said it had uncovered references to “the treatment of an epileptic who had been interrogated five times” by the British army, and waterboarded at least twice.
Another case relates to a document the PFC uncovered in the O’Fiaich library in County Armagh in which a man, who does not wish to be named, described how he had been physically abused in August 1972 by RUC special branch.
“I was being held by the special branch and my head was placed over the side of the table while water was poured up my nose,” he said. “It was then I agreed to sign [a confession]. They told me it was that or they would shoot me.”
Mr O’Connor said there could be “no doubt that the torture being inflicted was known of at the highest political levels in London.
“Although prime minister Edward Heath was aware of the practice of torture, there is no evidence of any investigations, any ministerial follow-up, any attempt to interview the victims or any repercussions for the torturers,” he said.
Further cases of waterboarding are being investigated, he added. “The PFC believes that it is highly unlikely that these were the only cases.”