Malice intended
Malice intended



Anne Cadwallader tells the story of the Hooded Men, internees subjected to fine-tuned methods of torture, that left little physical evidence, imported by Britain to Ireland in 1971. (For Morning Star)


“I prayed for death. I believed I was going to die anyway because they would never let us live to tell the world what they had done to us. So I just wanted to die quickly and stop the pain.”

The speaker is not a prisoner in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. He is a Irish man who was detained without trial in 1971 -- one of the 14 internees known ever since as the “Hooded Men.”

But don’t look for outraged articles in the British mainstream press about him or others like him. Save yourself the bother.

This is despite evidence being produced in a Belfast court last month that ministers of the crown had authorised criminal acts and presided over the premature death of at least one detainee.

And despite the fact that we now know that at least five people were “waterboarded” during the 1970s in Northern Ireland -- decades before Guantanamo.

Such claims would normally prompt solemn editorials in some British newspapers -- and screaming, hostile headlines in others.

But the victims were, after all, just “a few Irish people” and the injustice and suffering seem to be not nearly as shocking and outrageous in Britain as those inflicted more recently on Iraqis and Afghans.

The story of the Hooded Men begins when, having fine-tuned methods of torture (without leaving too much physical evidence) in various imperial theatres of war -- from Malaya to Kenya to Brunei to Yemen -- Britain imported them to Ireland in 1971.

A lieutenant colonel was brought to Belfast to teach what have since been called, euphemistically, the “Five Techniques” to the local constabulary -- the RUC.

But the cops weren’t stupid. Even they knew this amounted to something that seemed uncommonly like torture and they sought -- and were granted -- immunity from any future prosecution.

So when the internees were rounded up, the police had clear orders.

First, they picked out people at random, based purely on their geographical status (one from Co Tyrone, one from Co Derry, a couple from Belfast etc) and then they went to work.

The pool from which they selected their victims was almost entirely Catholic (the Pat Finucane Centre has found a declassified document baldly entitled “Arrest Policy for Protestants” which details what amounts to a non-arrest policy).

The “Five Techniques” involved forcing men to bear their entire body weight on their toes and fingers, or face savage beatings. Deprived of food, drink and sleep, they were hooded and then subjected to “white noise.”

It drove several of them nearly crazy.

Certainly the psychological consequences are felt right to the present day. One man says he frequently wakes in cold sweats and, on one occasion, found himself cowering inside a wardrobe.

The physical pain suffered was indescribable. Then there was the psychological sadism.

Some of the internees were put, hooded, into helicopters and flown into the air. Believing they were miles above the countryside, they were then kicked out -- to hit the ground seconds later.

Aside from nightmares, depression, and the other ills that flesh is heir to after intense suffering, one family whose loved one was subjected to the “Five Techniques” lost their father, not just psychologically but entirely.

Sean McKenna, a school caretaker from Newry, Co Down, was arrested and -- it was decided -- should be tortured on purely geographical grounds, like the others, despite the fact he suffered from angina and should therefore have been deemed unsuitable for “deep interrogation.”

Beaten and terrorised, McKenna’s hair turned white in a week and he was released into immediate psychiatric care. Four years later, McKenna died from complications arising from the original cardiac diagnosis.

However you duck and dive to avoid such a conclusion, that death looks suspiciously like official murder.

“My father died a broken man. He was never the same. We saw him shaking, crying, suicidal, hallucinating. Aside from the torture, they had set dogs on him. He was forced to drink from the dogs’ dishes, he was smashed into concrete posts,” says his daughter Mary.

Dogs were also used in Yemen and elsewhere. The present author has heard evidence that British soldiers dug pits where they threw, first, dogs and, second, prisoners to be horribly bitten.

Last month, Mary McKenna and her sisters joined the surviving members of the original 14 “Hooded Men” in the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast for a four-day judicial review.

Their lawyers argued that there had never been an independent or effective investigation into the episode, despite various official commissions and reports, because so much information has been withheld over the years.

The Irish government, for example, had taken a case to the European Court of Human Rights arguing the “Five Techniques” amounted to torture (the one crime that is never legally justified, no matter what the circumstances).

Although the European Commission of Human Rights found in 1976 that the men were tortured, the court disagreed, finding in 1978 only they had been subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Since then, however, the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry has discovered papers showing that London had misled the court on the location where the “deep interrogation” had taken place (not Holywood outside Belfast but Ballykelly outside Derry). What other lies were told?

The Irish state broadcaster RTE also discovered that what has become known as the “Rees memo” in which the word “torture” is used and in which the then Labour government makes clear that “ministers” -- in particular the previous government’s minister of defence Lord Carrington -- had ordered the torture.

North of the border, the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s only response to date has been to call into question the second document’s authenticity -- by contracting a researcher to review two official files -- thus implying RTE had manufactured evidence.

RTE has managed to demolish this challenge by cross-referencing the document its researcher found in Galway with an official file kept in the National Archives in Kew. There was no mystery about it, said RTE producer Rita O’Reilly.

The Irish government, in contrast, has -- uniquely -- referred its original case back to the European Court, which has yet to decide whether to order a rehearing.

Meanwhile, back in Belfast a High Court judge has heard the evidence and retired to consider his ruling on whether there should be an independent, effective investigation or whether there has already been one.

He has to decide whether the “Five Techniques” amounted to torture, whether British government ministers ordered it, whether any deadlines for legal action have been crossed and whether a new investigation is justified.

Hugh Southey QC, for the “Hooded Men,” asked if it was right that a government can withhold evidence for so long that a deadline passes for taking action based on that evidence? There was, he said, a deliberate attempt to disguise the level of government liability.

No attention seems to have been paid, he said, to questioning the two witnesses still living who might be able to shed light on the “Five Techniques” -- the noble lords Carrington and Balneil; the latter said in court to have witnessed RUC men being trained for the torture.

Karen Quinliven QC for Sean McKenna’s family said the crown case was “preposterous.” The RUC had realised the “Five Techniques” were illegal, she said, and since 1975, the state knew McKenna had died as a result of the torture, yet no investigation was carried out.

Her description of McKenna’s condition remains long in the memory.

Confused, suicidal, broken, suffering from constant headaches, unable to look after himself, he died in St John of God’s Hospital in Dublin.

His son, also Sean, who had been interned alongside his father in 1971, later took part in the 1980 hunger strike that preceded Bobby Sands’s fast to the death. Sean Jnr, who also never recovered, took his own life in 2008.

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