A BBC documentary on the ‘Hooded Men’ has cast a new light on the treatment of the group of 14 innocent young men who were arrested, interned and subjected to extreme and experimental cruelty by their British Army captors.
Fourteen men – Jim Auld, Pat Shivers, Joe Clarke, Michael Donnelly, Kevin Hannaway, Paddy Joe McClean, Francis McGuigan, Patrick McNally, Sean McKenna, Gerry McKerr, Michael Montgomery, Davy Rodgers, Liam Shannon, Brian Turley – were brought, hooded and unaware of each other to a secret compound at Ballykelly British Army base.
‘Hooded Men - Britain’s Torture Playbook’ was screened on BBC1 this week. It showed how how the men were suddenly taken by the Crown Forces in the middle of the night in 1971, blindfolded and transported long distances by helicopter.
The men were told they were hundreds of feet in the air and thrown out, only to find out after some agonising seconds that they were practically on the ground.
After being stripped naked and brutally beaten, they were subjected over a nine-day period to what were known as the five techniques, which had been authorised at the highest levels. These included hooding, adhering to stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and the refusal of food and drink.
General Anthony Farrar Hockley, a British Army commander at the time, shamefully defended the process which he said had produced “a lot of good information, though of course relatively short term in value”.
And the British military chief who infamously sent out the troops who opened fire on innocent civilians on Bloody Sunday has defended the use of the infamous torture methods in the documentary.
General Mike Jackson, then a captain in the Parachute regiment, insisted that physically attacking prisoners could still be an option today. He also argued that the acceptability of abusing prisoners is a matter of debate.
“As to whether or not, in extremis, physical violence on a prisoner of war or a detainee is ever acceptable is a very important question,” he said.
He suggested that he was not in a position to discuss the morality of the torture techniques, and said: “You might be better asking a bishop on such matters.”
Jackson remains notorious for his major role in some of the worst atrocities carried out by the British state in Ireland, including the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday massacres.
The documentary has added to calls for a full and unreserved apology from the British government. In it, the men speak about their battle for the London government to finally acknowledge the truth. Having spent decades fighting for justice, the Supreme Court finally ruled in 2021 that the PSNI (formerly the RUC) was wrong not to investigate their case, and the men’s campaign continues.
A total of 342 men were arrested on the day internment was introduced on August 9, 1971. Of them, 14 were selected for the horrific treatment. One of those was Jim Auld who, at the time, was a 20-year-old dental assistant.
He was confronted by British army soldiers who took him away as he returned to his west Belfast home following a night out. Like the others, he was taken by helicopter to Ballykelly in County Derry to an ‘interrogation’ centre.
“I was petrified. The helicopter came to a stop and I was kicked out... a hood went on from the back.
Mr Auld said his hands and feet were tied and he was made to stand in a `stress position’ against a wall.
“I remember taking one hand down to shake my arm to get the pins and needles out of it but I didn’t get my arm down the whole way and I was unmercifully beaten,” he said.
When Mr Auld moved from the stress position he was beaten. Occasionally the hood was removed and lights were shone into his eyes. He assumed he would eventually be killed so tried to end his suffering by throwing himself at heating pipes to break his neck.
“But I just hurt my head. That, for me, was the worst because I couldn’t die. That sense of helplessness and isolation was horrendous.”
The Supreme Court ruling raised hopes that the PSNI would finally investigate their treatment. But the current legacy bill passing through the British parliament includes an amnesty for the crimes of the British state and could end any chance that it will be investigated.
Mr Auld is seeking greater public attention on what took place to shame their abusers – and shame the British government into never repeating such abuse.
“I’m sure the people who were involved in it told their families they were doing great things for the British state, but they were just dirty wee torturers,” he said.
He was eventually transferred to a prison, then a mental health hospital, before returning home. He was not charged with any offence. and believes Mike Jackson is still attempting to dismiss what had taken place.
“It’s disgusting, but given his background in Ireland it’s absolutely without surprise.”
Kevin Winters, of KRW LAW LLP, said that “there’s a sneaking suspicion that, 13 months on from the Supreme Court ruling, there’s an attempt to wind down the clock until the legacy bill becomes law.
“I now call on the Chief Constable to do what was repeatedly promised at all stages throughout the legal process. Five of the Hooded Men are now dead, and time isn’t on anyone’s side. He needs to do the right thing now and make an immediate announcement.”
* ‘Hooded Men - Britain’s Torture Playbook’ is available to stream on BBC iPlayer