BRITISH SUPREME COURT VINDICATES TORTURED “HOODED MEN” – CRITICISES POLICE CHIEF

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time up to ‘Background’: 4 mins.)

A group of Irish people were jubilant in London’s Little George Street on 15th December. The location was that of the UK’s Supreme Court and it was unusual for Irish people to be happy at a judgement of a British court. But the judges inside had quashed an appeal by the Police Service of Northern Ireland1 against a judgement of the High Court in Belfast, that the colonial police force had been wrong not to investigate the claims of fourteen men of being tortured in the British colony in 19712.

Bernadette Devlin (now McAlliskey) addressing an anti-internment rally in Derry in August 1971 (Photo cred: Popperfoto, Getty Images)

The claims related to what happened during the introduction of internment without trial in the occupied Six Counties in August 1971. What many internees experienced ranged from brutal treatment to torture: “Many of those arrested reported that they and their families were assaulted, verbally abused and threatened by the soldiers. There were claims of soldiers smashing their way into houses without warning and firing rubber baton rounds through doors and windows. Many of those arrested also reported being ill-treated during their three-day detention at the holding centres. They complained of being beaten, verbally abused, threatened, harassed by dogs, denied sleep, and starved. Some reported being forced to run a gauntlet of baton-wielding soldiers, being forced to run an ‘obstacle course’, having their heads forcefully shaved, being kept naked, being burnt with cigarettes, having a sack placed over their heads for long periods, having a rope kept around their necks, having the barrel of a gun pressed against their heads, being dragged by the hair, being trailed behind armoured vehicles while barefoot, and being tied to armoured trucks as a human shield” (for the soldiers against attack by the IRA). (Wikipedia)

(Photo sourced: Internet)

Some were hooded, beaten and, having been told they were hundreds of feet in the air, were then thrown from a helicopter — but were actually only a few feet from the ground. In addition, they were subjected to disorientating “white noise”, forced to remain in stress positions for long periods and deprived of food, water and sleep. Fourteen men who endured this for seven days became known as the “Hooded Men” and have been campaigning for over 50 years to have the British State admit that in its Irish colony, it had tortured them. Interestingly, some of those techniques have also been complained of more recently – by prisoners of the British military in Iraq3 — and this despite a statement by the UK’s Attorney General in 1977 that the techniques would not be used by them again.4

(Photo sourced: Internet)

Unusually, the Irish State5 took the case of the Fourteen to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and in 1976 obtained a judgement that “the five interrogation techniques” were torture.

The British State appealed the ECHR judgement and in 1978 won a judgement that although the treatment of the Hooded Men amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and breached Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights it nevertheless fell short of torture6.

When documentation came to light proving that British Government Ministers had approved the treatment, the Irish State appealed the revised judgement of the ECHR but in 2018 was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the legal team of the Hooded Men pursued their case through the legal system of the UK’s Irish colony. In October 2014 the PSNI formally decided not to investigate the allegations, following which in 2015 judicial review proceedings against the PSNI, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Department of Justice were initiated by Francis McGuigan, one of the ‘Hooded Men’. A co-appellant was Mary McKenna, the daughter of Sean McKenna, another of the Hooded Men, who died in 1975, never having fully recovered from his mistreatment. The proceedings followed the discovery of additional documentary materials relevant to the mistreatment of the men, which were featured in a 2014 RTÉ Documentary, The Torture Files.7

Following this Documentary, the Chief Constable stated that the PSNI would assess “any allegation or emerging evidence of criminal behaviour, from whatever quarter” concerning the ill-treatment of the Hooded Men “with a view to substantiating such an allegation and identifying sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution and bring people to court’”. However in October 2014 the PSNI took the decision not to investigate. In late 2017, the High Court ruled that the failure by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to investigate the allegations of torture was unlawful.

Some of the Hooded Men in London for the Supreme Court judgement. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Instead of accepting the judgement however the PSNI sought to appeal the High Court decision but in September 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that the decision should stand. One would have to contrast the determination of the colonial police in the courts to their appalling record in investigating collusion between their own force and Loyalist murder gangs, for the PSNI then appealed to the UK Supreme Court. In November 2019 the UK Supreme Court upheld the decision of the colony’s Court of Appeal and the PSNI appealed that judgement too. The decision last week in London marks the end of the legal options of the colonial gendarmerie.

The very month the decision not to investigate the allegations of the Hooded Men was taken by the colonial police force, October 2014, Drew Harris had been appointed Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI.

IMPLICATIONS OF JUDGEMENT

The implications of the High Court judgement for Britain and its colonial administration are that once again they have been shown to have deployed barbarous methods in their repression of resistance by the nationalist minority in the colony and that they have exceeded or ignored even their own laws.

As has been the case throughout the recent 30 Years’ War, with the system lying and trying to cover up the reality of its actions, then delaying by all available means, the judgement comes too late for a number of the victims, as only nine of the 14 are still alive.

Nevertheless, the judgement adds to a number of other judgements and admissions over the years, such as those surrounding the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry in 1972 and the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971. On 13 December this year, the British Ministry of Defence and PSNI agreed to a £1.5m out-of-court settlement to compensate victims of the Miami Showband Massacre over suspected state collusion with loyalist terrorists.

Three members of the band died from explosions and bullets after they were forced to get out of their bus at a fake police checkpoint on their return to Dublin from the Six Counties. Stephen Travers, who was injured in the attack, said he was convinced he would have won his civil action to prove that there was collaboration between the State and terrorists but that the Government’s decision to “dispense with justice rather than to dispense justice” had motivated the out-of court settlement.

Had the UK’s Supreme Court rejected the Hooded Men’s case, the latter would have been free to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights – not that they had been tortured but that the police should have investigated their claims that they were. And, based on a similar case by the manager of a Basque newspaper against the Spanish State8, they would probably have won their case with damages awarded against the UK.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court decision puts the onus of investigating the accusations of the Hooded Men on to the PSNI, the very organisation deeply implicated in the treatment of the victims, the organisation which declined to investigate them previously and which justified its decision through the courts in the Six Counties and then in the Supreme Court of the UK.

But not only the British state and its colony are put into the dock by the Supreme Court judgement – Drew Harris, formerly Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI is currently in charge of the police force of the Irish State, where he was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Gardaí in September 2018 on a yearly salary of €250,000.

Drew Harris (Left) as Garda Commissioner with his former boss, George Hamilton, Chief Constable of the colonial police, the PSNI, on the occasion they both received an honour from the British Monarch. (Photo sourced: Internet)

APPENDIX — BACKGROUND

Creation of “Northern Ireland”:

The statelet of “Northern Ireland”9 was created in 1922 after Ireland was partitioned by the British Government at the end of 1921. Ireland had been invaded from Britain in 1169 and gradually entirely occupied and colonised by the invaders, albeit with its own semi-autonomous parliament which had been abolished in 1801, after the United Irish uprisings of 179810. Subsequently Members of Parliament elected in Ireland were required to attend the Westminster Parliament.

Following the rise of Irish nationalist sentiment after the suppression of the 1916 Rising, the 1918 UK General Election returned a huge majority of MPs in Ireland sworn to establish an independent Irish Republic. These formed their own parliament in Dublin, at first ignored but then later banned by the British. The guerrilla War of Independence of 1919-1921 convinced the British rulers to offer Ireland autonomy as a “Dominion” within the British system and under the Crown. However, at the same time, the British conceded to the demand of the unionist minority in Ireland to secede from the new Irish state and to remain a colony of Britain and in the UK. The Irish Free State was set up in December 1921 on 26 counties and the Northern Ireland statelet of six counties in January 192211.

From the outset the colonial statelet had been marked by the religious sectarianism of its local rulers, Presbyterians and Anglicans by religion and of unionist ideology, against a very large nationalist minority of mostly Catholics, representing the majority in Ireland as a whole. A raft of special powers empowered the statelet in repression of the nationalist minority; the colonial gendarmerie, abolished in the Irish state, continued in existence, with a part-time wing and even unofficial Loyalist militia in support and de facto anti-nationalist discrimination existed in every sphere: law, housing allocation, education.

In 1968 a campaign for civil rights for the nationalist minority began, to be met by truncheons, water-cannon, tear gas and bullets which however, merely drove parts of the minority into open insurrection. The colonial gendarmerie (the Royal Ulster Constabulary), even with the active support of the part-time B-Specials and Loyalist paramilitaries, was unable to suppress the uprising primarily in Derry but also in West Belfast and in August 1969 the British Government sent in the British Army to take control.

Initially the soldiers were represented to the nationalist population as being present to protect them from the sectarian colonial police and from the Loyalists but it soon became clear that their primary focus was to repress the risen nationalist population and the IRA began to take action against them.

Introduction of Internment Without Trial:

The Prime Minister of the “Northern Ireland” statelet, Brian Faulkner, recommended to his colonial masters that internment without trial be introduced against the nationalist population; this was agreed and “Operation Demetrius” began on 9th August and continuing over the 10th 1971 with British Army raids into nationalist areas, forcing their way into homes and dragging their captives away to be interrogated by RUC Special Branch, after which they were jailed. In the initial sweep the occupation forces arrested 342 men, sparking four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers were killed and 7,000 people fled their homes. All of those interned were from the nationalist community.

Poster by the Anti-Internment League of Ireland – the internees in the photo are handcuffed together. (Photo sourced: Internet)

The detentions without charge continued until December 1975 and by that time 1,981 people had been interned, of which 1,874 were from the nationalist community. Only 107 were Loyalists and none of those had been interned until February 1973. Resistance to internment continued after the initial sweep and from 9th to 11th August, British Paratroopers caused the death of 11 unarmed people in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. In January the following year the Paras and other units attacked people marching against internment in Derry, killing 14 and injuring 12.

Internment was protested in the rest of Ireland and in other countries, including Britain. The Men Behind the Wire, an anti-internment song composed in 1971 by Paddy McGuigan and recorded by the Barleycorn group in Belfast, was pressed into disc in Dublin and shot to the top of the Irish charts, greatly exceeding in numbers of sales any record previously released in Ireland.

Excerpt:

Through the little streets of Belfast,
In the dark of early mo
rn,
British soldiers came marauding
Wrecking little homes with scorn.

Heedless of the crying children,
Dragging fathers from their beds;
Beating sons while helpless mothers
Watched the blood flow from their heads.

Armoured cars and tanks and guns
Came to take away our sons
But every man will stand behind
The Men Behind the Wire.

Poster by People”s Democracy, believed in 1970, prior to introduction of internment. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Brian Faulkner, unionist Prime Minister of the statelet, who had asked the British to introduce internment, was hated by a great many people. When he died in March 1977 following an accident during a stag hunt, thrown by his horse Cannonball, an English communist composed a short song he named “Cannonball”.

Excerpt:

Lord Faulkner was a hunter of men and of deer

And both have good reason to laugh and to cheer

At the death of a tyrant whose interests were clear

Those of imperialism that have cost Ireland dear.

Cannonball, Cannonball has many a friend,

From the top of old Ireland right down to its end,

Where the brave people struggle

In one resolute bid

To throw off their oppressors —

Just as Cannonball did!

End.

FOOTNOTES

  1. The colonial gendarmerie formerly known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

2 (see “Background” section).

3. The Court’s ruling that the five techniques did not amount to torture was later cited by the United States and Israel to justify their own interrogation methods, which included the five techniques. British agents also taught the five techniques to the forces of Brazil’s military dictatorship. During the Iraq War, the illegal use of the five techniques by British soldiers contributed to the death of at least one detainee, Baha Mousa.

4 “The Government of the United Kingdom have considered the question of the use of the ‘five techniques’ with very great care and with particular regard to Article 3 (art. 3) of the Convention. They now give this unqualified undertaking, that the ‘five techniques’ will not in any circumstances be reintroduced as an aid to interrogation.”

5 Unusually, because during the three decades of ill-treatment by a foreign power of people who were, according to the Irish Constitution its citizens, only in one other case did the Irish State bring a complaint against the UK to an international arena.

6 I admit that I fail completely to understand the distinction.

7. Rita O’Reilly, the journalist who led that program, also commented extremely well on the UK Supreme Court decision and the whole case on Prime Time on RTÉ this week (see Links).

8. Martxelo Otamendi, along with others detained, was tortured by his Guardia Civil captors when the Basque newspaper of which he was manager was closed by the Spanish State, alleging that it had been cooperating with terrorists. He was freed eventually and even later in 2010 the Spanish Supreme Court admitted that there had been no evidence against him or the newspaper – but neither admitted the torture nor ordered his allegations be investigated. Otamendi filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 and in 2014 the ECHR found the Spanish State guilty of not having investigated Otamendi’s allegation of being tortured and awarded him €24,000 in damages and expenses from the Spanish state.

9. A misnomer since the British colony is not the northernmost part of Ireland, which is in County Donegal, inside the Irish state. “Ulster”, a name given by the Unionists to the statelet and frequently repeated in the British media, is also a misnomer since the Province of Ulster contains nine counties, six of which are in the colonial statelet but three of which are within the Irish state.

10. There were many uprisings prior to 1798, which was the first Republican one and there were many of that kind afterwards too.

11. Shortly after that the Free State, supplied with weapons and transport by the British, attacked the Republicans, who had been demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the Anglo-Irish Treaty. This precipitated a Civil War in which the Republicans were defeated.

USEFUL LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION

Unusually excellent (for RTÉ) report by Rita O’Reilly: https://www.rte.ie/news/primetime/2021/1217/1267343-uk-supreme-court-decision-on-hooded-men/

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/hooded-men-uk-court-finds-psni-decision-not-to-investigate-case-unlawful-1.4755885

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Demetrius

2 thoughts on “BRITISH SUPREME COURT VINDICATES TORTURED “HOODED MEN” – CRITICISES POLICE CHIEF

  1. As to the distinction atween ‘inhumane treatment’ and ‘torture’ it is not pleasant reading to learn of the way the United States in anticipating legal challenges to its regime in Iraq from 2003, hired hundreds of lawyers and legal counsel to come up with a definition of torture. It finally came about that torture was treatment which would lead to major organ failure and death. Anything up to that could be excused, which any sane human being does not want to contemplate for too long. The British are better at legal sophistry, having had centuries of practice at it and it was Jack Straw of the British Labour government that absolved its agents of any legal duty to intervene to prevent or report torture. Ciaran MacAirt’s Hooded Men website is an incredible resource on the issue and broader legal questions. We learn that General Tuzo’s own grandaughter who was the principled journalist who exposed the torture and murder of Baha Mousa in Iraq by British soldiers!

    1. Thanks for that, Michael and feel free to post the link to the website you mentioned.

      Yes, family relations are not necessary predictions of behaviour — Lord French was the British military overlord of Ireland for the Crown during the War of Independence, yet his sister, Charlotte Despard (neé French) was an active Irish Republican.

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