The Irish Times has a laudably detailed article examining the historic issue of the “Hooded Men”: Irish citizens detained by the British and unionist authorities in the north-east of Ireland during the period of internment – imprisonment without charge or trial – in the early 1970s. Unlike some two thousand others who were carted off to the various “detention centres” after violent interrogations – notably the infamous Long Kesh concentration camp and the re-purposed HMS Maidstone prison-ship – these individuals were selected for “in-depth” questioning: a euphemism for the testing of new physical and psychological torture techniques. Under the supervision of paramilitary and military personnel, and supported by doctors and nurses, the men and youths were subject to weeks of sustained abuse in a secret section of Shackleton Barracks, a large British army base at Ballykelly in county Derry.
“There is a handwritten note in the margin of a letter written in 1977 by the British home secretary at the time, Merlyn Rees, to the prime minister, James Callaghan. The letter confirms Rees’s view that “the decision to use methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971/72” was a political one, taken by government ministers.
As the summer of 1971 approached and the bombs, riots and shootings intensified, internment without trial was widely expected in Northern Ireland, and the construction of the prison camp at Long Kesh confirmed to those aware of the rumours that a major swoop was imminent on those deemed a threat to the unionist state.
But the building that was erected that spring on the British army site at the old second World War airfield at Ballykelly, in Co Derry, was far less conspicuous.
More than 1,000 people would be interned, but just 14 men would be brought to the secret compound in Ballykelly. They did not see it, for they were hooded, and they did not know for many years where they had been.
Their names were Jim Auld, Pat Chivers, Joe Clarke, Michael Donnelly, Kevin Hannaway, Paddy Joe McLean, Francie McGuigan, Patrick McNally, Sean McKenna, Gerry McKerr, Michael Montgomery, Davy Rodgers, Liam Shannon and Brian Turley.
None of them would ever recover fully from what was done to them there, and several did not recover at all. The Ballykelly unit was a purpose-built torture centre.”
Those fighting for justice on behalf of their fathers and grandfathers in the face of the UK’s refusal to acknowledge its wrong-doing point out that Britain continues to indulge its passion for brutalising those its regards as its enemies:
“In 2003 an Iraqi hotel worker, Baha Mousa, died after being treated remarkably similarly to the way the hooded men had been in Northern Ireland. During the 2009 inquiry into his death it was admitted that the British had not abandoned the practices they used in Ballykelly.
…he had died after being beaten, hooded, starved and held for long periods in the stress position. The UK was still using the so-called Five Techniques: wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink.”
I urge you to read the individual accounts of the barbarism so willingly indulged in by the British in their treatment of Irish men, women and children during the 1970s. It was these and other acts of violence – that in turn generated counter-violence – which helped seed and sustain three decades of insurgency in the north-east of our island nation. The (Provisional) Irish Republican Army did not emerge from thin air. It was conceived in the crushing of the civil rights movement by the unionist regime at Stormont, gestated in the torture-centres and concentration camps established by the government in Downing Street, and born in the bloodshed and terror imposed by the British Occupation Forces and their militant proxies.
Note: It is worth remembering that the principal authorisation for the explicit use of torture in Ireland by the UK state – as opposed to informal occurrences by the British forces – came from Brian Faulkner, the so-called “prime minster of Northern Ireland” and leader of the unionist junta in Belfast, Peter Harrington, Britain’s secretary of defence, and Ted Heath, premier of the United Kingdom. The latter two were members of the right-wing Conservative Party government. Their successors in the left-wing Labour Party government under prime minister Harold Wilson continued with the policy, using their predecessors actions as a legal precedent for doing so.