Current Affairs History Military Politics

The Hooded Men, British Torture-Centres In Ireland

A contemporary medical photograph showing the injuries suffered by one of the Hooded Men, Irish civilian detainees tortured by the British Occupation Forces in Ireland, dating from the early 1970s
A contemporary medical photograph showing the injuries suffered by one of the Hooded Men, Irish civilian detainees tortured by the British Occupation Forces in Ireland, dating from the early 1970s

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.”

A poster showing handcuffed civilians being unloaded from a British helicopter during the infamous period of interment, or imprisonment without charge or trial by the UK authorities in the Occupied North of Ireland

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.

British government ministers stating the political and legal nature of Britain’s torture of Irish citizens in the UK-administered north-east of Ireland during the early 1970s

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.

9 comments on “The Hooded Men, British Torture-Centres In Ireland

  1. Just curious why you should want to bring this up now. It was fairly well know and reported at the time and later subject to an international court case which found the UK guilty of torture.

    So what’s new? All government is ultimately based on violence or threat of violence, although most of the time people conform to the will of their masters and don’t challenge the system.


  2. These torture techniques have since been exported around the globe, to America, India, and many other countries; they are most commonly known as “The British Method” or the “English Method”, and although they have been “refined” in many places to avoid showing the evidence of torture in the photo you posted, they are nonetheless brutal, and as you noted, seldom lead to anything but a continuation of violence.


  3. Ali Isaac

    This has come up recently in the Irish press. That is why it is being commented on here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. marconatrix – the british were found guilty of “inhumane and degrading treatment” – not torture, which is why these methods were exported all over the world as Oglach remarked. Read a little more about the implications here and watch a video showing how new evidence was gathered to re-open the case from the 1970s and press for a “torture” verdict


    • I recall the word ‘torture’ being used in UK press reports at the time, and we knew how these people had been treated, so I don’t see who but lawyers are going to argue over the semantics. Why it was done is perhaps more interesting. When people are basically driven partially insane, begin to suffer illusions etc. they’re hardly likely to yield any useful or reliable intelligence, a fact that has long been known by the British authorities.

      But again why bring it up now? It pales into insignificance compared to the way the Americans, Israelis and other ‘allies’ treat their victims. And what of your glorious republic’s record during the Civil War? Why not bring up all those atrocities if you want to rake over the past?

      Any nation with armed forces (I believe one or two manage without somehow) is committed to achieving its political aims through violence, that’s what soldiers are for, what they’re trained to do. To kill, main, inflict suffering, distress and terror on whoever their political masters decide are the ‘enemy’, within or without. To pretend to be shocked and complain when they do exactly what they’ve been created to do is simply hypocrisy. The same goes for paramilitary police, if you didn’t want them to beat people up you wouldn’t issue them with big sticks and other offensive weapons.


      • North Munsterman

        “It (British treatment of civilians)) pales into insignificance compared to the way the Americans, Israelis and other ‘allies’ treat their victims. ” – Marconatrix

        Maybe you should read up a little more :

        “Caroline Elkins, a professor at Harvard, spent nearly 10 years compiling the evidence contained in her book Britain’s Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya. She started her research with the belief that the British account of the suppression of the Kikuyu’s Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s was largely accurate. Then she discovered that most of the documentation had been destroyed. ”

        I recommend you to have a vomit-bucket handy for the next bit :

        ” Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women’s breasts. They cut off inmates’ ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound. ”

        Then, in the best British tradition, the approval, the subversion of justice, and the subsequent cover-up :

        “Elkins provides a wealth of evidence to show that the horrors of the camps were endorsed at the highest levels. The governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, regularly intervened to prevent the perpetrators from being brought to justice. The colonial secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, repeatedly lied to the House of Commons. This is a vast, systematic crime for which there has been no reckoning.

        What I find remarkable is not that they write such things, but that these distortions go almost unchallenged. The myths of empire are so well-established that we appear to blot out countervailing stories even as they are told. As evidence from the manufactured Indian famines of the 1870s and from the treatment of other colonies accumulates, British imperialism emerges as no better and in some cases even worse than the imperialism practised by other nations. Yet the myth of the civilising mission remains untroubled by the evidence. ”

        – George Monbiot

        The vast majority of British people deny these things ever happened – or simply dismiss it by claiming that the Americans/Israeli’s/whoever – were worse.


        • I’ve no remit for the British State. All ‘authority’ is based on violence and coercion, be it the hangman’s noose or the schoolmaster’s strap. As long as people are willing to take orders and conform, this sort of thing will always happen unfortunately. How do you react when an authority figure gives you an order. Do you say ‘Yes, Sir!’ or ‘Go Fuck Yourself!’ Which do you expect from your kids?

          But thinking about these particular distressing cases, I wonder at the motivation. If the authorities wanted to torture these individuals, basically that means imposing a particular mental state, and I have little doubt that they could have done that without leaving a mark on them. Why then leave so much evidence? Were they trying to send a message to the population at large, or was it simply a question of incompetence and/or individual sadism?

          And yes, we know about the Mao-mao business too. It didn’t work, did it? So why apart from blatant perversion repeat it in Ireland?


  5. craghopper

    Seems like the USA has followed suit with their FEMA camps though killing instead of torture.


  6. eileen healy

    Most people find images such as the above to be upsetting and repulsive and look away. Physical pain ,Injury and degradation both physical and psychological are brought to mind and for those coping with the physical scars that remain, the psychological impact is probably never going to be fully realised even with professional intervention To someone who has seen the evidence of abuse on the human body I find it particularly upsetting because I can identify what some of those marks were caused by and also significant is the duration of torture This graphic example has neew and old injuries continously inflicted on the body which was obviously dispensed in a systematic fashion. To me thats torture and will always inhabit the endurer in ways we would nt want to imagine
    One of the disturbing facs re torture meted out by British in 1970s onwards is he covering up and then ther is the participation by health care professionals in implementing the tactics,

    The involvement of Medical professionals in the implementation and “follow on care” has amazing parallels with another incident in history where “major pioneering work”” was carried out by the British in the establishment of concentration camps during
    Boer war The discrediting of missionary and voluntary medics and nurses trying to highlight conditions in these camps was taken on with a gusto by British Army medics one of whom was Irish

    Dublin-born Sir Kendal Matthew St John Franks was a member of a well-known Irish family and had a distinguished medical career, pioneering the use of antiseptic and aseptic surgery in Ireland. He moved to South Africa in 1896 because of his wife’s health, settling in Johannesburg the following year. When war broke out he was attached to Lord Roberts’ staff as one of five consulting surgeons to the British forces and was present at a number of major engagements. He was mentioned in dispatches and was requested byKitchener to inspect the camps,

    Franks’ remarks were undoubtedly coloured by his political loyalties. The Irene report was partly a response to the criticisms which had been made by the young Boer volunteer nurse, Johanna van Warmelo.13Franks considered that her section of the camp, which took in the latest arrivals, was the worst part, overcrowded, the people poverty-stricken and poorly clad. “In all these tents poverty, dirt, and ignorance reign supreme”, he wrote. Elsewhere he was “struck by the contented, cheery, well-cared-for appearance of the people”.14He considered that the rations were, on the whole, adequate and of good quality. The water supply was excellent and so were the sanitary arrangements, so there had been little typhoid. The tone of the report was positive, even optimistic and Franks’ recommendations were limited – more hospital tents and more nurses; more blankets and warm clothing; more milk for the children, and more coffee for adult men. The only real problem, Franks implied, was the measles epidemic and Dr Neethling (a Boer doctor, Franks noted) attributed the high mortality to the ignorance and poor nursing of the mothers”

    Elisabeth Van Heyingen -Author of THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS OF THE ANGLO BOER WAR a social history
    Durban 2010


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