Bob Stewart, a Conservative MP in London and a former military commander, has blithely admitted that he acted as “…a kind of a torturer” when he served with the British Occupation Forces in the north-east of Ireland during the 1970s and ’80s. The statement was made on a radio show discussing Donald Trump’s intention to reintroduce the physical and physiological abuse of prisoners-of-war or terror suspects by the United States, alone or in conjunction with its allies. The Tory politician defended similar techniques as a proven method of extracting information from suspects, referencing the successful work of the Nazis during World War II in their pursuit of resistance networks in the Netherlands and Belgium.
“I don’t agree with waterboarding but a certain amount of persuasion might be justified…
Before 1977, I was actually a soldier in Northern Ireland and there were five forbidden techniques introduced in 1977, some of which I had used prior to that – spread-eagling, sleep deprivation. So in a way, you know, technically, as you look at it today, I was a kind of a torturer. Of course, it was acceptable then. It’s now unacceptable and now it’s defined as torture.
Sleep deprivation? Lack of food? Perhaps, as I’ve done, showing people pictures of their friends that have been blown up, that sort of thing.”
As part of his duties in the UK-administered Six Counties, Stewart spent some time working as a British Army intelligence officer, his tours coinciding with a surge in the United Kingdom’s counter-insurgency war against the Irish Republican Army. In recent years he has been a vociferous critic of several attempts to bring UK troops to justice for crimes committed during the so-called Irish-British Troubles of 1966-2005. The MP has described these investigations as “witch-hunts” and called for soldiers to be granted immunity from prosecution for any murders or atrocities they carried out during the period.
The five techniques Bob Stewart refers to was a specific torture program introduced to the north-east of Ireland by Britain in 1971, not six years later as he says in the radio interview. The initial victims were Irish civilians detained by the British and unionist authorities in the Six Counties during internment, imprisonment without charge or trial, from 1971-73. While thousands of people were carted off to various “detention centres” – notably the infamous Long Kesh concentration camp and the re-purposed HMS Maidstone prison-ship – some were selected for “in-depth” questioning. A polite euphemism for the testing of new physical and psychological torture techniques. Under the supervision of paramilitary and military personnel, including 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. These experiments in violence gained the victims the sobriquet of the Guinea Pigs.
However the more usual torture techniques of the UK Forces in Ireland were known, and publicised, from a very early date as documented in this report covering the period of December 1971 to February 1972 in the British Army bases of Holywod and Girdwood barracks. This document summaries cases of physical and psychological torture in two locations for a period of just three months. At the time, there were dozens of UK military and paramilitary installations dotted across the north-east of the country where prisoners were being held and interrogated.
THE PRINCIPAL METHODS OF TORTURE USED IN HOLYWOOD AND GIRDWOOD BRITISH ARMY BARRACKS, December 1971 – February 1972
1. Placing a man in a “search position,” single finger of each hand to the wall, legs well apart and back, on his toes, knees bent, for prolonged periods. [After 5 minutes in the “search position” prisoner begins to experience discomfort in his/her arms and legs. After 10 minutes it starts to become painful. After 15 to 20 minutes majority of prisoners collapse]
2. Heavy punching to the pit of the stomach to a man in the “search position.” [The exposed nature of the position increases impact of blows, causing the prisoner to fall forward and to the ground, usually causing greater injury]
3. Kicking the legs from under a man in the “search position” so that he falls to the ground, banging his head on a wall, radiator or ground.
4. Beating with batons on the kidneys and on the privates while in the “search position.” [The exposed nature of the position increases impact of the blows, causing the prisoner to fall forward and to the ground, usually causing greater injury]
5. Kicking between the legs while in the “search position.” This is very popular among the RUC officers [paramilitary police] and they often do it for periods of half an hour or an hour. [The exposed nature of the position increases the impact of the blows, causing the prisoner to fall forward and to the ground, usually causing greater injury. After 3 or 4 kicks many prisoners will collapse or fall into unconsciousness]
6. Putting a man in the “search position” over a powerful electric fire or radiator. [Prisoner suffers both from the painful nature of the “search position” and heat from the fire or radiator, often inducing burns to the legs, lower torso, arms and face]
7. Stretching a man over benches with two electric fires underneath and kicking him on the stomach. [Prisoner suffers both from the painful nature of the position, with the heat from the fires inducing burns to the legs and torso, as well as the blows to the stomach. Fainting from pain and trauma is common]
8. Rabbit punching to the back of the neck while in the “search position.” [The exposed nature of the position increases the impact of the blows, causing the prisoner to fall forward and to the ground, usually causing greater injury]
9. Banging a prisoner’s head against a wall. [A favoured method, breaking noses, fracturing jaws, causing damage to eyes and teeth, and inducing unconsciousness in suspect]
10. Beating the head and face with a baton in crescendo fashion. [A favoured method, breaking noses, fracturing jaws, causing damage to eyes and teeth, and inducing unconsciousness in prisoner]
11. Slapping the ears and face with an open hand. [A favoured method, causing pain and inducing disorientation in prisoner]
12. Twisting arms behind the back and twisting fingers. [A favoured method, causing fracturing and ligament damage to fingers and arms, and inducing unconsciousness in prisoner]
13. Prodding the stomach with straight fingers. [A favoured method, causing pain and inducing disorientation in prisoner]
14. Chopping blows to the ribs from behind with simultaneous blows to the stomach. [A favoured method, causing pain and inducing disorientation in prisoner]
15. Hand squeezing of the testicles. [A favoured method, causing pain, inducing disorientation, humiliation and fear in prisoner]
16. Insertion of instruments in the anal passage while the prisoners is forcibly restrained by two or more interrogators. [A favoured method, causing pain, inducing humiliation and fear in prisoner]
17. Kicking on the knees and shins. [A favoured method, causing pain and inducing disorientation in prisoner]
18. Tossing the prisoner from one officer to another and punching him while in the air. [A favoured method, causing pain and inducing disorientation in prisoner]
19. Injections. [So-called “injections” could be made with the use of an empty syringe, inserting a needle into vulnerable parts of the body, including the gums, testes, penis, hands, etc. to cause pain or fear in a prisoner. Otherwise a cocktail of narcotics were used in actual injections, usually amphetamine or “speed”. However in British installations at this period other drugs were also used on prisoners including sodium thiopental and sodium amytal (the so-called “truth drugs”), lysergic acid diethylamide (“LSD” or “acid”) and, later, heroin. Sometimes prisoners were threatened with syringes claimed to be filled with a poisonous or contagious substance]
20. Electric cattle prod was used. [Causes pain, disorientation and fear in prisoner]
21. Electric shocks given by use of a machine. [Causes pain, disorientation and fear in prisoner]
22. Burning with matches and candles. [Causes pain, disorientation and fear in prisoner]
23. Deprivation of sleep. [Causes disorientation and fear in prisoner making their more susceptible to physical and psychological torture]
24. Urinating on prisoners. [Causes humiliation and feelings of degradation in prisoner]
25. Psychological tortures:
(a) Russian roulette. [Loading a revolver pistol with one bullet, leaving the other chambers empty, spinning the chambers, holding the weapon to the prisoner’s head and pulling the trigger]
(b) Firing blanks. [Fired to the side or back of the head of hooded or unhooded prisoners]
(c) Beating men in darkness. [Prisoners in a darkened room, hooded or blindfolded and beaten by up to a dozen men with fists, boots, truncheons, sticks, etc. over a period of 5 to 15 minutes]
(d) Blindfolding. [Prisoners left blindfolded, and normally handcuffed or otherwise bound, for periods of 48 to 72 hours]
(e) Assailants using stocking masks.
(f) Wearing surgical dress. [Prisoners led to believe that they were to be subject to torture via invasive surgery]
(g) Staring at white perforated wall in small cubicle.
(h) Use of amphetamine drugs. [Commonly known as ‘speed’, prisoners injected with high doses inducing fever-like conditions, disorientation, confusion, blurred vision, numbness, etc. Frequently administered by military medical personnel in co-operation with interrogators]
(i) Prisoners are threatened; threats to their families, bribes offered, false confessions are used. [Intelligence information gleaned through informers, spies, surveillance, etc. frequently used to overawe, intimidate prisoners. Threats of murder, beatings, rape and sexual assault made against the family members of prisoners, including children and the elderly, sometimes with the use of photos or film montages of family members taken by Forces’ personnel. High sums of money, reaching into the tens of thousands, offered as bribes. Pre-written confessions signed by prisoners under threat]