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‘Irish torture sanctioned by UK govt’ Northern Ireland Troubles in 1971

DUBLIN, June 5, (AFP): Torture methods used during internment of Irish nationalists at the height of the Northern Irish Troubles were sanctioned by the British government, an Irish television documentary claimed Wednesday. In 1971, as violence intensified in the sectarian conflict, internment — or imprisonment without trial — was introduced by the British state as it tried to bring order to the province.

Hundreds of Catholic nationalists were brought to detention camps at army bases. Twelve men, who became known as the Hooded Men, were selected for ‘deep interrogation’.

A European Commission report later found the men were subjected to five techniques of deprivation: hooding, wall standing in stress positions for hours, sleep deprivation, water and food deprivation and subjection to noise. “I was stripped naked, given a pair of army overalls and taken in my bare feet to a room and placed in the search position,” one of the men, Gerard McKerr, told “The Torture Files” on RTE television. “I was concerned that their objective was just to have my mind in pulp. I was going to be brain washed.” The programme also spoke to the daughter of Sean McKenna, one of the Hooded Men, who was interned in prison after his interrogation. “And I went in, my father was a very broken man, sitting crying, very shaky,” Mary McKenna said. “He was a great father before that, that man never came back. My father never came back.” The men were also thrown from a low-hovering helicopter while their heads were covered in hoods.

When details of the men’s treatment broke, there was public uproar with civil rights’ leaders calling for an immediate response. British Prime Minister Edward Heath banned the techniques in March 1972.

Following the outcry, Dublin said it could no longer stand by as innocent people were injured and insisted the torture was sanctioned at a high level. Britain denied the claim, saying the techniques used were an unfortunate lapse and parried the blame to lower ranks. But the programme’s reporter Rita O’Reilly discovered a memo at the British National Archives in Kew, which she says, implicates government ministers in the torture.

A letter from Home Secretary Merlyn Rees to Prime Minister James Callaghan dated March 31, 1977 stated a political decision was taken to introduce the techniques.

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