Torture. It hasn’t gone away you know.

Charlie McManamin was a 16-year-old boy, when – according to his shocking testimony – he was interrogated and beaten until he confessed to terrorist offences. He’s just one of the people – including a former police officer – making detailed allegations of torture in a new film and report on the Guardian site today.

Hundreds of men and women convicted of terrorism offences in Northern Ireland are now planning to appeal against convictions based on confessions that were, they allege, beaten out of them.

For Amnesty International, such allegations are scarcely anything new – we were instrumental in bringing to public attention serious allegations of torture as far back as the early 1970s. We helped to expose the use of the infamous “five techniques” used here in security force interrogations of terrorist suspects: (1) hooding, (2) wall-standing, (3) subjection to noise, (4) relative deprivation of food and water and (5) sleep deprivation.

In 1977 the European Court of Human Rights found the UK government guilty of the use of these “cruel, inhuman and degrading” methods of interrogation in Northern Ireland.

In his report, the Guardian’s Ian Cobain now has a former police officer confirming that not only was this happening but that it was sanctioned at the highest level:
“Some men were known for their use of force… Bill Mooney the head of CID would be telling us ‘Get in there, what are you – men or mice?’”

Subject to this treatment, McManamin confessed to terrorist offences, despite the fact that, at the time of the crimes, he was being held at a secure children’s home 75 miles away. On the basis of the confession, the teenager was convicted and spent three years in jail.

Another man testifies that he was burned with cigarettes on his face and had a cigarette lighter held under his testicles.

The authorities have a responsibility to provide remedy and reparation to people who have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the State. Of course, the people featured in the Guardian’s film aren’t the only ones to suffer in Northern Ireland. They all deserve justice and the Eames-Bradley recommendations merit a better response by the UK government than they have received so far. No matter how much some politicians might wish it so, the past in Northern Ireland just won’t recede until we have dealt with it properly.

We know that when abuses are not addressed and people are not brought to justice, the door is left open for further human rights violations to happen. That’s the problem with impunity. Those who committed the abuses – and got away with it – feel they can do it again and again, maybe at a different time and place.

Lessons from Northern Ireland do not appear to have been learnt, with UK security personnel accused of complicity in the torture and ill-treatment of detainees held overseas post-2001.

Remember Iraqi detainee Baha Mousa, beaten to death under interrogation by British soldiers in September 2003? This summer Adam Ingram, late of this parish, and armed forces minister at the time Mousa was killed, admitted misleading parliament about his death. Of course, if you’ve got away with it once, why not try to get away with it again?

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  • Rory Carr

    Oh! “trade unionist activists in Zimbabwe” are all very fine for Amnesty to aid or trades unionist activists in Poland (but only while it was yet within the Soviet bloc) but trades unionist activists in Britian, the Shrewsbury 24 spring to mind or those convicted for their presence on picket lines during Grunwick, Wapping, or the Miners’ strikes, or indeed Polish trades unionists today, now that they would be agitating against the interests of Western capital, now that’s a different kettle of fish entirely – you won’t have Amnesty getting involved in anything like that and upsetting the masters of the system that they were established to promote, propagandise and uphold.Would you?

  • My point was that, as history now proves, the bulk of thoses interned were unconnected to any paramilitary group so Amnesty was wrong to have turned a blind eye to individiual cases, such as Mr McManamin’s. It is all well and good for Amnesty to come out of the woodwork claiming to have been around throughout the troubles.

    I am fully aware of the definition Amnesty gives to ‘prisoner of convcience’ –as an innocent man Mr McManimin was one –just the Brits falsely alleged volience and Amnesty conveniently never questioned the charges.

    Now it might be cleaner and fashionable to support men like Mr Manamin but Amnesty did not when it would have mattered to a 16 year old boy.

  • CORRECTION: “The reality is that supporters of republicans seem to have felt that Amnesty didn’t do enough.”

    Supporters of innocent people thought that about Amnesty. –convenient balancing act you just tried to pull –like Amnesty did not takes sides –its hand was constantly out for Brit Gov money though.

  • Reader

    Rory Carr: now that’s a different kettle of fish entirely
    If the people of the UK want to allow mass picketing, secondary picketing or the use of force or intimidation by pickets, they will elect politicians that offer them that option. Until then, that stuff is illegal.
    If your preferred position is that your catalogue of activists did nothing illegal, that is a matter for the courts.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The Internal Amnesty report you came across is the usual nonsense that people come up with. .football commentators media whatever…….we are criticised by both sides so therefore this “proves” we are neutral. Its a childish argument.
    The irony is that I fully “get” the argument that we cant act in our own country. But “internment without trial” for xample is something that Amnesty should have a stance on regardless of where it is…..and its disappointing that an organisation for which I have a lot of respect.cant be forthright.
    Sheesh Im glad the direct debit isnt in force for years.
    But the notion that repressive legislation can be enacted by a Government which actually includes the top guy in Amnesty is almost laughable.
    Bad form. Very bad form.

  • pippakin

    I wonder if there is such a thing as a completely independent organisation such as Amnesty.

    One way or another they are paid for by the west and the west does not like it when they are accused of the very thing they despise.

    The British are old hands at the ‘game’ but Amnesty should have been involved from one of their offices in another European country, they also need to update their charter to ensure that all victims are covered and not just their preferred subjects.

  • Thanks for the comments everyone, supportive or otherwise. Luckily, Amnesty International doesn’t claim infallibility, and I’m sure could probably have done lots of things better over the years. I am happy to accept any criticisms of the organisation I work for in that context, but I’d like to respond to a few points.

    The notion that Amnesty ignored the injustice of internment is simply not borne out by the facts. The 1971 Amnesty International Report, which I linked to in an earlier comment, on Allegations of Ill-Treatment Made by Persons Arrested Under The Special Powers Act After 8 August, 1971 focuses on the abuses faced by internees and makes particular reference in its closing paragraphs to the injustice on internment without trial itself:

    “Therefore, as a prima facie case of torture and brutality is clearly substantiated by the sworn statements in Amnesty’s possession, it is thought advisable to pursue this matter, not only to put a stop to any barbarous practices now in use, but to do so in the larger context of helping to extinguish the root cause of these alleged atrocities, the internment without trial of political prisoners in Northern Ireland.” (my emphasis)

    Even if Amnesty did not take up individual cases as prisoners of conscience, it seems odd to interpret our very active stance against internment and internee abuse as “turning a blind eye” to human rights violations by the UK government. Indeed I know Amnesty took enormous criticism from some sections of the UK press and politics when it consistently refused to do just that.

    Christy has repeatedly made accusations of Amnesty accepting UK govt money. Maybe he knows more than I do, but I’ll tell you what I know. Back in 1967, when Amnesty discovered that its founder had accepted some funds from the UK government to support its work, there was a huge internal row which led to his resignation shortly thereafter and, as far as I am aware, the end of the practice. There’s a bit on this in Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International by Jonathan Power. As far as I am aware, that was the end of that chapter, and ever since, Amnesty has had very strict rules governing the acceptance of any funds from governments, corporations, etc.

    Indeed, it is the very fact that the vast majority of Amnesty’s funding comes in small donations from hundreds of thousands of supporters in this country and several million supporters in countries worldwide that gives it the very financial independence which enables it to maintain campaign independence and be critical of any government, corporation, etc. For the interest of those who care about these things, our financial reports are all publicly available and Amnesty is a signatory to the International Non-Governmental Organisations Accountability Charter.

  • “But the notion that repressive legislation can be enacted by a Government which actually includes the top guy in Amnesty is almost laughable.
    Bad form. Very bad form.”

    No idea to what this is is meant to refer.

  • Your right. Justin Moran attempted to tell the story of Amnesty’s difficulty in getting the balance right between two groups –supporters of republicans and everyone else!? Reminds me of the old line that anyone who criticised bad british conduct was playing into the hands of the IRA —so the balance Amnesty struck was not to support any innocent victim (well one token victim) out of everything that was done in NI.

    Justin Moran that is appallingly bad and you should be deeply embarrssed to have tried to justify doing nothing as being balanced.

    Like the Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 cases –Amnesty joined the limelight at the end of their campaigns –here Amnesty is turning up again to claim it had done so much —for those illtreated and falsely imprisoned by the same Government who was financing its London Offices. Please do not try and re-write Amnesty’s appalling record. Amnesty’s role in NI was simple;
    “The torpid languor of one hand washes the drowsy procrastination of the other.”

  • I was a member of Amnesty in the early 80’s and the matter arose during an AGM that was help in the Metropol Hotel, in Cork that year (can’t remember which). A number of people fromaround the country were shocked to hear that Amnesty London was part financed by the UK Gov. I remember some crappy justification was given for ithe need and benefits for taking the money.

    This is not an attack on you and as someone previously pointed out whether or not you should be involved in local affairs? I don’t know. But I do know that American interest contributed significantly to the reports to which you refer – I remember American members of Amnesty in Belfast during Internment.

    Can you honestly look at Amnesty’s history in NI and be baffled as to why only Mr Austin’s case was of particular interest from years of similar or worse? –Even Mr Austin’s good fortune was down to American influence –that is no coincidence Pat.

  • Christy – wasn’t in Cork in early 80s so don’t know what was said there and then – all I can do is point you to the past and present info I have (see above).

    Members of Amnesty’s US Section and and other overseas sections would certainly have been recruited into delegations and fact-finding missions, but we operate as an international body, not one where policy is overly influenced by any particular Section.

    Right, I’m off to have my heart warmed by scenes from Chile…

  • Pat all I was doing was pointing “you to the past and present”. My comments are not any refelction upon you.

    I campaigned on cases from all over the world –of the individual cases I cannot recall that any were worse than those coming out of Castlereagh and other such places in NI.

    I cannot remember her name, a German woman in the London Office (so Im sure she could be indentified), told me that anyone who passed through the Diplock Courts got a fair trial, it was their own fault if they signed false confessions?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Alas Mr Corrigan …Im shocked that you dont know to whom I refer.

  • Christy – don’t doubt your recollection, but Amnesty had a whole range of concerns re Diplock Courts, Castlereagh, etc. Here’s one example documenting this but there’s plenty more.

  • Pat your example supports my point re “the past and present” The example you link to is to a detailed report post HRA 1998 and ceasefires.

  • And I also provided a link to a bunch of other documents dating back to pre-ceasefires. For the record, from CAIN, here’s an incomplete sample (not a comprehensive list) of other Amnesty publications dealing with NI going back to ’71. And with that, I’m going to leave this particular part of the discussion as I fear it has strayed away somewhat from the key substance of the original post.

  • PaddyReilly

    At the start of the 20th century there were 438,000 Protestants in the (soon to be) 26 counties. By 1991 there were 90,000 left. They had gone away you know.

    O I see, torture is necessary in order to keep the Prod population steady. Which is about true: minorities, unless they are native to a particular geographical area, do decline: if there were 438,000 Irish Catholics in England in 1900 we would expect them to have been absorbed by the general populace by now: I doubt that anyone much who identifies as Irish on the 2011 census in England has roots in the UK that go back to 1900.

    Current estimates are that there are 196,711 Protestants in the 26 Counties.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Threads do indeed have a habit of straying from the key substance of your original post.
    By all means leave that particular part of the discussion to those of us who seem to know more about it but dont try and kid us that its other than to save face.