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?
I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.
I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan