The sad tale of tolerating torture that hangs over us today

Ian Cobain a  senior reporter on the Guardian is on Radio 4’s Start the Week ( listen on  BBCiPlayer or RadioPlayer after 10 a.m. or the repeat at 2100 live tonight).  I strongly recommend a listen. The author of Cruel Britannia: a secret history of British torture, he gives a calm and convincing account of how torture techniques were introduced in the colonies after WW2 and applied at the beginning of internment in Northern Ireland in 1971. . Cobain is also following collusion cases like Loughinisland

So far , so far not news. But two points are very striking. One that Cobain is discussing the story matter of factly and without challenge on air with David Anderson QC the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. Anderson doesn’t demur for a second but gives assurances that nothing of the sort goes on these days in the Antrim interrogation centre.. Anderson also refers to  “whole  teams “ looking at historic cases “ despite the records in some cases not being what they should be”  Anderson also “very much hopes” that the Gibson inquiry into MI5 and MI6 collusion in torture and rendition  after 9/11 will be resumed.

There is some understanding, though not approval of how the authorities tolerated extreme measures in desperation  at the state of chaos in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s.

But the story of torture is not buried in 1970s history. The temptation to believe  that” torture works” persisted into the present century.  For Cobain explains that while the Heath government  ordered an end to  “ill treatment” techniques when the Irish government brought  the case against the British government  before the ECHR, the orders were not implemented and were applied in Iraq.

The broad tale is yet another argument for   the MoD and security services to ease their disclosure restrictions and for the British government to fess up about the use of such techniques and their acquiesence in rendition.  But this is highly unlikely for as long as the  9/11 and 7/7 jihad agenda exists.

Northern Ireland will have to wait a long time for disclosure, it seems , unless the de Silva inquiry finds a way.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London