Hooded men: State brutality under the spotlight

By  Daniel Waldron

On the basis of new evidence having come to light, the Irish government has agreed to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to reopen the case of the ‘Hooded Men’. These fourteen men were interned without trial in 1971 and subjected to horrific abuse – termed “deep interrogation” – at Ballykelly army base. None of the men were ever convicted of any crime.

They were subjected to the British army’s ‘five techniques’ for extracting information from prisoners. They were hooded and deprived of sleep, food and water, forced to stand in stress positions for long periods of time and physically beaten. Even more brutal methods of psychological torture were also used. Some were taken hooded into helicopters, made to think they were hundreds of feet in the air, when in fact they were hovering just above the ground and thrown out.

Disgracefully, in 1978, the European Court found the men had been victims of inhuman and degrading treatment but refused to call it torture. This reflects an ongoing policy of the European Union’s elite not to recognise torture within its own borders, such as the abuse of political prisoners in the Basque country today.

This case is a particularly sickening example of the treatment suffered by thousands at the hands of state forces during the course of the Troubles. Northern Ireland was used as a testing ground for oppressive methods which have since been employed by British imperialism and its allies internationally. While the purpose was ostensibly to break the republican paramilitary campaign, it only served to deepen resentment in Catholic working class communities and drive more youth into the ranks of the IRA.

Anything which throws more light onto the barbaric atrocities which took place during the Troubles is to be welcomed. However, a reopening of the trial is unlikely to bring about a full examination of the context in which the ‘Hooded Men’ faced this treatment and the role played by the British state. This would run contrary to the interests of the British and European ruling classes. It is also ironic that the Irish government now poses as a champion of torture victims when numerous US rendition flights have been allowed to pass through Shannon airport, carrying prisoners to countries such as Saudi Arabia where they can be tortured with impunity.

Only a working class movement, which strives to unite workers against sectarian violence and division and in their common interests, can ever really fully expose the role played by the state, the political establishment and all paramilitaries in the horrors of the Troubles.