In 1971 myself and thirteen other Irishmen were tortured in Ballykelly British Army base. Four of our number lost their lives as a result of what was done to us, while those of us who did survive struggled in silence for many years, The physical and psychological trauma that we endured is shared by the thousands of other who were subjected to severe mistreatment by the British State in the decades since.
It is only in recent years that the case of our small number, who became known at the “hooded men” was brought to wider public attention. This was in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Jim McIlmurray, the Rev. Monsignor Murray, solicitors Darragh Mackin and Peter Corrigan, and also many others who encouraged and supported us.
When we agreed as a collective to bring our case before the European Court of Human Right each of us gave our word that despite our differing political views today, and to maintain the unity of the hooded men, we would keep our principled campaign against the use of torture outside of the realm of modern day politics.
Unfortunately it has become clear that a small number of us have taken it upon themselves to directly involve Sinn Féin with our campaign for justice, so as to associate that political party with the cause of the hooded men. This unfortunate decision has left me with no choice but to make public the fact that this small number of hooded men do not speak for me; they speak only for themselves. Furthermore, the Sinn Féin party never has and never will speak on my behalf.
MENTION any of the following: Palace Barracks, Castlereagh, Gough Barracks, Strand Road, and people of a certain age will pause momentarily as they rustle the recesses of their mind and disturb settled memories.
For some, particularly former political prisoners, this will send shudders down their spine as a time, long past, and memories suppressed are brought to life. For those who did not grace these places and for those who did they are places of notoriety – well known, feared places of detention. Life was never the same again for the thousands of people coerced and interrogated there.
But memory is not the only repository of this infamy. You will find these places in the annals of Amnesty International, the European Court of Human Rights and eminent human rights organisations worldwide. You will find mention of them in books, in plays, in poems, like Bobby Sands’ The Crime of Castlereagh. Behind these barrack walls, torture was practised on defenceless people.
For those so treated there is no recompense. They carry the scars and the trauma. And they do so in the knowledge that the world knows of Britain’s legacy of brutality. Mention Ballykelly and the likely response, if known, is of a small village in a scenic setting close to Lough Doyle and Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Way. Yet Ballykelly held a closely guarded secret, for nearly 50 years, where events which happened there in the late months of 1971 reverberated around the world then in more recent times.
Ballykelly was at the centre of a top-secret clandestine enterprise that involved Ted Heath, then Britain’s prime minister, the commanding officers of the British army in Britain and in the north, Brian Faulkner, Ulster Unionist prime minister and the Joint Intelligence Committee – answerable to the British cabinet. You might think the top-secret enterprise was Operation Demetrius – internment – but it was not.
This dastardly operation did not lend itself to the much-loved colourful military euphemisms of British generals. It had no name. But to those on the receiving end it was easily named – torture. Ballykelly was the carefully chosen location for an experiment which would test the resolve and human endurance of 14 men, randomly selected, to be arrested and interned.
From this point onwards, these men would be known as ‘The Hooded Men’ -so called because throughout their prolonged days and nights of interrogation they were forced to wear a hood over their heads. The late journalist and author John McGuffin wrote a book, The Guinea Pigs, about their harrowing experiences. And human guinea pigs accurately sums up how these men were viewed by those who experimented on their minds and bodies in the torture chamber of Ballykelly and those in
Two separate and damning judgements by the European Commission and the Court of Human Rights found the British government guilty of ‘torture’ which was then finessed as ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’. But both verdicts of shame.
government and military who approved. One of these Hooded Men, Liam Shannon, described to me last week what the men endured: “It was surreal. Time and life lost all meaning. Life’s normal routine disappeared into a blur of nothingness. Bizarre hallucinations created a frightening, fantasy world where nothing made sense, including life itself.”
In the midst of this maelstrom of disorientation the men were exposed to a high-pitched white noise piercing every pore of their bodies and disassembling their nervous system; they were starved of food and water; denied use of the toilet, forced to stand spread-eagled against a wall, naked but for a loose boiler suit; exhausted and in despair. Their captors routinely and savagely beat them and carried out mock executions. Two separate and damning judgements by the European Commission and the Court of Human Rights found the British government guilty of ‘torture’ which then finessed as ‘inhumane and degrading treatment’. But both are verdicts of shame.
The US and Israeli governments used latter verdict to excuse the torture of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Guantanamo Bay and in Abu Ghraib. The truth about Ballykelly is now known. The truth about the British government’s direct involvement is now known. Both as a result of the accidental discovery of official documents by researchers. The Irish government and Seanad are supporting the Hooded Men’s justice campaign which will soon find itself in a Belfast courtroom. What went on in now redundant torture chamber of Ballykelly has again come back to haunt the British as the ‘Hooded Men’ seek the names of their torturers. Fifty years later, torturers are on notice.
With many thanks to: Jim Gibney and The Irish News October 10th 2018, for the original story.
Frances Black has become the latest figure to call for the release of Derry republican, Tony Taylor, who has been in Maghaberry since his licence was revoked by erstwhile Secretary of State for the North, Theresa Villiers, in March 2016.
The Dublin singer-songwriter whose people are from Rathlin Island, said: “In the past number of years some people have been marginalised and imprisoned without charge for years.
“The case of Tony Taylor comes to mind. He is incarcerated in Maghaberry Prison.
“His wife [Lorraine] outlined his awful living conditions when she presented to the Joint [Oireachtas] Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
“The mistreatment of prisoners has long been a cause of unrest and must not become a threat to the peace process. All politicians should make their voices heard in calling for his release as no evidence has been produced to justify his detention.”
The singer, who famously contributed to the seminal folk record, ‘A Woman’s Heart’, in 1992, made the comments during a debate in the Seanad, where she is a senator on the Industrial and Commercial Panel. During the same debate she called for Irish unity.
“The abandonment of the Six Counties in 1922 has left a deep scar in the Irish psyche. I believe that it has a parallel with the guilt felt by parents who abandon a child. The Minister may not like me saying it but that is how I feel.
“I also believe that the main southern parties have an obligation to organise throughout the Thirty-two Counties and advance their stated objective of the reunification of Ireland.”
With many thanks to the: Derry Journal for the original story
Just before dawn, my mother, Maura Meehan, 30, and her sister dorothy maguire,19,had tried to warn neighbours of the incursursion and military raid by British army regiments,namely,the royal greenjackets and the queens own green Howard’s,armed only with a foghorn, they cruised the streets of Belfast trying to protect the catholic community against what turned out to be the dawn of internment ,where no due process was afforded,nor legal representation allowed,innocents were sent to concentration camps under the prevention of terrorism act,put in place by British government to achieve their means without legal repercussions.
The car in which they were passengers, swerved to avoid hitting a military vehicle , veered off cape st,coming to a full stop against a gable end brick wall at Omar st,
The nightmare had only begun,the army opened fire on the car with extreme prejudice and executed my mother and aunt on the spot,to add insult to injury,they refused to let an ambulance try to save their lives and also a priest, there to administer the last rites and sacrament, claiming there were armed terrorists in the car and it was booby trapped.
The lies that followed are part of the cover up that continues to this day,amnesty international and the European court of human rights have both ruled against England’s refusal to publicize there findings as evidence proves wrongdoing on their part, the historical enquiries team ( now dismantled) said,”it’s not in the publics need to know”,not only is this unadulterated murder, it’s a war crime.