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Belfast Telegraph logo
15 December 2014

Torture of teens just as wrong as torture of inmates


In 1971, 14 detainees had been subjected at Ballykelly Army camp to practices that included hooding, white noise, prolonged periods in stress positions, sensory, sleep, food and water deprivation, physical assaults and death threats. Picture posed

We need to talk about torture. It's in the news in Ireland because the Senate Intelligence Committee reports that after the trauma of 9/11, the US administration used a 1978 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights regarding the treatment of detainees in Northern Ireland to determine what "enhanced interrogation techniques" the CIA could be allowed to use.

In 1971, 14 detainees had been subjected at Ballykelly Army camp to practices that included hooding, white noise, prolonged periods in stress positions, sensory, sleep, food and water deprivation, physical assaults and death threats.

Public pressure led to the Irish government taking the first inter-state case under the European Convention of Human Rights and accused the United Kingdom of torturing the 'Hooded Men'. A positive ruling was overturned in 1978 when the European court ruled these techniques were "inhuman and degrading treatment" but not "torture".

However, an RTE documentary alleging that the British misled the court by withholding key evidence about, for instance, the damage to the victims' long-term health, gave the Irish government little option but to reopen the case.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny - who has been eloquent about the horrors visited upon thousands of Irish people by the brutality of the IRA - must have ground his teeth at the unctuous letter which was sent to him by Gerry Adams whom he describes as a liar and a hypocrite.

"The 14 men were denied justice," wrote Adams. "The Irish Government lost a case it should have won. And, because of British lies, the ECHR judgment in 1978 facilitated the use of these torture techniques in other conflict situations, including Iraq and Afghanistan."

The Irish Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan, who is the most reasonable of men, has emphasised that the "stronger" and "more trusting" Anglo-Irish relationship of recent years "will now stand to us as we work through the serious matters" that "have come to light in recent months".

But there's no doubting that it will cause much resentment because so many people will be angry yet again about double standards.

By far the worst tortures in our island were carried out by paramilitaries.

The Shankill Butchers take pride of place for sheer cruelty, but hundreds of loyalist and republican paramilitaries shot and beat with iron bars, hammers and baseball bats thousands of people whose behaviour annoyed them.

Just to take the under-18s, as shown in Liam Kennedy's recent report They Shoot Children, Don't They?, between 1990 and 2013, 94 children were shot and 166 badly beaten by loyalist paramilitaries and 73 shot and 178 beaten by their republican equivalents.

Adams's response to that is merely to regret the necessity for the "rough justice" necessary to fill the "police vacuum".

To a greater or lesser extent, like Adams, we all have a propensity to search for excuses for the bad actions of those we instinctively support.

Was the British Army not simply trying to save innocent people from suspected terrorists?

Wasn't the gardai's notorious heavy gang not needed to deal with dangerous republican subversives who wouldn't confess without a bit of encouragement from fists and boots?

And weren't rogue B-Specials just patriots?

And so on and so on.

Look, we have the good fortune in the West to live in countries that aspire to high moral values and the rule of law. The downside of that is seeing absolute "b*****ds", if I may use another Adams word, get away literally with murder while they lecture decent people about their alleged misdeeds.

So be it. We have to show the courage to live up to our principles.

Torture - the inflicting of severe pain on someone as a punishment, an inducement to do or say something or just for the hell of it - is simply wrong and to endorse or excuse it demeans us and our society.

We could try to behave like Paddy Joe McClean from west Tyrone. Anti-sectarian and anti-violence, he endured eight days of torture in Ballykelly.

Yet he has managed to live his life without anger, has been an activist for civil rights for everyone and supports candidates from any tradition who want to break the tribal mould.

He is a good man who puts the torturers, the haters, the condoners and hypocrites to shame.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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