Kevin Hannaway, one of the Hooded Men, appears in the BBC documentary

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Britain was faced with a rebellion in Catholic areas of the north of Ireland against systematic discrimination state and violent repression by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

In response, the British army resorted to “counter-insurgency” methods, including internment without trial, torture, the use of ­loyalist murder gangs and outright murder. It had perfected these during anti‑colonial revolts in Kenya, Malaya, Aden and other parts of the British empire,

The Hooded Men—Britain’s Torture Playbook highlights the torture against 14 men, all of them lifted from Catholic areas, during the introduction of internment in August 1971.

Internment meant dawn raids on the homes of suspected republican activists and their imprisonment without any reference to any court, merely on the word of a police officer. A total of 342 people were interned in August 1971, most of them with little or no active involvement in the IRA. Some were to spend up to four years behind bars.

The 14 who were singled out for torture and interrogation were typical—a primary school teacher, a dental assistant and a car mechanic. They knew little or nothing about the IRA.

They were bundled into a helicopter and taken to an army base on the north coast near Ballykelly. There they were subjected to nine days of extreme torture, using what became known as the “five techniques”.

They were hooded, made to stand in a stress position with their hands against a wall for hours on end, blasted with white noise, deprived of sleep, and deprived of food and drink. They were also taken into helicopters and made to believe that they were hundreds of feet off the ground. Then they were pushed out, only to find that they were a few feet off the ground.

All of them were deeply scarred mentally by the experience. What is chilling about the programme are the interviews with army generals and senior members of the British government, who defend the use of such methods until this day.

Among those interviewed is the notorious General Mike Jackson, who rose to become the most senior general in the British Army. He was then a captain in the Parachute Regiment that carried out the killing of 11 unarmed civilians in West Belfast during rioting against internment in August 1971.

He and the same Parachute Regiment would go on to carry out the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry six months later.

Jackson defends the use of hooding. He hides behind an earlier ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that fell short of describing it as torture and instead called it “cruel and inhumane treatment”.

And, under his command, the British army used the same ­techniques in Iraq and Afghanistan. The inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, killed by British soldiers in Iraq in 2003, found he had been subjected to the same five techniques.

The programme reveals that Ballykelly was a specially constructed torture centre—a fact concealed from the British and European Courts when the case was brought before them in the 1970s. As with Bloody Sunday, this continues the British state’s pattern of cover-up when there is any attempt to expose its war crimes.

In a review of the case of the Hooded Men by the Supreme Court in 2021, the judges finally ruled that they had indeed been tortured. It said police had been wrong to stop investigating the case in 2014.

Still, 14 months later, the British government has not offered an apology or even announced a new inquiry. Instead, and in response to cases of collusion with death squads, cover-ups and state killings, the Tories want to introduce legislation to give a blanket amnesty to all British soldiers.

The latest is a Troubles Legacy Bill that would offer immunity from prosecution in return for any testimony at a tribunal. Lawyers for the Hooded Men have complained that the police have delayed reopening the case, hoping that the new amnesty law will eventually be passed.   

A new mural in Derry to mark the 51st anniversary of Bloody Sunday labelled Jackson a war criminal. He epitomises the lengths that the British state will go to in protecting its interests.

Instead of enjoying a cosy retirement, he should be facing trial and a long prison sentence.

The Hooded Men: Britain’s Torture Playbook is available to watch on BBC iPlayer

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