Today is the anniversary of our 25th highest ranked case of the 50 Human Rights Cases That Transformed Britain. In Ireland v UK the Irish Government brought claims against the UK government, arguing that the five interrogation methods the UK used during the ‘Troubles’ amounted to torture, and violated the human rights of those subjected to this treatment.
Although it’s 39 years old today, a new legal challenge from the Irish Government will ask the European Court of Human Rights to revise its judgment. The decision to reopen the case is based on a review of thousands of documents, the Irish government considers that the UK’s treatment of certain of those it detained during the Troubles amounted to torture.
But first, a bit of history…
The Hooded Men case
Over the course of three decades (1968-1988), in a period known as “the Troubles”, a conflict on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland caused violence all over the UK. Over 3,600 people were killed and thousands more were injured. The situation was especially tense during the first half of the 1970s, when over 3,000 people were arrested, interned and interrogated by British security forces on grounds of being suspected of involvement with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). ‘Internment’ is the imprisonment or detention of individuals without a fair trial or hearing, usually in a time of war or domestic conflict.
A small group of interned people dubbed“high-value” were selected for “deep interrogation”. They were subjected to five techniques causing intense physical and psychological pain and suffering:
- wall-standing: forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a “stress position”, described by those who underwent it as being “spread eagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers”;
- subjection to noise: pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise;
- sleep deprivation: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep;
- food and drink deprivation: subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the centre and pending interrogations.
- hooding: putting a black or navy coloured bag over the detainees’ heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation
None of “the Hooded Men” were ever charged of any crime. Once released, they brought torture charges against the UK.
Did the 5 Techniques amount to torture?
The case went all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights, which had to decide whether the 5 techniques amount to ‘torture’ or ‘degrading and inhuman treatment’ contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In 1978 the Court said that the five techniques, although amounting to ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’ and thus being a human rights violation (and illegal), did not amount to torture. It said that the “deep interrogation” techniques did not deserve the “special stigma” attached to torture.
‘Enhanced interrogation techniques’ have been used ever since. The British Army used the five techniques during the Iraq War in 2003, which led to the death of Baha Mousa. The five techniques were also quoted in the Torture Memos by the George W Bush administration to justify abuses the US perpetrated during the ‘War on Terror’.
So, what is torture?
Nine ‘hooded men’ survivors are bringing a case against the UK government
We’ve written before about why torture is wrong and Why We Shouldn’t Use Evidence Obtained By Torture. But what is the current scope and meaning of torture? The European Court of Human Rights’ thinking on the subject has evolved significantly since the Ireland v UK judgment. Many scholars have argued that if the Court was confronted with the same facts now as it was in the Hooded Men case it would say that the Five Techniques do amount to torture. This idea may well get tested in the near future, as the (surviving) Hooded men have not given up, and are pushing for a revision of the European Court judgment.
For more RightsInfo resources on your right not to be tortured, see: