The Irish government is re-opening the famous ‘hooded men’ case of 1971, accusing the British government of torturing a group of 14 IRA suspects.
The European Court of Human Rights first ruled on the case – one of the most significant legal battles during the Troubles in Northern Ireland – in 1978. It concluded that the treatment of the IRA suspects in British custody was “inhumane and degrading,” but did not constitute torture.
The 14 men, held at a secret location since revealed as the Shackleton Barracks at Ballykelly in Co. Derry, were subjected to “deep interrogation techniques.” These included beatings; sleep, water and food deprivation; prolonged exposure to white noise machines; and wearing head-coverings for days on end, hence the ‘hooded men’ title.
They were also forced to stand in stress positions for long periods of time and thrown from helicopters they had been told were in mid-flight but were actually just a few feet above the ground. None of the men was ever convicted.
The European Court of Human Rights’ 1978 ruling was a landmark decision, and has been used subsequently to justify interrogation methods used by countries around the world, including the Unites States during the waterboarding controversy of the early 2000s.
In June, RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, aired a documentary called “The Torture Files,” which brought to light further details surrounding the case, gleaned from newly uncovered UK government records.
The documentary alleged that the British authorities at the time purposely misled the European Commission on Human Rights by withholding information in the case. It also alleged that the decision to employ the interrogation techniques had been taken at UK Cabinet level.
After the documentary aired, the Irish government came under pressure from the surviving victims and from Amnesty International to ask the European Court of Human rights to revise its ruling.
Of the Irish government’s decision, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said:
“The Government is aware of the suffering of the individual men and of their families, of the significance of this case, and of the weight of these allegations. The archival material which underlay the RTÉ documentary was therefore taken very seriously by the Government and was subject to thorough legal analysis and advice. On the basis of the new material uncovered, it will be contended that the ill-treatment suffered by the Hooded Men should be recognized as torture.
He added that the decision “was not taken lightly.”
“As EU partners, UK and Ireland have worked together to promote human rights in many fora and during the original case, the UK did not contest before the European Court of Human Rights that a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human rights took place. The British and Irish Governments have both worked hard to build stronger, more trusting relations in recent years and I believe that this relationship will now stand to us as we work through the serious matters raised by these cases which have come to light in recent months,” he said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office told the BBC that the UK government has always cooperated with statutory inquiries and called for a better way forward for the victims and survivors of The Troubles.
“These events took place many years ago. This government adopted a Strategy for the Prevention of Torture in 2011 and this remains one of our global human rights priorities,” she said.
"Whatever the outcome of this litigation, there remains a pressing need for an agreed way forward on Northern Ireland's troubled past, which addresses the needs of victims and survivors."
The European Court of Human Rights is located in Strasbourg, France, and could take up to three months to respond to the request from Ireland, the AP reported.