The Hooded Men: torture, lies and a quest for justice

Ten of the 'Hooded Men'
Ten of the 'Hooded Men' © Amnesty International

Who are the ‘Hooded Men’?

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the UK government arrested hundreds of men as part of “Operation Demetrius” in the summer of 1971.

342 people were interned (imprisoned without trial) as part of the Operation.

14 men were chosen for 'special treatment' and were taken to a secret interrogation centre. The men were forced to wear hoods and thrown to the ground from low-flying helicopters while hooded. These 14 men became commonly known as the 'Hooded Men'.

On top of brutal beatings and death threats, the men were then subjected to what would become known as the five techniques, authorised at a high level:

  1. Hooding
  2. Stress positions
  3. White noise
  4. Sleep deprivation
  5. Deprivation of food and water

None of the 14 men were ever convicted of any criminal offence.

Our investigation

When allegations of this abuse first arose, we sent a research mission to investigate – our first on UK soil.

What we discovered was shocking. The men were severely beaten, and when they collapsed, the beatings would start again. Some were still black and blue with bruises. Some felt they were on the brink of insanity – one alleged he tried to kill himself by banging his head against some metal piping in his cell.

Our findings were clear: this was a case of brutality and torture by the British state.

The UK: guilty of torture?

The Irish government made history by taking the UK government to the European Court of Human Rights the first time a state ever took a case against another state.

The UK denied torture, but the European Commission on Human Rights disagreed, ruling that the UK had tortured the men in 1976.

But this still wasn’t the end of the Hooded Men’s quest for justice.

The UK government appealed and won - it was found that the techniques amounted to 'inhuman and degrading treatment' but not torture.

Setting the standards for the CIA

The ruling had a chilling consequence. Since being handed down in 1978, a number of countries, including Israel and the USA, have relied on the ruling to justify an aggressive interpretation of the term torture.

The CIA used the five techniques in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

In 2014, a damning report exposed the US government’s use of torture in secret CIA-run prisons across the world.

Fresh evidence against the UK government

In a shocking twist to the case, new information recently came to light in a television documentary, The Torture Files, by Irish broadcaster RTÉ in 2014.

Files were discovered in the UK state archives suggesting that the UK misled the Court in 1978.

The documents show that they knew the torture techniques had long-term health impacts on the victims, and had been authorised at the very highest levels of UK government.

In 2014, on the back of Judicial Review proceedings initiated by the Hooded Men, the Irish Government requested the Court revise that judgement to a finding of torture based on the new information.

Unfortunately the court refused, and the existing ruling still stands. The Hooded Men have sought to petition the Irish government to appeal the ruling to the Grand Chamber.

Our latest appeal

The Hooded Men have been denied justice for too long. In light of the failure to investigate the new claims, the men again took a Judicial Review in the High Court in Belfast on 18 April 2018.

In late 2017, the High Court ruled that the failure by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to investigate the allegations of torture was unlawful and should be quashed. The PSNI sought to appeal this decision to the Court of Appeal.

The Belfast Court of Appeal will consider whether to progress an investigation - we will be supporting the men’s case and gave evidence in court. We’ve backed the men’s campaign for decades and we won’t stop until we see justice.

Follow @AmnestyNI, @AmnestyUK@GTeggart on Twitter for the latest updates on the case.