Evidence of Waterboarding in Belfast

01 February 2017

PM May challenged to distance herself from torture supporting Trump

In the same week that the British government condemned the proposed use of torture by Donald Trump, documents have established that soldiers of the Parachute Regiment of the British Army and members of RUC Special Branch used “water-boarding” in Northern Ireland against a number of people in Belfast.

Documentary evidence has been discovered in four cases all of which took place in 1972. Further cases of waterboarding have been alleged but so far without supporting documentation.  The PFC believes that it is highly unlikely that these were the only four cases.

The torture, which has been concealed from the public for forty years, took place in various locations.  One 17-year-old victim was tortured in a British Army requisitioned primary school building.

The declassified documents uncovered by PFC (including Justice for the Forgotten)  include minutes of a meeting between British PM Edward Heath.  Lynch heard of the torture and alerted the then British prime minister (Edward Heath). 

There can, therefore, be no doubt that the torture being inflicted was known of at the highest political levels in London.

Although Prime Minister Edward Heath was aware of the practice of torture there is no evidence of any investigations, any ministerial follow-up, any attempt to interview the victims or any repercussions for the torturers.

In one case, senior legal counsel to the Ministry of Defence advised the British government to make an out of court compensation payment to avoid the use of torture being exposed.

Alarmingly this case also included allegations that electric shocks were administered under the direction of Intelligence Officers who were directing the interrogations. (PFC has declassified documents supporting allegations of electric shocks being administered in other cases. The names of individual Special Branch officers who were present is also known.)  

There is an absolute prohibition on the use of torture in international law1, no matter what the circumstances.  It is banned.

The PFC has presented its evidence to the public through Channel 4 News and the Irish Times. We now await a response from the British government.

A country which condones torture is diminshed in the eyes of the world. A government which covers up evidence of torture is diminished in the eyes of its own citizens.

Just as the images of Abu Ghraib fed the insurgency in Iraq so too did the evidence of torture and ill treatment in interrogation centres here inflame the escalating conflict on the streets of the North.

People knew what was happening to their neighbours, within their families. Trumps recent  denial that waterboarding is actually torture will have awakened painful memories on this side of the Irish sea.

Note: “Water-boarding” involves temporarily filling a victim’s nose, sinuses, mouth and throat with water so that he/she has the sensation of drowning. There have been previous credible allegations of waterboarding in the north (Liam Holden and Feilim O’hAdhmaill) but this is believed to be the first time that documents have been uncovered to support the allegation.

  • 1. https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/faq/torture-law-2011-06-24.htm