‘The Guineapigs’ by John McGuffin (1974, 1981)

Chapter 9
Down on the Killing Floor

After the publication of the Parker Report in March 1972, much publicity was given to the government statement that the use of hooding, the noise machine and the SD process would be 'discontinued', less, much less, publicity was given to Mr. Heath's statement at the same time that although the hooding might not be used, he must 'make it plain that interrogation in depth will continue.'
     This was not one of Heath's false pledges. 'Interrogation in depth', including many of the SD techniques, has continued. (So indeed has hooding, although it has only been on a very limited scale and not used apparently in conjunction with the allied techniques.) For the truth is that hooding and the 'white noise' are unnecessary. They represent 'overkill'. They were useful in an experiment. They were cheap – in the House of Commons it was admitted that the 'white noise' machine cost less than £1 to manufacture – and could be used even by untrained members of the RUC, not skilled in the subtleties of sophisticated interrogation. After the staff in Palace barracks had, by and large, discontinued the use of these more obvious trappings they resorted to an even more simple technique, which, nonetheless, still involved SD. From November 1971 they began to use, in a newly built compound of four huts, special sound-proof cubicles, with perforated acoustic tiles. Men were made to sit in a fixed position six inches from the wall and stare monotonously at the perforated tiles for anything up to thirty-six hours.[1] 'Suspects' were not allowed to move their heads one way or another, on pain of a beating, and were often made monotonously to count the number of dots on the white tiles in the small cubicles. The effect of this is to induce hallucinations, both auditory and visual, after a few hours. Masking noise was often provided as an accompaniment as well as the shouts and moans of people being beaten near by. This is clearly a technique involving sensory deprivation, and the hallucinations were often severe.
     Other interrogation methods are discussed elsewhere in the chapter, but at this point it is worth recording that after the concentrated SD experiments had been stopped, the armed services were still prepared to look for 'guineapigs', this time amongst their own personnel. On 11 April 1973 The Times reported that 'a number of naval officers may find themselves spending their weekend being interrogated like one-time IRA suspects in an exercise beginning on Dartmoor tomorrow. Several hundred will be taking part in the exercise against Royal Marines. Those who are captured will be subjected to interrogation techniques they might be expected to come up against...'

Nor was Britain alone in subjecting her own troops to 'ill-treatment' or torture. In November 1971 during a NATO exercise in eastern Belgium involving Belgian, Dutch, British and American troops a number of 'captured' Belgian troops were tortured for two days in a barn. They were kicked in the face, subjected to electric-shock treatment and left hanging from the rafters of the barn in sub-zero temperatures. Subsequently a year later (20 November 1972) six Belgian commandos were found guilty of torture at a Liege court and given suspended sentences, ranging from sixteen days to a whole five months. The commandos in one statement claimed that special British forces had helped instruct them.[2]
     The West Germans in particular have been paying especial attention to Sensory Deprivation. Despite many protests and a complaint to the European Commission of Human Rights at Strasbourg they have continued to build special 'silence wings' where all sights, sounds, and signs of the outside world are excluded by baffles and shutters over the cell windows. Several members of the Baader-Meinhof group have been held in these special wings, where the only sound is that of one's own heartbeat. One girl, Monika Berberich, has been held for three years in solitary without even being sentenced. Defense lawyers are claiming that the German authorities are using solitary confinement and SD techniques to break alleged members of anarchist groups and that these techniques have been learned from the British experiments in Ulster.[3]

From the introduction of internment in August 1971 allegations of torture and brutality by the Army and police began to mount. Torture is an emotive subject. As Amnesty International can testify, the majority of people prefer to ignore it, finding it 'distasteful' or too 'upsetting'. Moreover, the British public, while quite prepared to accept grotesque and horrific accounts of torture carried out upon political opponents of the totalitarian regimes in Greece, Brazil, Russia, South Vietnam, Turkey, etc., by the authorities, are much more reluctant to credit that their own government could ever be party to such a thing. After all, is this not a free democratic country, and are not our soldiers and policemen not only wonderful, but the envy of all other nations? Unfortunately, the answer is 'No!' For too long has the public deluded itself with these comfortable myths, which the media has felt obliged to spread.
     This is not to say that the British Army and the RUC Special Branch are full of vicious thugs, sadists and torturers. Such a claim would be nonsense. Nonetheless, the 'few bad apples' excuse put forward by apologists when incontrovertible evidence of torture is produced is equally far from the truth, which is, that the British Army and the security forces, like any other army in the world, is conditioned and trained to institutionalized violence.
     Since 1971 there have been over 250 individual cases alleging torture during interrogation and many of these have been documented and supported by such widely disparate organizations as Amnesty International and the International League of Rights for Minorities (both of which organizations have consultative status with many international bodies), the National Council for Civil Liberties, the Association for Legal Justice and the Campaign for Social Justice. Moreover, several reputable newspapers, such as the Guardian, The Times, the Observer and in particular the Sunday Times have all documented, with medical evidence, clear cases of torture. So too has the Granada TV programme 'World in Action'.
     Some of these allegations may be false. Some are conclusively not, according to the medical evidence. Moreover, it is worth remembering that this figure of 250 does not take into account what the police would call 'the dark figure', i.e., those crimes about which no one complains. The reason for the existence of 'the dark figure' is simple. Hard experience has taught the working-class people of the cities and towns that not only does it do no good to complain about Army brutality or torture but it may be positively dangerous, since one is liable to be continually harassed by the soldiers or police against whom the allegations have been made.[4]

There are many techniques which have been used by the Army and the RUC interrogators since 1971 and nearly all of them involve some facet of the SD treatment, such as wall-standing, lack of sleep, restricted diet, etc. but since the full-scale experiments in August and October 1971 were concluded, in general more traditional methods have been used. The most common are simple beatings, generally administered with fist and boot, though weapons or blunt instruments have sometimes been used. Particularly common abuses include twisting of arms and legs, hitting or squeezing genital organs, kicking of shins and legs and blows to the stomach, chest and kidneys while in the search position.
     Fathers Faul and Murray have listed the 'Twenty-five Principal Methods of Torture used in Holywood and Girdwood Barracks':

  1.  Placing a man in 'search position', single finger of each hand to the wall, legs well apart and well back, on the toes, knees bent, for prolonged periods;
  2.  heavy punching to the pit of the stomach to man in 'search position';
  3.  kicking the legs from under a man in the 'search position' so that he falls to the ground, banging his head on the wall, radiator or ground;
  4.  beating with batons on the kidneys and on the privates in 'search position';
  5.  kicking between the legs while in the 'search position'. This is very popular among the RUC officers and they often do it for periods of half an hour or an hour;
  6.  putting a man in 'search position' over a very powerful electric fire or radiator;
  7.  stretching a man over benches with two electric fires underneath and kicking him in the stomach;
  8.  rabbit-punching to the back of the neck while in 'search position';
  9.  banging the head against the wall;
10.  beating the head with a baton in crescendo fashion;
11.  slapping the ears and face with open hand;
12.  twisting the arms behind the back and twisting fingers;
13.  prodding the stomach with straight fingers;
14.  chopping blows to the ribs from behind with simultaneous blows to the stomach;
15.  hand squeezing of the testicles;
16.  insertion of instruments in the anal passage;
17.  kicking on the knees and shins;
18.  tossing the prisoners from one officer to another and punching him while in the air;
19.  injections;
20.  electric cattle prod;
21.  electric shocks given by use of a machine;
22.  burning with matches and candles;
23.  deprivation of sleep;
24.  urinating on prisoners;
25.  psychological tortures:
    (a) Russian roulette
    (b) firing blanks
    (c) beating men in darkness
    (d) blindfolding
    (e) assailants using stocking masks
    (f) wearing surgical dress
    (g) staring at white perforated wall in small cubicle
    (h) use of amphetamine drugs
    (i) prisoners are threatened; threats to their families, bribes offered, false confessions are used.[5]

These allegations are backed up in many cases by independent medical evidence. Palace barracks, Holywood and Girdwood barracks, Belfast, were the main 'interrogation centres' but torture and brutality were also carried out at Ballykelly RAF-Army barracks, Gough barracks in Armagh, a police centre in Newry, and in Belfast, at Black Mountain military barracks and in the Grand Central Hotel, now an Army billet and screening centre. Most of the alleged tortures or brutalities are fairly standard – though no less bestial for that; but there are several of interest which appear to have been used for short periods, on an experimental basis. and it is worth briefly examining some of these.

Firstly, electric-shock torture. Much used by interrogators in Brazil, Greece, South Africa and by the French in Algeria, this seems to have played only a very marginal role in Northern Ireland. Many interrogators, according to Amnesty International, use this method since it leaves very few marks and therefore is hard to prove, but in Northern Ireland there are few instances of its use. Nonetheless, it has been used, mainly in the period November 1971 to February 1972. In particular, in the third week of January 1972, five men claimed that they had been given electric shocks by men disguised as doctors, complete with green masks and surgical robes. The tortures all occurred within two weeks and were all alleged to have taken place at Palace barracks. After the by then routine beatings the men – who were unknown to each other – were questioned and then threatened with 'the mad doctor'. When they still didn't give the desired answers to the questions they were taken into another room. Two men with Belfast accents came in and blindfolded them. They then had a wet bandage tied round their wrists and forearms and were subjected to electric shocks for up to an hour; by then, the five of them were prepared to 'confess' to anything. Subsequently these men were seen by Surgeon Lane of the Mater Hospital, an expert on electrical medical therapy. Though at first sceptical, he found their stories convincing and detailed, and concluded that they were telling the truth.
     A storm of protest broke out and after representations by Cardinal Conway and the Dublin Foreign Ministry, Whitehall reluctantly had to take notice. The men's solicitors complained to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who dismissed the allegations as 'propaganda' until the government's lawyers in Ulster reported that in fact the allegations were true. The matter was hushed up. One man was interned, one was jailed for trying to escape and the Crown entered a nolle prosequi at the trial of the other three men, who were released. When Whitehall finally did realize that the allegations were true they claimed that 'a small group of Belfast SB men were experimenting with their own ideas and without approval from on high'. Heath personally ordered that there must be no repetition of the electric-shock treatment.[6]
     Whenever incontrovertible medical evidence of torture was presented, the Whitelaw administration acted in accordance with traditional British policy. First, they denied the claims and dismissed them as 'propaganda'. When this did not suffice they would privately admit to 'respectable leaders of the community', like Cardinal Conway or the SDLP politicians, that the atrocity had occurred, but blame it on 'a few bad apples'. Promises would be made to deal with these men, but in fact none were dismissed and only two were ever charged. Whitelaw would then 'explain' to the complainants that it was 'impossible to control over-enthusiastic troops at ground level' all the time and that therefore 'occasional excesses' must be expected. This of course was nonsense, as the government itself proved when they effectively ordered the suspension of torture from May 1972 until Operation Motorman on 31 July 1972. During this period, when the government was seeking a ceasefire and an agreement with the Provisional IRA, no instances of torture were reported. Following the breakdown of the abortive truce and the invasion of the 'no-go' areas after Operation Motorman, the restrictions on torture were lifted, and according to the NCCL 'the wall of official silence was re-erected'.

But electric-shock treatment was not the only 'experiment' undertaken by zealous interrogators, intent on brushing up their techniques. The ALJ report isolated cases of the Falanga (beatings of the soles of the feet with heavy rods) being used, and also the water torture. The latter appears to have been used only during the months of October and November 1972 at the Black Mountain Army post and at the Grand Central Hotel. Two of the victims, Liam Holden and William Parker, told how they had had water poured slowly through a towel over their faces until they felt themselves suffocating. This is of course a well-known torture used in particular by the French in Algeria and the present military regime in Greece. After a lengthy treatment of this kind, Holden 'confessed' to shooting a soldier in Ballymurphy. In most cases where the sole evidence against a man has been his own alleged 'confession', the judges in Northern Ireland have thrown the cases out of court and the Special Branch have been content to arrest the acquitted man as he tries to leave the court and send him to the detention camp at Long Kesh. In Holden's case, however, he was convicted as a result of his 'confession' and sentenced to death. He was reprieved following the reprieve of UDA man Albert Browne, who had been convicted of shooting a policeman.

The other main experiment in the interrogation process involved drugs. Some thirty cases involving alleged administration of drugs are listed by Fathers Faul and Murray and the ALJ, but in some of these cases the information is scanty. Three in particular, however, are well documented – indeed the cases are due to be heard at Strasbourg – and occured at roughly the same time. The first concerned Francis McBride of Rasharkin who was arrested near his home on 13 April 1972 and taken to Ballymoney police station. There he alleges that after being beaten – his doctor has testified to the physical marks left on him – he was given a cup of tea. Soon after, he felt dizzy and began to hallucinate. He was denied anything else to eat or drink. No proof exists that McBride actually was drugged, but the symptoms of which he complained fit in very closely with those experienced by two Newry men seventeen days later. On 30 April 1972 Tony Keely and Tom Kearns were both arrested on the road out of Newry and taken to the local RUC barracks. Both men knew each other, but neither had any connection with McBride. After receiving a beating – Dr. McAteer of Newry subsequently confirmed that the marks on Keely conclusively pointed to 'a very brutal assault' – they were separated, interrogated, and each given a cup of tea. Keely claims that soon after this he 'felt dizzy, couldn't urinate, experienced extreme dryness of the mouth, and mental disorientation', all symptoms compatible with an overdose of amphetamines. Kearns had similar symptoms, as well as shivering fits and hallucinations, for almost twenty-four hours. At this juncture the local police seem to have acted foolishly – from their point of view – for they released Kearns after the twenty-four hours was up. Still confused and bewildered, he went to the doctor. Dr. McAteer was puzzled by his symptoms and as a precaution took a urine sample. which he had analysed at the City Hospital in Belfast. There it was discovered that when tested the specimen proved positive for amphetamine traces. The exact drug used has not been established – it could be any one of a wide variety, but clearly Kearns and Keely had been drugged. These three drugs cases have now been submitted to the international court at Strasbourg. Allegations that several men were given LSD have, however, proved impossible to verify.
     It would seem likely that the use of drugs, and amphetamines in particular, were the idea of a small group of RUC men of investigative bent, rather than part of a carefully conceived experiment, for if the latter were the case, the opportunities clearly existed for much more concentrated and scientific tests, using much more sophisticated drugs, provided by the Drug Squad, than those obtainable by local Branch men themselves. And this does not appear to have occurred. Moreover, the drugs used clearly had unpredictable results. Whether they or the beatings used were responsible for the three men's 'confessions' is impossible to say. Perhaps the policemen involved were content with the sentences passed on the three men on the basis of their 'confessions', perhaps not.[7] At any rate they appear for the time being to have discontinued the process.

Torture and experimentation in interrogation techniques, although the prime concern of this book, are by no means the only field in which the British Army has used the Northern Ireland situation to modernize its tactics during the past four years. Firstly, there is overall strategy. Britain's foremost 'counter-terrorist strategist from the fifties has been Sir Robert Thompson, who, as previously mentioned, had been largely credited for British successes against the Communists in Malaya. As recently as 1972 he was publishing books on how to fight Communist Revolution.[8] He has been primarily concerned with rural guerrilla warefare, however, and moreover, since the defeat of American policies in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, his reputation may have declined. As the last sixties saw the rise of formidable urban guerrilla movements such as the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the IRA in Ireland and the short-lived but politically embarrassing Weathermen in the United States, more and more government and military experts have been concentrating on the most effective ways and means for a government to control those sections of its people who are not prepared to accept central government control, be it 'Communist' or 'democratic'. While would-be revolutionaries could read a wide spectrum of works from Lenin, Trotsky, Bakunin, Guevara, Mao, Giap, Fanon, Marighella and Grivas on the theory of revolution to an equally wide range of 'do-it-yourself' manuals on arms and explosives, from where was the dedicated British Army office to get his guidance? Certainly he could read the publications of American government officials and military 'experts', but what about more local works? Books like Protest and the Urban Guerrilla by Major-General Clutterbuck[9] or Subversion by Ian Greig of the Monday Club and South Vietnamese Embassy[10] would not be of any use to them, obsessed as they were with 'international anarchist and Communist conspiracy' and sprinkled with gross inaccuracies. Clearly a serving, experienced military man was needed. Enter Frank Kitson.

A successful Army career in Kenya (where he 'blacked up' and went out in the bush to form 'pseudo-gangs' of informers and deserters to hunt down the Mau Mau), in Malaya, in Cyprus and in Muscat and Oman led Kitson in 1969 to Oxford University where he received a grant to write his idea of the definitive British officer's textbook – Low Intensity Operations.[11] The authorities seem to have been pleased with the book. Kitson was sent to Northern Ireland in the spring of 1970 and although only a Brigadier he was for two years, until April 1972, the Army commander in Belfast. Thus, although the youngest man in the Army to hold a Commander's post, he was given the toughest task, and his two years there were to see many 'innovations' in the British Army.
     Kitson's book was acclaimed in military circles on its publication in 1971. The lay reader, if he could get his hands on the book (it cost £4), might have been less enthusiastic. What emerges after ploughing through the book is a picture of an ambitious career officer, itching to get to grips with what he envisages as 'the enemy' but frustrated by the old-fashioned traditions and bureaucracies of the Army. Kitson virtually admits to seeing Northern Ireland as a testing ground. The real trouble, he tells us, will come in Europe in the second half of this decade. He seems not to have heard of Suez, or recall British debacles in Cyprus and Aden, for he still has the outmoded and slightly ridiculous idea of Britain as one of the 'world's policemen: 'We still have a peacekeeping role all over the world,' he proclaims.
     As to the threat of internal subversion, be it from the IRA or the Angry Brigade, in 1969 he plainly felt that the Army was totally unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with these challenges. In order to be able to handle the potential situations envisioned by Kitson, they would have to move into a number of fields which the average British citizen might not hitherto have imagined as part of a 'peace-time' Army's role, ranging as they did from 'town planning' and 'community relations' to assassinations and bombings.
     The latter aspects of the Army's role in Northern Ireland are of course necessarily shrouded in secrecy. The Army can hardly be expected to admit that groups of their men, albeit a small elite minority, have shot unarmed civilians and bombed civilian property. Equally it is only to be expected that both wings of the IRA would allege that they had done this, whether or not in point of fact they had. However, evidence has come to light which, although perhaps only the tip of the iceberg, would tend to involve Army personnel in such activities. As a result of inquests and court cases the Army have admitted that plain-clothes squads of their men known as MRF squads (the Army states that the initials stand for Military Reconnaissance Force, its opponents that it is known as Military Reaction Force) have shot dead at the very least two men, Patrick McVeigh (12 May 1972) and Daniel Rooney (27 September 1972) and wounded at least five other men in separate incidents. A sergeant, Clive Graham Williams, who described himself as 'commander of a unit of the MRF attached to the 39th Infantry Brigade' admitted that part of his duties were to drive in plain clothes with two or three other men in a civilian car, armed with automatic pistols and a Sterling sub-machine gun, through Catholic areas. On 22 June 1972 his unit had a Thompson sub-machine gun – hardly standard British Army issue – and ammunition which they claimed had been given them by the RUC SB at Castlereagh. As their car came down the Glen Road in Andersonstown they fired a burst from the Thompson, wounding three taxi-drivers as they stood by their cabs, and a fourth man who was asleep in his bedroom when the bullets pierced the walls and hit him. The subsequent court case (27 February 1973) saw charges of unlawful possession of a Thompson being dropped against Captain McGregor, of the Parachute Regiment, and a remand on bail for Williams. Williams was subsequently acquitted by a Belfast jury in June 1973 after he claimed that his plain-clothes patrol had been fired on. No evidence was produced such as bullet-holes in the car or forensic evidence to indicate that any of the taxi-drivers had fired a gun.

This is just one of the cases involving MRF men which has come to light.[12] In addition we have had the Four Square Laundry Affair, where the Army has admitted setting up a fictitious laundry service to tour Catholic areas touting for custom at cut rates. The clothes could then be subjected to forensic tests and returned next week. Regular runs would also provide an opportunity for observation of particular suspect houses. The Army was forced to own up to this undercover operation when a Four Square Laundry van was ambushed in the Twinbrook Estate in Belfast on 20 October 1972 by the Provisional IRA. The Army admitted to losing one man, Sapper Ted Stuart, but the Provos claimed three soldiers shot dead in the van and two at the massage parlour used by the 'laundrymen' as their HQ (another useful cover). Again, it does not take too much imagination to conceive that this abortive Army operation was only one of several carried out by Army Intelligence Squads. In 1973 further evidence of this came with the revelations that a squad of women agents were travelling around Andersonstown posing as lipstick saleswomen.

How does this all square with Kitson and his theories? Remarkably well, in fact, and Kitson was almost certain the man responsible for the introduction of MRF units to Belfast.[13] In his book he had spoken of the need for rapid grass-roots intelligence-gathering and stated that

an effective way of dealing with this problem would be to establish a unit which could carry out the two separate functions of setting up or reinforcing the intelligence organization and of providing men trained in operations designed to develop information by special means. If a unit of this kind were formed the element designed to set up or reinforce the intelligence organization would consist of a number of officers available to move at short notice when needed. These men would be majors or captains and they would be backed by a number of other ranks to act as drivers and clerks. The unit could be a relatively large one, in which case there might be three or four groups each consisting of a major and several captains, the major being intended for development to a provincial or county intelligence headquarters, and the captains to districts; a unit of this size would be commanded by a lieutenant-colonel or senior major [p. 191].

Details later in the book reveal that teams would consist of cells, comprised of younger men, ready for all kinds of action. These sound remarkably like the MRFs which the Army has had to admit it is using, although for the most part of course their activities, like that of the SAS, have been subject to D-notices. forbidding the press even to acknowledge their existence.[14] Earlier in his book some would say that Kitson had implicitly sanctioned assassinations by the Army, although it can be claimed that the passage in question is open to various interpretations.[15] In the light of the Army's admitted activities, however, it seems that this is the most obvious one. To some it would appear that Kitson has a contempt for the law of the land. In a clear reference to the affairs existing in Northern Ireland when he wrote his book he states:

There are two possible alternatives, the first one being that the law should be used as just another weapon in the government's arsenal, and in this case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public. For this to happen efficiently, the activities of the legal services have to be tied into the war effort in as discreet a way as possible which in effect means that the member of the government responsible for law either sits in the supreme council or takes his orders from the head of the administration. The other alternative is that the courts should remain impartial and administer the laws of the country without any direction from the government.

Before the imposition of direct rule the positions of Minister of Home Affairs and of Prime Minister were held by the same man, first Chichester-Clark, then Brian Faulkner. The infamous Special Powers Acts were, and still are, in force and the judiciary had an abominable record of sectarian bias.[16] Clearly an ideal climate in which to put Kitson's ideas into practice.

As for deliberate bombings carried out by the Army, there is less hard evidence, despite the numerous allegations emanating from the Catholic ghettos. But surprising confirmation of some of the allegations has come from an unusual source. The 1 November 1973 edition of the Ulster Loyalist, which gives a contact address at the UDA HQ on the Shankill Road, made some remarkable admissions in an article warning Loyalists about being 'planted' by the British soldiers. Under the heading 'Protestant Civil Rights' the author claims among other things

that the British Army will deny that they have planted ammunition on people. They will also deny that they have ever asked Protestants to supply them with a few rounds of ammunition that are not on issue to the British Army, so that they could plant them in suspected IRA men's houses during a search. We have a list of people who have been approached in this manner, and we also have a list of the soldiers who approached them. There have even been a few occasions when the British Army has planted BOMBS. We have proof of this. but in submitting this proof we could endanger the people involved with supplying the bombs.

Clearly this is not proof, but it is a most remarkable allegation to come from a Loyalist organization. The SAS's experience with bombs during the Aden campaign clearly established a precedent.[17]

Kitson's obsession with 'low-level intensity' intelligence-gathering has recently led the Army into many unaccustomed fields apart from MRF-type operations. Typical of these have been 'community relations' projects. In an attempt to emulate the American strategy of 'hearts and minds' the Army has become involved in children's ad-venture playgrounds, children's holidays, teenagers discos, community centre club building and even OAP Christmas parties and 'Silver-tops' clubs. All these activities are of course carried out before the clicking shutters of tame press photographers, whose editors are generally only too eager to record the humane and charitable work being undertaken by 'our boys in khaki'. All this is regarded as 'good publicity' by the Army, who milk the stories for all they are worth, even down to photographing the gallant soldier who rescued a goldfish after an explosion near a pet shop in Belfast's Smithfield Market area. Further, it gives the Army PROs at Lisburn more access to the press and media for feeding 'black propaganda' stories designed to discredit the enemy, for no matter how outlandish the story, once it has appeared as a TV news item or front-page story in one of the popular daily newspapers it has had an effect. The denial a few days later will generally be relegated to a few lines on an inside page.[18]

But the 'hearts and minds' campaign had a more sinister role to play – that of an intelligence exercise. Kitson advocated for example that 'individuals can be sent amongst the community for the purposes of doing work which will help in making contact with the people. The sort of jobs which can be undertaken range from teaching to the setting up of playgrounds, advising on community centres and working on holiday schemes' (p.79). Organizations like the well-meaning Community Relations Commission can in this way be used as fronts and once the preliminary stages have been completed 'it should be possible to build up a picture of the relationships which exist between prominent individuals in the area' (p. 129). Operations like this have been carried on ever since the Army came to Northern Ireland in strength in 1969, though generally with little success, for a month's assiduous efforts by one 'community-relations-minded' major to build up a good impression in a ghetto area could be blasted overnight by one trigger-happy or panicky soldier, to say nothing of a riot squad or MRF patrol.[19]
     Nonetheless, in-depth planning is taken seriously by the Army, even down to its insistence on being involved in the planning of new housing estates, such as Twinbrook in Belfast, where there are only two entrances and two exits to the entire estate. Unable to do this to already-established estates, the Army has had to fall back on the tactic of occupying public buildings which dominate the area – such as schools, factories and sports grounds, for example Casement Park in Belfast, and using these as bases from which they can control an area. Semi-permanent and then permanent structures can then be built on the pattern of garrison forts in the midst of Indian territory.[20] Allied to this have been numerous experiments in traffic control. The car-bomb campaign of the Provisionals, which was later copied by Loyalist extremists such as the UVF, has meant that the Army has sealed off large areas of the city centres of not only Belfast but the small towns of the province as well. Motor-free shopping precincts have become the order of the day, although not even the erection of a large iron railings and gates, manned by soldiers who search everyone entering, has managed to prevent determined bombers from devastating city-centre targets. Coupled with this the Army has experimented with concrete ramps on many roads to slow down traffic, spiked chains to puncture tires and mobile road blocks.

While Northern Ireland has been a fertile testing ground for the British Army in all these aspects, one field in particular has really benefited – that of technology.
     Since 1969 there has been a radical need for alteration in the weaponry of the British Army, much of which has proved far too powerful for use in heavily built-up areas. Guerrilla warfare is the 'war of the flea', and until recently the Army has been forced to use sledgehammers to crack nuts. The standard weapon of the British soldier is the SLR (self-loading rifle), a 7.62 mm. weapon based on-the Belgian FN rifle. a 20-shot, semi-automatic gun, it has a high performance rate but is basically unsuited to urban warfare. It is half as long again as the Armalite, which is favoured by the Provos, which makes sighting and firing from a cramped personnel carrier difficult. Its range of 2,000 metres is too great and, worse still, it is subject to accidental discharges since it can only be disarmed when cocked by removing the magazine, which few soldiers on patrol bother to do. As a result there have been numerous woundings and several killings amongst the ranks due to accidental discharges. Much more effective has been the old .303 Number 4 Lee-Enfield, especially when equipped with telescopic sights and Starlite light-intensifying night-sights; but these are only available to a few trained snipers in each battalion. Similarly the General Purpose Machine-gun has proved far too powerful a weapon for use in built-up areas.
     Most of the vehicles used were also designed for different purposes. Land-Rovers, fitted with Macrolon fibre-glass upper body shells, are used to patrol less dangerous areas but, despite claims to the contrary, they have turned out to be far from bullet-proof and are not fast enough to catch speeding cars. The 5-ton Humber personnel carriers, known to soldiers and civilians alike as 'pigs', have proved to be vulnerable to Armalites, to say nothing of Russian RPG7 rockets, and have had to be reinforced with an inner layer of heavy steel plate. This has resulted in a marked tilt to the rear and a severe reduction in performance. Nonetheless the 'pigs' are still faster and more manoeuverable than the 10-ton six-wheeled Saracens, with their slow acceleration and top speed of 40 mph. They are also equipped with a .30-inch Browning machine-gun which again is too powerful to use in densely populated urban areas. The large Saladin armoured cars, equipped with 76 mm. cannons, can be used in rural areas but they too lack mobility. Two-man, four-wheeled Ferret armoured scout cars are fast and manoeuverable, but they tend to have very restricted visibility when the turret hatch is closed and if the observer travels with his head protected only by the plastic shield on top of the turret he is particularly vulnerable to the single-shot sniper. In addition the large exposed tyres on the Ferret, while excellent for travelling in rough open country, are, in the small back street, the petrol-bomber's delight.[21]

Since 1969 when the Army virtually completely took over riot-control duty from the police new weapons have, however, constantly been developed. 1969 and the battle of Bogside saw the first sustained use of CS gas against a civilian population in the British Isles. The gas was used quite indiscriminately. The police had no experience in using CS – written instructions containing new orders on CS only became available in Belfast on the same day, 12 August, that the first gas was used in Derry. Indeed, Deputy Inspector-General Shillington was bringing the orders on the conditions for employing CS gas down to Derry himself as the first canisters were being enthusiastically fired by the exhausted RUC at the Bogside rioters. The first cartridges fired were standard cardboard canisters, based on a Porton design and containing about 12.5 grams of CS.
     Later, gas grenades containing 50 grams were also used. As the battle raged, the Bogsiders used rocks and petrol bombs and the police responded by firing more and more gas. Inevitably, far too much gas was used and it was the innocents in the houses, and in particular the very old and the very young, rather than the rioters, who suffered. The smell of gas hung over the small houses of the Bogside for days and many residents, especially very young children, suffered from nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, skin irritation and blisters. Local doctors did their best to alleviate their distress, but were hampered by their lack of knowledge of the gas's properties, since this was its first real field-test on civilians.

Following reports of bad after-effects in the Observer[22], and two days later in The Times,[23] the government went through the face-saving ritual of setting up a committee to investigate the effects of the gas, under Sir Harold Himsworth.[24] The report predictably enough stated that 'there is no evidence that CS gas has caused any permanent injuries to healthy people in the Bogside' – ignoring the many unhealthy and asthmatic men and women in the area. It was hastily produced and totally inadequate as later scientific investigators from the British Society for Social Responsibility in the Sciences found.[25] Nonetheless, once launched, CS became a favourite anti-riot weapon for the troops until 1972.
     Since then it appears to have fallen from favour, with the Army apparently preferring to rely on rubber bullets to deal with riotous crowds or even peaceful demonstrators. In July 1973, however, news was released of a new gas, CR, which had been developed by the Ministry of Defense. It has not as yet been used in Northern Ireland but has been authorized for use. Unlike CS it can be dispensed in liquid form – for example through a water-cannon – and is claimed to produce a more intense effect. Testing seems to have been, yet again, derisory. Professor Jack Mongar of the Pharmacology Department of University College, London, has stated that the government paper on CR, which appeared in an obscure journal called Medicine, Science and the Law, is 'pathetically inadequate'.[26] Despite this, the Minister of State for Defense, Ian Gilmore, after claiming that CR 'caused short-lived sensations of acute pain to skin and eyes', went on, amidst Tory cheers, to refuse to give an assurance that it would not be used in Northern Ireland.[27] Indeed, the Ministry of Defense has authorized its use in Long Kesh!

Another weapon which has not as yet been used on the civilian population in Northern Ireland but which has been field-tested on soldiers at Lisburn is the 'squawk box'. Despite Army denials, tests have been carried out and adjudged successful. The box is housed in a three-foot cube and can be mounted on a Land-Rover. It emits two virtually ultrasonic frequencies. When these mix in the human ear the hearer becomes giddy or nauseous and can even pass out. It is highly directional and can therefore be aimed at particular people in a row. The Army has thirteen of the machines, each costing £2,000.[28] Also under consideration is the 'photic driver', which can even induce epilepsy. Publicity about this has been negligible, particularly since the firm which has developed the weapon, Allen International of London, was bombed in the autumn of 1973.

Even more controversial and widely used have been rubber bullets. These were first used in July 1970 and have been in almost daily use since internment day, 1971. They are six inches long and fired from short muzzle-loaded wide-barrelled guns. Intended as crowd-dispersal agents, they were supposed to be fired at thirty yards' range or so and to ricochet off the road into riotous crowds. Increasingly, however, they have been used by soldiers as a means of vindictively inflicting injuries from point-blank range. Although originally heralded as 'non-lethal' they have to date (November 1973) killed two schoolboys and blinded eight people, including a housewife, Mrs. Emily Groves, who was standing in her own living room, as well as fracturing skulls and causing severe internal injuries. Over 60,000 rounds have been fired by troops to date.[29]
     Attempts to replace them with 'baton rounds' made out of PVC have failed so far, since these tend to shatter on impact.

The Army's technology team at Lisburn has also come up with a wide range of new equipment to test, including 'Goliath' the anti-bomb robot equipped with closed-circuit TV; 'Macrolon' amour-plating; and complex 'gelly sniffers'; but it is the border area which has proved most productive for the testers of new equipment. The 270-mile border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has proved very difficult to dominate. Despite road cratering, ever-increasing border patrols and the nightly activities of the UDR, the Provisional IRA were still able, at the end of 1973, virtually to come and go as the pleased, and had inflicted heavy casualties on the Army, UDR and RUC, particularly with landmines. Increasingly the Army has thrown in more and more new equipment. This has included helicopter-borne TV cameras (the helicopters used being Scout and Sioux models), miniaturized radar, special night visual aids, 'night sun' search-lights attached to helicopters, TV surveillance systems, infra-red alarm systems, new weapon sights and, eventually it was hoped, a new armoured personnel carrier. The special night visual aids include what the Army coyly called 'Twiggy', an overgrown telescope which magnifies available light which is invisible to the human eye. The one-man portable radar set used is code-named 'ZB 298' and is capable, the Army claims, of picking up the movement of men or vehicles at a maximum range of 10,000 metres, giving both audio and visual warnings (and also decreasing the life-expectancy rate of cattle in the border areas, as jumpy soldiers blast off with assorted hardware at nocturnal ruminants). The Infra-Red Alarm System, code-named 'Iris', has also been tried out in the border areas, but again, despite this massive display of technology, large areas of the border country remained firmly in IRA hands and Army casualties have mounted.

Northern Ireland has indeed been an ideal testing-ground for new Army equipment and theories. These have ranged from the above-mentioned hardware to Kitson and his 'dirty tricks department', reminiscent of the Watergate plumbers. As far as quelling the bombing campaigns of the Provos or the Loyalist UDA/UVF/UFF and their allies goes, they have had some successes and many failures. Despite the fact that nearly 700 men are interned without trial in Long Kesh or 'the Maze' as the authorities prefer to call it (and twelve women in Armagh), and over 1,000 men and women have been convicted of 'terrorist' offenses, the violence continues. And all the evidence points to a gradual withdrawal of British troops in the near future. If, as seems highly probable, the British do pull out without effecting any permanent solution to the 'Irish Question' they will have left behind them a legacy of suffering and misery, just as they did in the fifties and sixties when they pulled out of Kenya, Cyprus and Aden. Their economy will have suffered, their international reputation will have been even further tarnished – they have more complaints outstanding against them at the Human Rights Court of Strasbourg than any other country – but they will have gained, from the Army's point of view, some 'useful experience' 'down on the killing floor'. This may be small consolation to the relatives of the 1,000-plus who have died in the last four years, including well over 200 soldiers, but at least Frank Kitson may be satisfied – and he won't be alone, for, as conditions worsen economically in England, the police, confronted with such hiterto 'unenglish' phenomena as the Angry Brigade, Irish bombers, letter-bombs, incendiarists and violent strike pickets, have made it quite clear that, in the words of Superintendent Habershon, they 'are prepared to cut corners'. This polite euphemism means throwing the traditional Judges' Rules out the window, as, for example, was done in the case of the Winchester Eight, kept naked in their cells for days with no access to a lawyer or their families while they were 'interrogated'. Until now the English police have traditionally relied on bribery or a bit of casual brutality to obtain confessions; with the precedent set in Northern Ireland it does not seem improbable that more subtle and sinister techniques such as Sensory Deprivation may be used in the not too distant future, as Lord Richard Cecil, former Captain in the Grenadier Guards, urged when speaking to the Ulster Unionists in April 1974. In the same month a top-level conference was held at Lancaster University featuring Major-General Purdon, General Officer Commanding the North West, three Brigadiers, five colonels, nine lieutenant-colonels, seven Majors, three chief constables, one deputy chief constable, four assistant chief constables, six professors and an assortment of alleged counter-insurgency experts. Topics included 'Urban Guerrilla War', 'Ulster', and 'Theories of Revolutionary War'. Members of the Paratroopers and the Territorial Army also attended. These meetings have become, over the last two years, 'a matter of routine' – as has the practice of training Army personnel in such jobs as engine-driving, manning power stations, coalmines and docks. But don't worry, there are still ten years to 1984.

Footnotes Chapter 9:

  1. see, for example, the cases of Kevin Anderson, who was subjected to this treatment for thirty-six hours on 3-4 January 1973, and Michael Walsh. I have also interviewed several other men who have experienced this treatment. For several months it was common practice. The Northern Ireland Ministry of Home Affairs admitted on 28 January 1974 that such SD techniques had been used, when Jim Sullivan, a well-known Republican and Belfast councillor, was awarded $2,400 in the Belfast High Court for illegal arrest, assault and mental torture. Sullivan had been arrested in October 1971 and, after being severely beaten, had been taken to Palace barracks, where he had been forced to stare at the acoustic tiles in the special cubicles until he began to hallucinate. The Ministry, nearly two and a half years later, did not contest the case and paid up.
  2. Similar statements, albeit unproven, were made when in March 1973 the Bonn government ordered an inquiry into allegations that some German paramilitary Federal border guards had been systematically tortured as part of their training The president of the police trade union said that on a training exercise in Bavaria attended by members of the American Special Forces, guardsmen had been tortured, subjected to continual cold showers, tied to trees by their genitals, etc. See The Times of 2 March 1973 and the Guardian of 12 March 1973.
  3. For further information, see the Sunday Times of 3 February 1974, and World Medicine of 14 November 1973, which gives details of Preungesheim prison, opened in June 1973, where all the cells are specially fitted with acoustic devices designed to accentuate sensory deprivation.
  4. For example, when Father Faul and Father Murray, the authors of British Army and Special Branch RUC Brutalities, produced no fewer than thirty-four detailed accounts of torture and named to the authorities during the winter of 1971 the officers allegedly responsible for such atrocities, the then Assistant Chief Constable of the RUC, W. Meharg, wrote to Frs. Faul and Murray informing them that 'these allegations will be investigated immediately'. (see also the Guardian of 21 January 1972). This 'concern' was echoed the next day (21 January 1972) by the Police Authority of Northern Ireland and by Major I.M. Walden, RM HQ Northern Ireland, who agreed that urgent investigation was called for. On 16 February 1972 the Chief Superintendent of the RUC confirmed that the complaints of seven men in particular were to be immediately investigated – by the RUC themselves! Nothing has come of these 'thorough investigation'. Altogether, between 1970 and 1974, 2,617 complaints were lodged against the police. 417 of these complaints were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Only fourteen prosecutions ensued, and only three convictions. Not a single policeman was convicted of assault.
  5. See British Army and SB RUC Brutalities. By January 1974 Castlereagh Road barracks had been replaced by the Springfield Road barracks as the most notorious 'interrogation' centre. Apart from the now-standard physical brutality. there has been a new' development: the 'black room', where suspects, mainly teenagers and schoolboys. have been kept in isolation and complete darkness while tape recordings of people being beaten up are played through the walls.
  6. New Statesman, 13 July 1973. For other accounts of the electric-shock treatment, see ALJ statements. There has also been the case of Ray Sands, aged 19, who was subjected to electric-shock torture at Andersonstown RUC station on 10 February 1973.
  7. McBride got ten years for manslaughter. Keeley and Kearns each got two years for possession of arms.
  8. See, for example, Defeating Communist Insurgency (Chatto & Windus, 1972).
  9. Richard Clutterbuck, Protest and the Urban Guerrilla (Cassell, 1973).
10. Ian Greig, Subversion: Propaganda, Agitation and the Spread of People's War (Stacey, 1973).
11. Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping (Faber & Faber, 1971).
12. For other cases, see Political Murder in Northern Ireland, by Martin Dillon and Denis Lehane (Penguin, 1973), pp.292-317.
13. ibid., p.317.
14. For more details about the D-notice system. see Proinsias MacAonghusa in the Sunday Press, Dublin, 12 December 1971.
15. On p.7 of his book he says: 'As the enemy is likely to be employing a combination of political, economic, psychological and military measures, so the government will have to do likewise to defeat him, and although an army officer may regard the non-military action required as being the business of the civilian authorities, they will regard it as his business, because it is being used for operational reasons. At every level the civilian authorities will rightly expect the soldier to know how to use non-military forms of action as part of the operational plan, although once it has been decided to use a particular measure they will know how to put it into effect.'
16. For full details of the Special Powers Acts, see my book, Internment, or the NCCL pamphlet of 1936 (reprinted 1972). The former also gives many examples of judicial bias, and this is confirmed by the statistical analysis in Justice in Northern Ireland – A study in Social Confidence, by Tom Hadden and Paddy Hillyard (Cobden Trust, 1973).
17. See also the strange case of ex-UDR man William Black, shot and wounded by Army personnel at his home near Saintfield on 26 January 1974. Professor Kennedy Lindsay and other Loyalist assemblymen have alleged that the Army has been trying to kill Mr. Black ever since he witnessed members of the SB stealing a car from outside his house. See Sunday News of 3 February 1974.
18. For more detailed evidence and examples of the Army's black propaganda squad, see Internment, by John McGuffin (Anvil Press, Tralee, 1973), Ch. 15, also Inside Story, London. No.1, and The British Press in Northern Ireland, by Eamonn McCann (Socialist Research Centre, London).
19. Other examples of MRF behaviour, including the story of one of their members who deserted to the Loyalists in East Belfast, are given in Andersonstown News of 2 February 1974. This paper on 6 February 1974 also gave details of how information gained from a supposedly impartial academic research survey carried out by researchers from Queens University, Belfast, was being passed on to the Army and Special Branch.
20. For example, following Operation Motorman on 31 July 1972 no fewer than nine forts, nicknamed by such esoteric names as 'Silver City' and 'Apache', were built in the Andersonstown area of Belfast alone.
21. More information on the Army's weaponry in Northern Ireland is contained in an article in Hibernia of 3 September 1973.
22. 'Sixty Babies Ill from Riot Gas', by Gerald Leach, in the Observer of 24 August 1969.
23. 'Defence Ministry Concern at Ulster Riot Gas', in The Times of 26 August 1969.
24. Report of the Enquiry into the Medical and Toxicological Aspects of CS (Orthochlorobenzylidene Malononitrile), Cmnd. 4173 (HMSO, October 1969).
25. For full data on CS gas and the Himsworth Report, see The Battle of Bogside. by Russell Stetler (Sheed & Ward, 1970); also New Society of 25 September 1969; and Dr. Norman MacDonald's article in the Lancet, 635 (20 September 1969).
26. Sunday Times, 11 November 1973. See also World Medicine of 14 November 1973. pp.7-8; New Scientist of 31 May 1973 and 8 November 1973; and the Lancet of 24 November 1973, which criticizes the government for releasing the new gas without sufficient testing.
27. Quoted in the Belfast Telegraph of 4 July 1973.
28. See New Scientist of 20 September 1973 and 27 September 1973; and Irish News of 10 October 1973.
29. 'As early as July 1971 the British Society of Social Responsibility in the Sciences protested against their use, stating that 'it is in the nature of these weapons that they are indiscriminate and that their effect on different individuals will be highly variable ... Serious injuries [are] likely to result.'
In the summer of 1972 four surgeons at the Royal Victoria Hospital gave the Army a comprehensive dossier on ninety victims injured by rubber bullets. The Army immediately declared it to be 'classified', and it was several months before the doctors were able to make the report public. Amongst other things, it shows that many of the victims were less than twelve years old. See also the Sunday Times of 27 May 1973.

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