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Friday 14 December 2018

'Hooded Men' vow to fight on over torture case

Tanáiste Simon Coveney is considering the options. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Tanáiste Simon Coveney is considering the options. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Lesley-Anne McKeown

The so-called Hooded Men have vowed to fight on with their quest to have the treatment they suffered at the hands of the British secret services defined as "torture".

In the original case in 1978, the European Court of Human Rights found that the 14 men - who were subjected to sleep deprivation, wall-standing, stress positions, white noise and beatings - were subjected to "cruel and unusual treatment" but did not classify it as torture.

The Irish government took the UK to court on behalf of the men over the abuse suffered while they were interned during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In 2014, the Irish government agreed to have the case re-examined but the court yesterday rejected claims of new evidence.

The 'Hooded Men' judgment is a landmark in international law as it was the first time a state took on another state at the European Court.

Moreover, it has profound implications for how torture is permitted worldwide, including the military regime in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Lawyers for the Bush-era use of harsh interrogation techniques - which have been subsequently and widely considered to have been torture - pointed to the 1978 Hooded Men case to legally defend their use of the same techniques.

Representing the 14 men, Darragh Mackin from KRW Law is calling for the Irish government to appeal the decision to the Grand Chamber of the Court.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney says he is considering the options, including an appeal. He said for now his "thoughts are with the men who suffered this treatment, and who have to deal with the long-lasting effects". He will meet them in the coming weeks.

Some of the men still suffer flashbacks and physical effects. Amnesty International said: "This is a very disappointing outcome, for the men and their families. We believe the court has missed a vital opportunity to right a historic wrong."

During their ordeal, the men were also dangled out of a helicopter and told they were high in the air, although they were close to the ground. None was ever convicted of wrongdoing.

The Government first took the human rights case against Britain over the alleged torture in 1971 - during politically febrile times. Critics of the judgment back then believe politics influenced the court's decision.

The new evidence relies on a letter of admission of torture by British authorities. In 1977 then-home secretary Merlyn Rees wrote to then-prime minister James Callaghan in which he states his view that the decision to use "methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971-72 was taken by ministers - in particular Lord Carrington, then secretary of state for defence".

But the Strasbourg court found the Irish government has not demonstrated the existence of facts that were unknown to the court at the time.

Irish Independent

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