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2 August 2007 Edition

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Interview : Internment and The Hooded Men

Liam Shannon

Liam Shannon

‘Inhumane and degrading treatment’ — otherwise known as torture

The formal ending of the British Army’s ‘Operation Banner’ comes as we approach the 36th anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial in the Six Counties in August 1971 when British soldiers, acting on  the instigation of then Six County premier Brian Faulkner dragged hundreds of people to prison camps, where many were tortured.
Last week former internee Margaret Shannon spoke to An Phoblacht about her experience of internment. This week her cousin LIAM SHANNON from Belfast talks to ELLA O’DWYER about the treatment meted out to 13 of the internees who subsequently became known as ‘the hooded men’.

You and other members of your family were heavily affected by the introduction of internment without trial in 1971.
Yes, my father Billy, my uncle Goerdie and my cousins Margaret and Liam Shannon were all interned. On the night of 9 October 1971 I was returning home from an evening out with my wife when I was stopped by a patrol. I was on the run at the time and was carrying a false ID which I hoped would get me through. It didn’t and I was arrested and as the soldier arresting me was opening the back door of the Saracen I pushed him in and bolted. I ran up a side street. The soldiers following me fired two shots but I wasn’t hit. I saw an open door along the street and ran in but the soldiers caught up and trailed me off in the Saracen to Springfield Road barracks.

That’s where the interrogation began?
Yes. There, I was confronted by a notorious branch man called Harry Taylor who said they were going to inject me with a truth drug. They came out with a tray on which there was a syringe, needles and some substance in a container. He went so far as to fill the syringe and put it to my arm and then stopped saying he’d leave that for later. By mistake they took me to Girdwood Barracks which is behind Crumlin Road jail in the back of a ‘pig’ and lay me face down spread-eagled with their feet on me. They drove through Springfield Road near the Shankill Road and at one stage a bunch of UDA men were on the street and one of the men in the Saracen said “why don’t we give him to the UDA”. They stopped the pig and opened the back doors and shouted out:
“We’ve an IRA bastard here do you want him?”
I could hear the growls outside the pig. But they didn’t throw me out and on we went to Girdwood. They frog-marched me into the building and stood me against the wall. Then they realised that I was meant to be taken to Palace Barracks so off we were again.

So what happened in Palace Barracks?
I spent the next 48 hours there being battered and interrogated. I remember during interrogation being put facing a checkered board with holes in it, which disorientated you to the point where you’d start seeing faces in it after a while.
Then this fella came in and started clicking a gun behind me. It was a revolver and I could see him breaking it open and putting a bullet in it. He pulled the trigger and it went off, the bullet went into the wall about a foot from my head.
I’ll never forget seeing one young lad of about 16 from Ballymurphy being swung off the floor and around in circles by the hair of his head. After 48 hours I was brought to the Crum (Crumlin Road Jail) where I was taken to a Governor who read out a letter signed by Brian Faulkner to the effect that I could be taken to any place at any time in the interest of security. This was under the Special Powers Act. A hood was immediately put over my head and I was taken out to the prison football pitch of the Crum where I could hear a helicopter.

What happened then?
I was put on the helicopter which then lifted off the ground. I’d no way of knowing how far off the ground the chopper lifted as I could see nothing. Then one of  the soldiers said:
“Here let’s throw the bastard out all together”.
One of them pushed me in the chest out of the helicopter. I landed with a thump – about three feet of a drop. It was a form of psychological torture.
Then I was put back on the chopper and we flew for a while. They were  pretending we were flying over water to ‘the mainland’ as they called it. I knew the flight was too short for that distance. I didn’t know where I was going but it’s believed I was taken to Palace Barracks. I was taken to a building – I don’t know where it was.
When the hood was taken off I was in a white room with a white-coated guy facing me. I was told to strip and was given a rough medical examination. Then two athletic looking men came in and told me to put on this great, big, boiler suit. They put the hood back on my head and knotted it into the epaulettes of the boiler suit. There was no way I could get it off and it stayed on my head for the following seven days.

So the worst wasn’t over by any means?
The hood was on my head for the next week except when I was allowed to eat. Then I’d be sat on the floor to take the slice of bread and plastic cup of water, which was hard to drink as they kept my head pushed forward so that I wouldn’t see their faces.
The rest of the time I was put on the wall, meaning I’d be made to stand spread-eagled against the wall. It was all very disorientating and some of that week I don’t remember. But I must have slept at some point  or other in the week, maybe I fell down or something. The ‘white noise’ was bad. There would be very loud noise which would then lower and rise again. They used sensory depravation which came in different forms, such as the darkness inside the hood, difficulty in breathing and the lack of contact – nobody spoke to me for the week except during interrogation.
I also had hallucinations, which on my release my own doctor later put down to LSD in the drinking water. There was also a room where you were sat in front of two glaringly bright lights which was again designed to cause disorientation. This system of interrogation was know as ‘in depth interrogation’ and was devised by British intelligence expert Brigadier Frank Kitson and was used by the Brits in Burma.

And after the seven days?
I was taken off the wall and the hood removed. I found myself again in a room with a hand basin, soap and a razor to shave myself. When I looked in the mirror I frightened myself. My eyes were sunk in my head – they were like two piss holes in the snow. I had a full beard and it was matted with saliva from the hood.

The case of the hooded men was later taken to the Court of Human Rights.
Yes. The Brits were found guilty of ‘Inhumane and degrading treatment’ but not torture. What we went through was torture. What is degrading and inhuman treatment but torture? But I’m a republican and my beliefs got me through it.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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