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19 November 2009 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

British torture in Iraq has echoes of Ireland

HE was kicked to death in British military custody. The reporter Robert Fisk on hearing the news had gone to talk to the father of this poor Iraqi man. He recalls that the British public relations man was laughing and the young Muslim interpreter had said, “He doesn’t care.” Fisk did care for he had reported from the North of Ireland and had heard that laughter before. Like Fisk, we could write the script.
The allegations of torture involving hundreds of young Muslim Iraqi detainees are now emerging from lawyers and human rights groups in Iraq. Allegations of Iraqi’s detained on the killing floors of British interrogation centres and subjected to the most vile torture and sexual abuse are familiar to generations of Irish nationalists who were on the receiving end of the same techniques in  places whose names like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, have passed into the public consciousness.
The details of the abuse now being reported in the British press are sickeningly familiar. They could have been taken from the ‘Twenty five Principle Methods of Torture’ drawn up in 1971 by the then Fathers Faul and Murray and used  by the British Army and the RUC against defenceless and innocent men in Magilligan, Girdwood and Holywood detention centres.
The involvement of MI5 and MI6 as well as the CIA in the emerging allegations are hardly surprising. British torturers have  been around for as long as Britain has waged its colonial wars in practically every country in the world.
The immediate response from the British establishment to the torture of the detainees in the North of Ireland was much the same as what we have heard from British Army spokespersons and the Ministry of Defence in the past few days. Tongue in cheek they claim that ‘The vast majority of British troops conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour in Iraq and it was only a small number who had fallen short of this standard.’ In other words ‘the few rotten apples in the barrel’. Where have we heard that before?
The same excuse was put forward by the apologists for torture in the North of Ireland even when incontrovertible evidence was produced by organisations such as Amnesty International.
According to evidence presented to the current enquiry in London into allegations of torture by British soldiers in Iraq, it is not just the few ‘rotten apples’ but as one lawyer put it: ‘The whole barrel was rotten.’
Rabinder Singh QC representing the family of the hotel receptionist Baha Mousa aged 26 who died in Basra in 2003, from 93 injuries that included fractured ribs, and a broken nose after he was kicked and beaten by soldiers of the Queens Lancashire Regiment, said that safeguards to protect detainees were ignored not by accident ‘but by design after consideration by lawyers, ministers, and the Attorney General himself’.
Senior officers, military police, and the Red Cross visited Baha Mousa but none stopped the abuse. One British soldier who was caught on camera screaming obscenities at the hooded prisoners, became the first member of the British army to be convicted for war crimes. No British soldiers have ever been convicted of war crimes in Ireland.

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