Leading article

The Hooded Men deserve their apology

It has been well documented that republicans, loyalists and the forces of the state were all guilty of ignoring the basic human rights of ordinary citizens throughout The Troubles.

What is striking is that, after all these years, some individuals seem to have enormous difficulty accepting that it is not just the paramilitary organisations which deserve to be held accountable for the full extent of their conduct.

The documentary Hooded Men - Britain's Torture Playbook, which is due to be screened on BBC1 tonight, casts new light on the treatment of a group of 14 young men who all had clear records but were arrested and interned without trial in 1971, during an appalling period of cruel and entirely unjustifiable bloodshed across the board.

As we reported on Friday, the programme sets out in graphic detail how members of the group which became known as the Hooded Men were taken from their homes by the British Army in the middle of the night, blindfolded and transported long distances by helicopter.

They were told they were hundreds of feet in the air and thrown out, only to find out after some agonising seconds that they were practically on the ground.

After being stripped naked and brutally beaten, they subjected over a nine-day period to what were known as the five techniques, which had been authorised at the highest levels and included hooding, adhering to stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and the refusal of food and drink.

General Anthony Farrar Hockley, a British Army commander at the time, told the BBC that the process produced ``a lot of good information, though of course relatively short term in value.''

An equally senior figure, General Mike Jackson, then a captain in the Parachute regiment, said that whether inflicting physical violence on prisoners could ever be acceptable was ``a very important question.``

General Jackson went on to suggest that he was not in a position to argue with the 14 men about their perceptions of what happened, claiming that philosophical as well as legal issues were involved, and said: "You might be better asking a bishop on such matters."

The contribution of the two generals was telling and it can be safely concluded that the Hooded Men have won every argument about their ordeal and proved conclusively that they were victims of state torture. All that is now required is a full and unreserved apology from the British government.

Leading article