Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: British Army

Britain Teaches the World to Torture

This article appeared on Page 10 of Ceylon Today on Wednesday January 28 2015

Colman's Column3

There was a time when the British army adopted a somewhat superior attitude to the US army’s conduct after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Much was made of Britain’s experience in conducting a war against insurgents in urban conditions in Northern Ireland. To boast about that suggests either supreme arrogance or selective memory. British tactics were not successful in Northern Ireland or Basra and certainly did not have the “moral authority” to which David Cameron referred in his statement about the US Senate report on torture.

Britain’s torture laboratory in Northern Ireland

In 1971, Operation Demetrius involved the mass arrest and imprisonment without trial of people suspected of connections with the Provisional IRA. Fourteen of those imprisoned were interrogated at a site formerly known as RAF Ballykelly, which was handed over to the British Army as Shackleton Barracks on 2 June 1971. On their way to the interrogation centre in 1971, the British army hooded the men and threw them to the ground from helicopters. The captors told the hooded men they were hundreds of feet in the air, but the helicopters were actually just a few feet from the ground. Granted, this was better behaviour than that of the Argentinian junta who threw prisoners to their death from helicopters at high altitude.

The British security forces during the Irish Troubles developed five techniques of “deep interrogation”: prolonged wall standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink. For seven days, when not being interrogated, the detainees were forced to wear hoods while handcuffed in a cold cell and were forced to stand in a stress position for many hours. There was a continuous loud hissing noise. They were repeatedly beaten, their heads banged against the wall. The interrogators kicked them in the genitals. The treatment caused long-term trauma.

In 1976, the European Commission of Human Rights ruled that the five techniques amounted to “torture”. However, in 1978, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the five techniques were “inhuman and degrading” and breached the European Convention on Human Rights, but did not amount to “torture”. The Court’s ruling, that the five techniques did not amount to torture, was later cited by the US and Israel to justify their own methods. Britain exported the techniques to the military dictators of Brazil.

Never again?

In 1972, prime minister Edward Heath promised to the House of Commons: “[The] Government, having reviewed the whole matter with great care and with reference to any future operations, have decided that the techniques … will not be used in future as an aid to interrogation… The statement that I have made covers all future circumstances.”

Despite Heath’s promise, the British Army used the five techniques in Iraq. As recently as December 2014, human rights lawyers sent a dossier of claims to the ICC (International Criminal Court) alleging that British soldiers abused and tortured Iraqi men, women and children, aged from 13 to 101. Defence secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs in 2005 that hooding had not been used in Iraq since May 2004. In reality, there were more than 70 cases of hooding between June 2004 and September 2008.

There were, the report alleges, dozens of mock executions; many described how dogs were used to attack or threaten detainees. There are also allegations of sexual assault or rape by British soldiers. One man who was “repeatedly beaten” and “electrocuted”, suffered “severe psychological injuries as a result of his treatment”. He set himself alight and killed himself a year after his release.
Phil Shiner, a solicitor with the law firm PIL (Public Interest Lawyers), which is handling the claims, said: “The UK mindset in Iraq appears to be one of savage brutality and a sadistic inhumanity, irrespective of whether it was women, children or old men being tortured, abused or callously subjected to lethal force. The systemic issues must now be dealt with in public.”

A long history of torture

Britain has an extensive and unlovely record of brutality in the “war on terrorism” that goes back at least as far as the Tudors. Henry VIII tried to bring all Ireland under his control to prevent its use as a base for a Catholic invasion of England or a haven for pretenders trying to depose him. His daughter Elizabeth had similar fears and thought the Jesuits might try to overthrow her. Some versions of the story of Edmund Campion (now a Catholic saint) have it that the Queen was actually present when Campion was tortured on the rack.

Obama tortured by British

Neil Ascherson wrote: “The myth that British colonialism guaranteed a minimum standard of behavior toward ‘natives’ cannot—or should not—survive the evidence of twentieth-century Kenya. In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an antipartisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, was arrested in 1949 by the British during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya and subjected to horrific violence, which left him permanently scarred and embittered against the British. “The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” Sarah Onyango, 87, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman President Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah” said. “He said they would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down.”

Mau-Mau militants killed 32 British civilians. The British killed 20,000 Mau-Mau fighters and persecuted large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion. Lawyers acting for Kenyans suing for compensation documented 5,228 cases of abuses including fatal whippings, blindings, castrations and rapes.

In 2009, Kenyan victims filed a lawsuit, but the British government asked the judge to throw out the case, saying it had transferred all liability to Kenya when the country gained independence. The Kenya government denied responsibility and stood behind the victims. The three men, including one whom the British had castrated, who filed the original case made numerous trips to London to give their testimony. Britain could not deny the atrocities because there were immaculate records kept by the torturers themselves that revealed systemic human rights violations. The High Court ordered the Foreign Office to produce all relevant evidence, including hundreds of boxes of files, secretly smuggled out of Kenya ahead of independence in 1963. The British government’s defence until recently was that the statute of limitations had expired. Eventually, after four years of dogged resistance, Britain announced a £19.9 million settlement. Many of the beneficiaries, who are in their 80s, will not have long to enjoy the compensation.

Extraordinary rendition

In 1971, the British evicted all 2,000 inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from their homes in order to give Diego Garcia to the US as a military base. In his book Island of Shame, David Vine quotes military analyst John Pike telling him that the US military’s goal is “to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015, even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked us from every other base.”

Stephen Grey, author of Ghost Plane disclosed the journeys of a Gulfstream aircraft, registered N379P, as part of a list of more than 3,000 flight logs. The logs show the same aircraft flew from Washington via Athens to Diego Garcia. Though there have been persistent reports in the US that detainees have been secretly held in Diego Garcia, the British government has always dismissed the claims. The then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw denied that the Diego Garcia base was used for rendition and torture. “There simply is no truth that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition, full stop.”

David Miliband war criminal?

When David Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in overseas torture. Sami al-Saadi claimed that, in 2004, MI6 handed him and his family over to authorities in Libya who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports on Libyan dissidents living in Britain.

Gareth Pierce is a human rights lawyer who had defended Giuseppe Conlon against the flawed prosecution led by Sir Michael Havers. She is dishonoured by the ridiculous caricature of her by Emma Thompson in the film In the Name of the Father. She wrote in the London Review of Books about Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian given leave to reside in the UK. “British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.” Techniques seem to have become more brutal since the days of St Edmund Campion. As David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening before he became foreign secretary.

As human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, who represented Binyam Mohammed, writes, Miliband cannot avoid charges of complicity demonstrated by his actions as foreign secretary. Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records. He was a senior member of a government that later actively resisted calls for an inquiry. “He put considerable energy into defending a number of claims relating to torture in the English courts against his department.”

While campaigning for the Labour leadership Miliband was forced to confront claims that he allowed the interrogation of three terror suspects who allege they were tortured in Bangladesh and Egypt. Faisal Mostafa, a chemistry lecturer from Manchester, who was twice cleared of terrorism offences in court, was detained in Bangladesh. He claims he was hung upside down and electrocuted while interrogators interrogated him about two Islamist groups.

Britain and the US Senate report

There is no reference at all in the Senate’s 500-page summary report to UK intelligence agencies or the British territory of Diego Garcia. There is no reference to Binyam Mohamed, or to the abductions and extraditions to Libya of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami-al-Saadi. Heavy redactions to the executive summary encouraged speculation that references to US allies were deleted.

The British government commissioned an inquiry by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson to look at the UK’s treatment of detainees after 9/11. In his preliminary report, he raised 27 serious questions about the behaviour of the UK security services. The Gibson Inquiry was replaced by an investigation handled by the ISC (Intelligence and Security Committee). The ISC’s report will not, however, be completed before the 2015 general election, so it is unclear how many members of the nine-strong panel of MPs and peers will still be in parliament to complete the work. Release of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq war is also being delayed until after the election.

Gareth Pierce on the UK’s hypocrisy: “We inhabit the most secretive of democracies, which has developed the most comprehensive of structures for hiding its misdeeds, shielding them always from view behind the curtain of ‘national security’. From here on in we should be aware of the game of hide and seek in which the government hopes to ensure that we should never find out its true culpability.”

More Fog of War – Another British War Crime



Corporal Donald Payne killed a man. That’s what soldiers do.

Sir William Gage was asked to establish the facts of the events of 14 to 16 September 2003.

Here is how Payne killed Baha Mousa.

Payne violently assaulted Baha Mousa, punching and kicking. This ended with Baha Mousa lying inert on the floor. According to the Gage Report: “I find that from the outset of their incarceration in the TDF (temporary detention facility) the Detainees were subjected to assaults by those who were guarding them and, in particular, by Payne. I find that they were also assaulted from time to time by others who happened to be passing by the TDF. The assaults by the guards were instigated and orchestrated by Payne. He devised a particularly unpleasant method of assaulting the Detainees, known as the “choir”. It consisted of Payne punching or kicking each Detainee in sequence, causing each to emit a groan or other sign of distress. “

According to Sir William Gage’s report:

“Baha Mousa was pronounced dead at 22.05hrs.

A subsequent post mortem found that in the course of his detention in the TDF Baha Mousa had sustained 93 separate external injuries.

He was also found to have internal injuries including fractured ribs.

I find the cause of death to be twofold.

Firstly, Baha Mousa had been made vulnerable by a range of factors, namely, lack of food and water, the heat, rhabdomyolysis, acute renal failure, exertion, exhaustion, fear and multiple injuries.

Both stress positions, which are a form of exertion, and hooding, which obviously must have increased Baha Mousa’s body temperature, contributed to these factors.

Secondly, against the background of this vulnerability, the trigger for his death was a violent assault, consisting of punches, being thrown across the room and possibly of kicks. “ His face was pushed into a stinking toilet

Here is what Baha Mousa looked like after encountering Corporal Payne.

Here is what he looked like before. The children are now orphans as the mother died of cancer. Mousa’s father told Robert Fisk of the Independent that a British officer had come to his home and stared at the floor and offered cash by way of saying sorry.

Baha Mousa was a  receptionist  at the Ibn al-Haitham Hotel in Basra who was captured in a raid by Britain’s finest  on 14  September 2003 after a cache of arms and uniforms was found in his workplace. the army had found weapons including grenades, rifles, bayonets and suspected bomb-making equipment. Along with nine others  he was taken to the TDF for “questioning”.

Kim Sengupta of the Independent met Mousa in late summer 2003 and describes him as polite and smiling.

At a court martial at the Military Court Centre at Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, in September 2006,  five soldiers, including their commanding officer, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, were cleared: the judge ruled they had no case to answer. Corporal Donald  Payne he was charged with Manslaughter, inhumane treatment and perverting the course of justice. Payne pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison. At the court martial Julian Bevan QC said: “We are not dealing with the actions of a soldier or soldiers in the heat of the moment whilst on patrol in a hostile environment whose conduct is questionable. We are dealing with systematic abuse against prisoners involving unacceptable violence against persons who were detained in custody, hooded and cuffed and wholly unable to protect themselves over a very long period of time.”

Mousa’s father said he was sad but not surprised – it was pointless to seek justice in a British court.

The MoD conceded that there was no evidence implicating Mousa and the others detained  in the death of British personnel. However, in the fog of war there was a heightened atmosphere at the detention centre. “I find that one of the principal causes, but not the only cause, of the violence was an unfounded rumour circulating in 1 QLR to the effect that these Detainees were connected with the murder of Captain Dai Jones, a popular 1 QLR officer, or members of the RMP, also murdered. I find that Peebles, the BGIRO at the outset of the detention, informed two of the guards that the Detainees might be connected with the murder of three Royal Military Policemen”.

Kifah Matair was kicked repeatedly to his kidney area, abdomen, ribs and genitals whenever his arms dropped from the stress position, and had his eyes gouged. The youngest, unnamed victim, 18 at the time, was forced to squat with his face directly over a toilet.

“On arrival at BG Main the Detainees were received by Corporal Donald Payne, the 1 QLR Regimental Provost Corporal.

They were searched, handcuffed, hooded and placed in the temporary detention facility, the TDF.

Some were hooded with two, if not three, hoods.

In the TDF they were made to adopt stress positions, at first in a ski position (as seen in the Payne video).

Subsequently they were permitted to sit down but had to maintain their hands outstretched in front of their bodies and still handcuffed.

I find that for almost the whole of the period up to Baha Mousa’s death on the evening of 15 September the Detainees were kept handcuffed, hooded and in stress positions in extreme heat and conditions of some squalor.

They were guarded first by two men from another A Company multiple, but from about 19.00hrs on 14 September until Tuesday morning by members of the Rodgers Multiple.

I find that from the outset of their incarceration in the TDF the Detainees were subjected to assaults by those who were guarding them and, in particular, by Payne.

I find that they were also assaulted from time to time by others who happened to be passing by the TDF.

The assaults by the guards were instigated and orchestrated by Payne.

He devised a particularly unpleasant method of assaulting the Detainees, known as the “choir”.

It consisted of Payne punching or kicking each Detainee in sequence, causing each to emit a groan or other sign of distress.

Payne, as Provost Corporal, was himself supposed to be supervising the welfare of the Detainees in the TDF.

I also find that Payne and the guards should have been supervised by Major Michael Peebles, the Battlegroup Internment Review Officer (the BGIRO).

From the evening of 14 September and into the afternoon of 15 September, the Detainees were questioned by two tactical questioners.

The whole process was lengthy and in one instance involved a Detainee (D005, the youngest) being placed for over an hour very close to a noisy and hot generator.

The tactical questioning went on well past the fourteen-hour time limit, at the end of which the Detainees should have been either released or transferred to the Theatre Internment Facility, the TIF.

In fact, the nine surviving Detainees did not arrive at the TIF until Tuesday, 16 September, some 55 hours after the arrest of those in the Hotel.”

Procedures shown in the video were banned from use by British military personnel on 2 March 1972, by On the 13th July 2009, a video reportedly showing Cpl Payne abusing Iraqi prisoners was released as part of the evidence being presented to the public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa. ( The video reportedly shows Cpl Payne forcing hooded and bound prisoners into stress positions, pushing and shoving prisoners, and aggressively shouting obscenities at them whilst they clearly vocalise their distress.

Procedures shown in the video were banned from use by British military personnel on 2 March 1972, by Edward Heath after their use in Northern Ireland was deemed illegal under English law and  The European Court of Human Rights found the techniques used in Northern Ireland “amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment”.

Robert Fisk did his time in as front-line reporter in Belfast during the Troubles “listening to the same kind of arrogant, vicious, indifferent reaction to the Army’s brutality. It was always the same. Terrorists. Terrorist propaganda. The extraordinary discipline of British squaddies under enormous pressure, etc, etc, etc. Then – when the game was up and the evidence too fresh and too overwhelming – I used to get what we would today call the “Abu Ghraib response”. A “few bad apples”. Always a “few bad apples”.”

Baha’s father was a senior police officer, permitted by the British to carry a pistol and wear his blue uniform. Colonel Mousa believed the real reason his son was killed was he had seen several British troops had opening the hotel safe and stuffing  currency into their pockets.

Nineteen soldiers could face criminal charges for their role in the death of innocent Iraqi Baha Mousa following yesterday’s finding by a public inquiry that he was the victim of “appalling and cowardly” violence while in British custody. Three serving soldiers, one an officer, have been suspended following Sir William Gage’s inquiry.

Gage’s  findings will add to pressure on the Government to order answer wider  allegations of torture and abuse. There are several legal challenges on behalf of hundreds of Iraqi. Next month the Court of Appeal will rule on a case involving 142 Iraqis.

Sri Lanka’s only friend in the British government Defence Secretary Liam  Fox said: “It is clear there were serious failings in command and discipline in the First Battalion, The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment … There was a lack of clarity in the allocation of responsibility for prisoner handling process and sadly too there was a lack of moral courage to report abuse.” But he rejected advice to ban “harshing” – which involves screaming at detainees during interrogation.

According to Fisk “It wasn’t the brutality that was “systematic”. It was the lying that was systematic. In Northern Ireland, among the Americans after Abu Ghraib and Bagram and the black prisons and the renditions.”

Former British foreign secretary David Miliband is still calling on the international community to take action against Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes at the end of the successful war against the Tamil Tigers. Miliband himself was complicit in extraordinary renditions and torture. It is only two years since the end of the war in Sri Lanka. A commission is looking into what happened but this is not quick enough for Miliband.
The Gage inquiry took three years. It is eight years since Mousa was brutally tortured and murdered. Payne served a year in prison.

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