‘The Guineapigs’ by John McGuffin (1974, 1981)

Chapter 5
The Compton Report

'Future history books, whether of government
or the music hall should reserve at least a foot-
note for mention of Sir Edmund [Compton]'s
report... His commission afforded a perfect
parallel to the blind men examining the elephant.'[1]

The passage above, while correctly pointing out the glaring inadequacies of the Compton Report is, nevertheless, too kind. Compton was a little man, a government hack who was used shamelessly by the Conservative government in an effort to take the heat out of the torture allegations, while at the same time ensuring that enough of the facts about the torture would be known to scare anyone who dared to oppose the physical might of the Army. Even taken in relation to previous government whitewashes, like the Bowen Report, the report is manifestly ridiculous, but it does provide, from the government point of view, a diversion, a smokescreen. It was almost certainly deliberately designed to have in it glaring absurdities – such as the 'definition' of brutality in para. 106 – in order that the public, and the press in particular, would have their attention drawn to these lunacies and decide that the report, although an obvious whitewash, was designed to try to cover up ordinary brutality.
     As soon as the report appeared in November many people, not least the 'liberal' press, derived the satisfaction of scoring easy points off the report and ridiculing Sir Edmund Compton and his colleagues.[2] This may have personally 'hurt' Sir Edmund (although if the journalists involved didn't derive any lasting pleasure from their hatchet-jobs he cannot accuse them of 'brutality') but it doubtless delighted the Army and the senior Tory ministers who were in the know.[3] For the truth is that, after the report, people were only talking in terms of an incompetent whitewash and not in terms of a successful government operation to hush up a carefully thought out, albeit unsuccessful, torture experiment performed by Army intelligence operators.

But to the report itself. Its 'constitution' was, even by British standards, absurd. The British government has a long tradition of reports and inquiries, one of the most recent and 'inadequate' being the Denning report on the Profumo affair. Following this fiasco, the English Royal Commission of Tribunals under Lord Justice Salmon, the eminent High Court judge, made specific recommendations in an attempt to ensure that future tribunals would not appear so farcical to the general public. As I have pointed out elsewhere,[4] the Compton Report failed in at least seven ways to comply with even the basic recommendations of Lord Justice Salmon.

1.  Salmon had recommended that all future inquiries be conducted in public in order that the public could have confidence and justice 'could be seen to be done'. Compton sat in secret.
     2.  Salmon recommended that the chairman of the committee should be 'a person holding high judicial office'. Compton was not, and never had been, such a person. He was a Unionist functionary who had served as a supposed 'ombudsman'.
     3.  Salmon recommended that the other members of the committee be appointed by the head of the judiciary, in order to avoid any appearance of political bias. Gibson and Fay were appointed by Reginald Maudling, the Secretary of State for the Home Office (and close friend and business acquaintance of well-known bankrupt John Poulson and of Jerry Hoffman, international swindler and jailbird).
     4.  Salmon recommended that none of the committee members 'should have any close connection with any political party'. As the former 'ombudsman' Sir Edmund had very close 'connections' with the Unionist party.
     5.  Again, ignoring Salmon's recommendations, the committee was not vested with power to compel the attendance of witnesses.
     6.  Again, contrary to Salmon, the committee had no power to demand the production of documents – such as medical reports, police duty books etc.
     7.  The detainees, all of whom had been illegally arrested, were denied legal aid of any kind. (After a public and professional outcry they were eventually allowed a lawyer, but he was barred from even seeing, let alone hearing or questioning, the defence witnesses, while all police and Army witnesses were legally represented.)

In fact Compton saw only one 'complainant' and received written evidence from another. As opposed to this he admits (para. 18) to hearing ninety-five Army witnesses, twenty-six police witnesses, eleven prison officers, five regimental medical officers, two medical staff officers, two civilian doctors and two specialists, one from a military and one from a civilian hospital, as well as receiving from their secretaries written evidence from a further ten prison officers and one police officer.[5] The refusal of the other 340 detainees to have anything to do with the committee which they regarded, rightly or wrongly, as being composed of government lackeys did not, Compton claims, 'frustrate our inquiry since material for our investigations has been made available to us in the form of allegations published in the press and transmitted to us from a number of other sources'. (In fact 'the press' turns out to be only the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times, as para. 11 somewhat shamefacedly admits.) It is interesting to read what Lord Justice Salmon had to say on this point: 'A tribunal should not base any finding on comment, on anything save the evidence given before it at a hearing.' (Compton moreover refused to hear evidence from such organizations as Amnesty International or the Association for Legal Justice.) Ignoring all this, Compton even attempted to use it as a factor in favour of the Army and police. In para. 24 he states: 'We have indeed been able to test the Army and police witnesses by so examining them and to form a view of their credibility, with or without the corroboration of documentary evidence.'

Salmon stated that

the public may be left with the feeling that the inquiry, if behind closed doors, is no more than what is sometimes referred to as 'the usual whitewashing exercise' – the odds against any such tribunal being able to establish the truth, if the truth is black, are very heavy indeed. Any government which in the future adopts this procedure will lay itself open to the suspicion that it wishes the truth to be hidden from the light of day.

Prophetic words. Compton however has a ready 'answer'. In para. 22 he emphasizes that in his and his henchmen's view, their ability to reach conclusions was

not impaired by the fact that we heard evidence in private. It has been open both to complainants and to those complained against to be legally represented. No complainant availed himself of this facility, though we were assisted by the legal representatives of army and police witnesses. Nor have we felt the need for powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and production of documents, as far as the army and police evidence is concerned.

Too much space could easily be taken up by pointing out the callous absurdities of Compton, but it is particularly instructive to look at paras. 43-105 inclusive, the paragraphs which deal with the 'guineapigs'.
     Firstly, although Compton and his fellow 'investigators' had, they claim, the 'active assistance' of no fewer than 154 Army and police personnel plus Messrs Creaney, Macartney and Smith of the Northern Ireland bar, as well as, according to the Sunday Times Insight Team,[6] a Home Office official and a Whitehall lawyer, they were unable even to do their sums correctly. They list eleven men as having undergone the 'intensive interrogation' process, omitting Micky Montgomery from their report. Yet even a simple perusal of Army records should surely have shown that Montgomery was subjected to exactly the same arrest and torture processes as P.J. McClean, Pat Shivers and Micky Donnelly, first at the PCP (Prisoner Collection Point), then at the RHC (Regional Holding Centre) and finally at the secret torture centre. Moreover, as Compton was in the process of 'investigating' the treatment meted out to the twelve men – or eleven as he claimed – a further two 'guineapigs', William Shannon and David Rodgers, were being subjected to the same treatment not ten miles away from the luxury Conway Hotel where Sir Edmund and his colleagues took their ease. So much for 'intensive inquiries'.
     Compton's 'explanation' of the 'interrogation in depth' makes incredible reading – but only if one supposes that it was intended to be taken seriously. He begins by reprinting the Bowen recommendations[7] and goes on to 'explain' that

information can be obtained more rapidly if the person being interrogated is subjected to strict discipline and isolation, with a restricted diet; but violence or humiliating treatment, as explained above, are forbidden. Equally any person undergoing interrogation must be assured of security against either violent treatment by his fellow detainees or recognition by them; the evidence of IRA vengeance against informers underlines the importance of this safeguard. [Para. 46]

It must have been a real comfort to the 'guineapigs' to know that they were (a) being tortured for their own good, and (b) not being subjected to violence or humiliating treatment.

Compton then goes on to 'explain' the various elements of 'interrogation in depth', never once, however, explaining that, taken together, they constitute very severe sensory deprivation. In para. 48 he comments on wall-standing – the classic NKVD 'Stoika'.

Requiring detainees to stand with their arms against a wall but not in a position of stress[8] provides security for detainees and guards against physical violence during the reception and search period and whenever detainees are together outside their own rooms in a holding room awaiting interrogation. It also assists the interrogation process by imposing discipline. Although the security need for this technique could be reduced by an increase of staff sufficient to provide for the separate custody of each individual while in transit between his own room and the interrogation room, there would be increased risk of physical contact between detainees and guards.

This last sentence is virtually incomprehensible, containing as it does such contradictions. The passage as a whole is apparently asking us to believe that wall-standing is in the victims' interests. The claim that the wall-standing was not a 'stress posture' is rather contradicted in para. 62, where Compton went on to admit that 'detainees attempting to rest or sleep by propping their heads against the wall were prevented from doing so... The staff were instructed, for example, to part legs not by kicking or hacking them but by pushing them outwards with the inner calf of their own legs.' He hastily goes on to add that 'no one was batoned to make him stay against the wall or was otherwise beaten whilst in this position'. All the men alleged beatings to force them to stand against the wall, but Compton finds this hard to believe because 'the guards had been specially trained to handle the detainees by methods which avoided violence or physical damage' (para. 63). He is therefore at a loss to account for the bruising, black eyes and abrasions reported, and assumes that they must all have been 'accidental'. In an incredible statement (para. 80) he adds that 'we were told that in a number of instances as a result of maintaining the required posture for a considerable period[9] the interrogatee would find his hands and arms had become numb. In such cases the guards would rub the hands or swing the arms of the interrogatee to restore feeling.' A touching picture of solicitousness which few, other than Sir Edmund and Co., may find credible.

Next comes another of Compton's monumental 'errors'. In para. 53 he claims that he and his team of skilled investigators 'have had unrestricted access to all the records made at the time, and taken evidence from the persons who supervised the operation'. To most people this would seem to be either an attempt at jesuitical semantics or a lie. As pointed out previously, he couldn't even get the number of 'guineapigs' right, but in addition to this, when we come to the supposed number of hours of wall-standing to which each detainee was subjected, glaring discrepancies appear. Compton states (para. 64):

From our inspection of the records kept at the time of this operation ... the men were at the wall for periods totalling as follows:

Mr Auld   43½ hours
Mr Clarke   40 hours
Mr Donnelly   9 hours
Mr Hannaway       20 hours
Mr McClean   29 hours
Mr McGuigan   14 hours
Mr McKerna   30 hours
Mr McKerr   15 hours
Mr McNally   13 hours
Mr Shivers   23 hours
Mr Turley   9 hours[10]

Subsequently press men and doctors have pointed out the extreme severity of this, noting how victims of the NKVD had 'broken' after less than a day of just wall-standing, let alone hooding, brutality, white noise, no sleep, inadequate diet etc. (Indeed, on the BBC TV programme 'The Burke Special', two volunteers from the audience gave up after less than five minutes of wall-standing, hooding, white noise and tactile deprivation.) But all the men interviewed insisted that they had had to stand against the wall for many hours more than those indicated by Sir Edmund. Admittedly, after twenty-four hours of such severe SD one's sense of time becomes very distorted and civilian experiments have shown that estimates of elapsed time by volunteers in SD experiments become increasingly inaccurate. Nonetheless, those interviewed were adamant that they had been up against the wall for considerably longer than alleged. In fact, they had. In March 1972, in his minority report to the Parker Committee, Lord Gardiner let the cat out of the bag. In paras. 7(a) and 7(b) he states:

While records were kept of the movements of the detainees for the 11th, 12th and 13th of August, the records for most of them were discontinued some time on the 14th or 15th and for four on the 16th... the report does not indicate how long any detainee was standing continuously at the wall.[11] We have seen copies of the partial records. [My emphasis – J.M.] They show that, subject to breaks for bread and water and for toilet visits, some detainees were standing continuously at the wall for periods of 6, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 8, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 10, 10, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 16 hours.

Next, the question of weight loss. Compton merely records briefly (para. 68) that 'the records kept by the doctor for each detainee entering and leaving the centre all show loss of weight during the time spent there'. Earlier (para. 51), he had stated that 'a diet of bread and water at six-hourly intervals may form part of the atmosphere of discipline imposed upon detainees while under control for the purposes of interrogation'. But he claims (in para. 55) that he examined the entry medical record,

written by the doctor when he examined each detainee on entry into the centre on the 11th August. The purpose of this examination was for the doctor to certify whether the detainee was fit for interrogation: we have confirmed that before he did so he was briefed as to the conditions that the interrogatee would experience. The patient was stripped and examined, his medical history and present state of health ascertained and recorded, with notes of the patient's weight and the existence or otherwise of cuts, bruises or other bodily damage.

In the previous paragraph Compton quotes the doctor involved as having told them that those in charge of the centre

had impressed him with their concern to avoid physical injuries to their charges and had given him every support in allowing him to exercise his professional duties. We put on record that both in his actions as recorded and by his evidence given to us, this officer satisfied us as having maintained the standards of the medical profession to which he belongs.[12]

After this mutual orgy of self-congratulation it may come as a surprise to learn that this anonymous credit to the medical profession, who among other things couldn't even diagnose a peptic ulcer in the case of P.J. McClean or Reynaud's disease in the case of Kevin Hannaway, didn't even have a weighing machine to record the men's weight. Compton, of course, despite his access to all the 'records' doesn't mention this and it is left, again, to Lord Gardiner to admit (para. 7(c)) that 'there was no weighing machine when the 11 [sic] men arrived and the recorded entry weights were mere estimates made by the doctor looking at the man. On the assumed weights there were weight losses up to 1 stone 2 lb. in six days.' So much for the 'records'. As for the severe weight loss – in fact all men reported losing at least one stone in weight in the six days – despite this Compton still 'finds it difficult to give credence to the far more serious allegations by some detainees that they were denied food and water for long periods, and think it was they who failed to take such food and drink as was offered them' (para. 96).

Next, Compton attempts to explain away the hooding – one of the most severe SD techniques which by itself can cause prolonged disorientation and hallucinations. He admits that the hooding did take place, from 11 to 17 August. His justification for it can most charitably be described as 'bizarre'. In para. 49 he states: 'The hood (a black pillow-slip which the detainee is not required to wear while he is being interrogated or while he is alone in his room)[13] reduces to the minimum the possibility that while he is in transit or with the other detainees he will be identified or will be able to identify other persons or the location to which he is moved. It thus provides security for the detainee and for his guards.' Again, Compton discovers tender solicitousness for the welfare of men whom the Army must have believed to be their sworn enemies, for surely they couldn't arrest an innocent man? Compton does go on to add reluctantly, however, that hooding 'can also, in the case of some detainees, increase their sense of isolation and so be helpful to the interrogator thereafter'. In his conclusions (para. 93) Compton further admits that as regards hooding 'the general allegations are substantiated, and we consider that they constituted physical ill-treatment'. Nonetheless the serious nature of hooding is constantly played down. No mention of SD is made. Indeed, Compton even implies that some of the 'guineapigs' rather enjoyed the hooding – in para. 59 he states 'we were told that in fact some complainants kept their hoods on when they could have removed them if they wished'.[14] Thus hooding is dismissed as being basically in the victim's best interests and of little or no harm to him, for according to Compton only 'some' people are likely to be affected by this treatment. The definite, proven, long-term effects are not even mentioned.

Similarly with 'white noise'. Compton claims (para. 50) that the continuous noise to which the men were subjected prevented them from either overhearing each other or being overheard and is 'thus a further security measure'. It is nothing of the sort! It is a particularly dangerous technique which, used in conjunction with the other techniques, induces total disorientation. In a throwaway line Compton adds that 'the extraneous noise ... may enhance the detainee's sense of isolation'. Even Lord Gardiner, a pillar of the establishment, was moved to comment in his minority report (para. 8) that 'we have received unchallenged medical evidence that subjection to a noise level of 85 decibels (at the interrogation centre it was 85 to 87 decibels) for 48 hours might result for 8 per cent in temporary loss of hearing'. Leaving aside the fact that the men were subjected to the 'white noise' for considerably more than forty-eight hours, it is instructive to note that none of them had their ear-drums examined by the dedicated doctor at the centre.

With regard to sleep deprivation Compton blandly records (para. 66): 'It was confirmed that it was the general policy to deprive the men of opportunity to sleep during the early days of the operation'. Compton's inventiveness seems to be flagging here – even Homer is reported to have nodded – and he can offer no explanation as to how this illegal act was really in the victim's interest. Similarly he gives no explanation as to why the men had to wear over-large, floppy boilersuits.

As to physical brutality, Compton is at a loss to account for any injuries received. Did not the officers in charge and the good doctor assure him that they would never have countenanced any such infringements of their 'rules'? And yet eight men had the temerity to complain that they had been kicked, punched, jumped on, kneed and physically beaten up – and that didn't even include allegations from Francis McGuigan, which Compton didn't receive from the Sunday Times, or Micky Montgomery, who apparently didn't exist. It is exceedingly difficult to understand how men can be forced to stand hooded against a wall and prevented from going to sleep without some violence being committed against them, and the best Compton can do is to record (para. 97): 'We make no findings under this head, for there is a conflict that we cannot resolve between the allegations and the denials that have been made to us by the supervising staff who controlled the proceedings and saw what took place.' Lest the security forces felt that this could in any way be taken as casting a shadow of doubt over their veracity Sir Edmund hastily adds that 'while it cannot be regarded as conclusive, account must be taken of the evidence adduced in support of these denials) consisting of the special training given to the guards to handle detainees by methods which avoided violence or physical damage, and the constant supervision exercised over the operation to ensure that these methods were used in practice'. A less 'gullible' person than Sir Edmund and his colleagues might assume that it was possible that the 'special training' given to the guards was in how to beat people up without leaving too much tell-tale bruising and scarring, and that it would be unlikely that any of the guards, officers or the doctor who had taken part in this disgraceful and illegal experiment would admit it.
     As for Joe Clarke, who suffered some of the worst violence, Compton records (para. 100):

It is confirmed that the handling of him was more forcible because of his active resistance. The particular injury for which we have evidence is the effusion on his knee which occurred between the two visits made by the doctor at 11.30 and 17.20 on the 13th August. We have not been able to ascertain how this happened but we are satisfied that the treatment given to it in the centre was correct, that he was kept under medical supervision and that this treatment was continued after admission to Crumlin Jail. We are not disposed to find that he suffered ill-treatment over and above the ill-treatment that he suffered in common with the other complainants. [My emphasis – J.M.]

For the rest,

Mr McClean's specific allegations of physical assault are denied by those who supervised the 11th-17th August operation. Their denial is confirmed by the evidence of the medical officer who visited him regularly during his six[15] days in the centre. The medical officer's exit certificate of the 17th August records 'Bruising right shoulder and both legs' which was not present on his entry certificate on the 11th August. But the medical officer had emphasised to us that these bruises were superficial, and, he thinks, consistent with the handling required to move Mr McClean who on account of his limp resistance had to be carried about the centre. The further injuries to Mr McClean mentioned in the 18th August medical records from Crumlin Jail, 'Black eye left, contusions arms and chest', are not, we think, due to action in the centre but must have been suffered by Mr McClean in transit by lorry and helicopter from the centre to Crumlin Jail. Our inquiries have failed to establish when and how this damage took place. Mr McClean himself makes no allegations of ill-treatment during his transit and it would therefore appear that the injuries were accidental.

This is one of the most blatant lies in Compton's pages. McClean was the first man to smuggle an account of what had happened out of Crumlin Road jail and the Sunday Times had given it to Compton himself. In it McClean gives comprehensive details of the numerous assaults made on him, both in transit and at the holding centre. The simple fact about the injuries which the doctor at Crumlin recorded is that they occurred at the centre and the conscientious doctor there ignored them when making out the exit certificate. Poor liaison with the Crumlin medical authorities meant that the second set of records were not suitably 'doctored' in McClean's case, although they were in the case of other men. Compton ends his summary of the brutality by stating (para. 102) that the injuries recorded at Crumlin for Kevin Hannaway must have been accidental also, because the doctor at the holding centre hadn't noticed them.

Finally we have Compton's apparently most fatuous statement of all – the by now infamous para. 105:

Where we have concluded that physical ill-treatment took place, we are not making a finding of brutality on the part of those who handled these complainants. We consider that brutality is an inhuman or savage form of cruelty, and that cruelty implies a disposition to inflict suffering, coupled with indifference to, or pleasure in, the victim's pain. We do not think that happened here.

Even Lord Gardiner could not forbear from commenting:

Lest by silence I should be thought to have accepted this remarkable definition, I must say that I cannot agree with it. Under this definition, which some of our witnesses thought came from the Inquisition, if an interrogator believed, to his great regret, that it was necessary for him to cut off the fingers of a detainee one by one to get the required information out of him for the sole purpose of saving life, this would not be cruel and, because not cruel, not brutal.[16]

But this was the whole point of the Compton Report. Any intellectual credibility that Sir Edmund might once have had could be sacrificed. The press could castigate him and talk about 'whitewashes' but the essential purpose was served. A smokescreen was' drawn across the experimental nature of the SD techniques. People could now, if they felt so inclined, believe that the British had brutally mistreated suspects, and a few liberals in England might stir their sluggish. consciences, but the vast majority of Englishmen would soon forget about it under a barrage of anti-Irish propaganda which the press would put out. Government ministers like Lord Carrington would still apparently be able to get away with stating on the radio that 'all detainees were murderers', despite the fact that of the first 1,576 men arrested, 934 had by mid-December 1971 been released. And no one would bother to question why the SD experiment had been carried out, who had authorized it and what permanent effects the victims would suffer.[17]

Footnotes Chapter 5:

  1. Nicholas Wade, in Science, 176 (1972), pp. 1102-5.
  2. see, for example, the Observer of 21 November 1971: 'Six grains of truth and a bucket of whitewash'.
  3. The Labour opposition do not appear to have been too worried, either. Denis Healey, for example, was only concerned that, as the minister responsible in 1967 for the operation of the Joint Directive on Military Interrogation in Internal Security Operations' Overseas, he was not blamed. Apparently Belfast, which Mr Faulkner so frequently assures us is 'as British as Birmingham or Bradford', is reckoned by the Army to be 'overseas', thus ascribing to the St George's Channel ocean status for the first time.
  4. In J. McGuffin, Internment (Anvil Press, Tralee, 1973), pp. 128-9.
  5. The 'accused' Army and RUC personnel had the benefit of the representation of three well-known Ulster Unionist legal figures, Messrs J. Creaney, R. Macartney and P. Smith, who were, according to Sir Edmund, 'of great assistance to the Enquiry' (para. 18).
  6. Sunday Times Insight Team, Ulster (Penguin, 1972), p. 291.
  7. Cmnd. 3165 (HMSO, 1966).
  8. Surely this inaccuracy is more likely to be deliberate than unconscious.
  9. Unspecified, although earlier Compton had claimed, erroneously as we will see, that it never exceeded six hours 'at a stretch' [sic].
10. Again no mention of Micky Montgomery.
11. In fact Compton does claim that no one was at the wall for longer than 4-6 hours at a time.
12. Others may agree with Fr Denis Faul, who called for the anonymous doctor's dismissal from the medical profession. (see British Army and Special Branch RUC Brutalities.) To refresh the memory of the absent-minded and apparently myopic doctor at the torture centre, I quote from the Oath of Hippocrates: 'I will abstain from all intentional wrongdoing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free.' More recently the Third General Assembly of the World Medical Association in London, October 1949, outlined the ethical principle which they felt should apply to all members of the profession: 'Under no circumstances is a doctor permitted to do anything that would weaken the physical or mental resistance of a human being.'
13. By and large it is pretty difficult to interrogate someone when they have a tight hood over their head! Hence the occasional removal of it when the victim was required to speak. Compton frequently refers to the prisoners' 'rooms': it may be a small point, but these are generally called cells. In any case, most of the men didn't see even a cell until they had been four days at the wall.
14. see Chapter 4, however, for an account of what happened to you if you tried.
15. In fact seven, but then Compton isn't very good with figures.
16. The Minority Report of Lord Gardiner is found in the Parker Report, Cmnd. 4901 (HMSO, 1972). This quotation is from para. 7D.
17. A bizarre, albeit ludicrous, tailpiece to the Compton Report occurred in May 1974 at Stavanger in Norway. British defence witnesses were giving 'evidence' at the European Commission of Human Rights when one 'well-known RUC Branch man' proceeded to deny the findings of the government's own Compton Report. 'There was no white noise,' he apparently told bemused commissioners. The noise had come 'unavoidably from a near-by aircraft factory'. (see Irish Times, 6 May 1974.) It is distressing to learn that, according to this officer, Messrs Short Brothers, Northern Ireland's only aircraft factory, have for over thirty years been torturing not only their workers but the entire population of East Belfast! It is true, however, that the factory is opposite Palace barracks.

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