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

Chapter 7
Parker: Cover-up Mk 2

The Parker Committee set a new and dangerous precedent. Previously there had been numerous judicial or quasi-judicial tribunals set up to determine if British troops had been guilty of brutality or 'ill-treatment'. Generally they had found the soldiers not guilty, or, at worst, 'over-zealous'. Always, however, it had been stated or implied that if brutality had occurred, especially during interrogations, it was wrong, and disciplinary measures would have to be undertaken to prevent a recurrence. Now for the first time a committee was established to decide not whether ill-treatment had occurred but whether it should be allowed to occur in the future.
     Their terms of reference were, they state, to consider 'whether and, if so, in what respects, the procedures currently authorized for the interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism and for their custody while subject to interrogation require amendment'.[1] The committee first met on 3 December 1971 and completed the report on 31 January 1972, although it was withheld from publication until 3 March 1972. The committee claims to have held a number of meetings, all in private, and considered some twenty-five representations from members of the public and ten from representative organizations as well as oral evidence from thirty-three witnesses, many of them from the civil and armed services.[2]

Parker, although riddled with inconsistencies and distortions, is deliberately a much more subtle report than Compton. For instance, there is a Minority Report submitted by Lord Gardiner.
     The Majority Report was by Lord Parker and Mr. J.A. Boyd-Carpenter,[3] and it did its best to acquit the security forces of any real wrong-doing. 'Sensory Deprivation,' they claim in para. 31, 'subject to the proper safeguards, limiting the occasion on which and the degree to which they can be applied, would be in conformity with the Directive'.[4] 'What would be intolerable for a man in poor health might amount to no more than inconvenience for a fit man,' they claim in para. 29. (If the treatment amounts to little more than an inconvenience for a suspect, why, one is tempted to ask, do it in the first place?) They go on to assert that because of this 'a doctor with some psychiatric training should be present at all times at the interrogation centre and should be in a position to observe the course of oral interrogation. It is not suggested that he should be himself responsible for stopping the interrogation – rather that he should warn the controller if he felt the interrogation was being pressed too far, having regard to the demeanour of the detainee, but leaving the decision to the controller' (para. 41).
     In para. 27 they state that they 'do not subscribe to the principle that the end justifies the means', having in fact used six paragraphs to do just that. According to paras. 20-23, as a result of torturing – or 'subjecting to ill-treatment' – the fourteen 'guineapigs', the 'following new information was obtained':

(1) Identification of a further 700 members of both IRA factions, and their positions in the organizations;
(2) over 40 sheets giving details of the organization and structure of IRA units and sub-units;
(3) details of possible IRA operations; arms caches; safe houses; communications and supply routes, including those across the border; and locations of wanted persons;
(4) details of morale, operational directives, propaganda techniques, relations with other organizations and future plans;
(5) the discovery of individual responsibility for about 85 incidents recorded on police files which had previously remained unexplained.
21.  It is also not without significance that the rate at which arms, ammunition and explosives were discovered in Northern Ireland by the Security Forces increased markedly after 9 August, and much the greater part of the haul has resulted either directly or indirectly from information obtained by interrogation in depth. Details of the total amount discovered in 1971 are as follows:

  1 January to 8 August 9 August to 31 December
Machine guns 1 25
Rifles 66 178
Pistols/revolvers 86 158
Shotguns 40 52
Rockets 55
Ammunition  41,000 rounds   115,000 rounds 
Explosives 1,194 lb. 2,541 lb.

22.  There is of course a danger that, if the techniques are applied to an undue degree, the detainee will, either consciously or unconsciously, give false information. So far as the operations in Northern Ireland are concerned, however, the information given was quickly proved to be correct except in a few cases in which incorrect descriptions were given of persons who could not be identified by name.
23.  A further advantage was the 'snowball' effect generated by following up the information thus obtained. Moreover, the indirect effect of these two operations of interrogation was that further information could be, and was, more readily obtained by ordinary police interrogation.

This is obviously an attempt to justify the illegal use of SD techniques by claiming substantial gains for the Army and police as a result of the interrogation. They go on to state dogmatically (para. 24) that 'there is no doubt that the information obtained by these two operations directly and indirectly was responsible for the saving of lives of innocent citizens', a claim which Lord Gardiner in his minority report also makes. It is however a grotesque and ludicrous statement, as a proper examination of the figures clearly shows.[5] The fact is that little or no information of value was obtained from any of the fourteen men, even though some of them were members of the IRA and indeed, quartermasters, who would have had considerable information of interest to the Army. Indeed, as the Sunday Times Insight Team has pointed out,[6] not only did the introduction of internment drastically accelerate the incidence of violence, particularly in Belfast,[7] but the numbers of arrests, arms hauls etc., did not show any substantial upsurge until at least three months after the SD experiments. Parker would have us believe that the SD torture experiment resulted in the men cracking and giving valuable information. This is not so. But, as the Army anticipated, there were side-effects, referred to by Parker (para. 23) as the 'snowball effect'. The introduction of internment saw a spectacular upsurge in the number of young people who volunteered to join the IRA. In the confused situation of the autumn of 1971, with many of the more experienced IRA men on the run or operating on a full-time basis, there was not time to teach many young people the techniques of resisting torture and intensive interrogation. Nor had all of them been imbued with the deep-rooted political convictions necessary to all revolutionary movements. Consequently, December 1971 and January 1972 saw some of the younger IRA men who were arrested cracking under the brutal interrogations of the RUC Special Branch.[8] Moreover, news of what had been done to the fourteen 'guineapigs' had become widespread – and in some cases even exaggerated. Consequently without having to resort to further use of SD methods the Special Branch could and did hold it over many suspects as a threat. 'If you don't talk you'll get what those others got,' became a familiar opening gambit at interrogation centres. And some did crack; hence the rise in the arrest figures and arms hauls – although, as Lord Parker admits, as the security forces' intelligence network grew they were bound to get more results anyway. And so while arrests did increase in number it is absurd for Lord Parker to relate this directly to the SD 'experiment'. It is also instructive to note that of the 1,576 men arrested between 9 August 1971 and 16 December 1971 no fewer than 934 – 60 per cent – were released, tending to make a nonsense of Parker's claims of 'great success'. Of course his report was issued in March 1972 at a time when the Army PROs were making that annual ritual claim about the 'by now defeated IRA'.

Lord Parker and Mr Boyd-Carpenter do admit, however, that some aspects of the SD experiments were 'unsatisfactory'. After stating that 'the techniques are taught at purpose-built intelligence centres where Service personnel are instructed in the Art [sic] of interrogation in depth and where members of our Services are also taught to be resistant to such interrogations' (para. 13), they go on to confess that 'there are no standing orders or manuals dealing in detail with the use of such techniques, and accordingly their exact application in real life situations depends upon the training already received by those who employ them'. Then follows a most disingenuous attempt at a cover-up as para. 13 continues:

It will be seen at once that such techniques can easily be used to excess, and specially so when their use is entrusted to personnel not completely trained in their use. To illustrate the matter, we understand that the Service training envisages a comparatively short period at the wall and subjection to hooding and noise there, while the detainees are taken one by one to be medically examined and the method of interrogation is assessed. Once that interrogation has taken place, it is envisaged that normally a detainee will be taken to a cell and not returned to the wall, or be hooded or subjected to noise. In practice, it may turn out that, through lack of proper accommodation, through lack of guards, through lack of interrogators, through the need to obtain personal and medical files and such matters, the degree of use envisaged is exceeded. In those circumstances, and in the absence of definite guidelines, there is a risk that the techniques will be applied to a greater degree than is justified either morally or under the Directive.

So, we are asked to believe, any suffering caused is unwitting and the result of unfortunate bureaucratic lapses, despite the fact that, as they admit elsewhere in the report, the whole training and experimental system had been set up since early March – six months previously. As Lord Gardiner says in his minority report (para. 14 (iii)), 'there was ample time to train a team of interrogators in our well tried and effective war-time methods'.
     Parker's references to the medical risks involved are dealt with in Chapter 8 of this book, and the rest of the majority report is concerned with making a few generalizations about 'safeguards' for the future – the authority of a UK minister should he invoked, a senior officer and a doctor with some psychiatric training should be present, careful records should be kept, etc. Subject to these 'humane safeguards' which, they stress, should be 'guidelines as opposed to rules', since 'it may sometimes be impracticable to comply fully with them', SD experiments into how to create psychoses in prisoners, which can literally drive them insane, can continue.

Lord Gardiner's minority report offers some contrast. Clearly, he was not too pleased with what he had learnt about the experiments. He provides far more information about the 'shortcomings' of the personnel at the holding centre than the entire Compton Report does. He also reveals (para. 6) that the Army claim to have used the SD technique in Aden, adding that, surprisingly, no mention of it is made in the Bowen Report.[9]
     Unlike his colleagues or Sir Edmund Compton (and one of his team was the former chairman of the British Medical Association) Lord Gardiner does evince some concern at the medical after-effects of SD treatment, and pays some heed to what the medical experts have to say. But above all he is concerned with the total illegality of the entire torture proceedings, as indeed, with his eminent legal background, he should be. It is worth quoting him in full on the legal issues involved:

Were they authorized?
8.  We have found this a point of some difficulty because our terms of reference appear to assume that the procedures were or are authorized. The only evidence before us on this point was that it could not be said that UK Ministers had ever approved them specifically, as opposed to agreeing the general principles set out in the Directive on Military Interrogation. If any document or Minister had purported to authorize them it would have been invalid because the procedures were and are illegal by the domestic law and may also have been illegal by international law. I regard this point as so important that I must develop it.

9.  I agree with my colleagues that the only relevant document is the Directive. This lays down two requirements:
     (a) Those concerned are to acquaint themselves with the laws of the country concerned, and are not to act unlawfully under any circumstances whatever.
     (b) They are to follow the principles laid down in Article 3 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (1949) and these include the prohibition of 'outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment'.

10.  Domestic Law
     (a) By our own domestic law the powers of police and prison officers are well known. Where a man is in lawful custody it is lawful to do anything which is reasonably necessary to keep him in custody but it does not further or otherwise make lawful an assault. Forcibly to hood a man's head and keep him hooded against his will and handcuff him if he tries to remove it, as in one of the cases in question, is an assault and both a tort and a crime. So is wall-standing of the kind referred to. Deprivation of diet is also illegal unless duly awarded as a punishment under prison rules. So is enforced deprivation of sleep.
     (b) In Northern Ireland in normal times the powers of the police and prison officers in relation to those in custody are substantially the same except for an immaterial difference in their Judges' Rules. Of the Regulations scheduled to the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) (1922), Regulation 10 provides that 'Any officer of The Royal Ulster Constabulary, for the preservation of the peace and maintenance of order, may authorize the arrest without warrant and detention for a period of not more than 48 hours of any person for the purpose of interrogation.' This Regulation does not in any way extend to ordinary police powers as to the permissible methods or limits of interrogation. Regulation 11 provides a limited power of detention and a limited right to photograph and finger-print and Regulation 12 a limited right of internment. Regulation 13 (5) provides that 'persons detained or interned in any of Her Majesty's prisons shall be subject to any rules for the government of prisoners awaiting trial including such general rules as are applicable to such prisoners, for the time being in force, except in so far as the said rules are inconsistent with this regulation'. We have seen the Prison Rules and certain Directions made by the Minister for Home Affairs, Northern Ireland, with regard thereto. There is nothing in them to extend to ordinary police powers of interrogation or to validate the procedures.
     (c) We have received both written and oral representations from many legal bodies and individual lawyers from both England and Northern Ireland. There has been no dissent from the view that the procedures are illegal alike by the law of England and the law of Northern Ireland. We have seen the Constitution of Aden and the relevant Statutory Instruments and Regulations relating to Aden and the same applies to Aden law.
     (d) This being so, no Army Directive and no Minister could lawfully or validly have authorized the use of the procedures. Only Parliament can alter the law. The procedures were and are illegal.

11.  International Law
     (a) It has been submitted to us that the procedures also involved infringement of
        (i) Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that
          'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment';
        (ii) Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which the United Kingdom has signed but not yet ratified) which provides that
          '7. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.
          '10.(i) All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person';
        (iii) Article 3 of each of the four Geneva Conventions scheduled to the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 which, so far as material, provides that
          'In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
          '(1.) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely...
          'To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above mentioned persons:
          '(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; ...'
          '(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment';
        (iv) Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that
          '3. No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'
        Article 15(i) provides that in time of war or other public emergency some of the provisions of this Convention may be derogated from, but Article 15(a) provides that 'No derogation from ... Article 3 ... shall be made under this provision.'
(b) I do not propose to express any opinion on these submissions because         (i) it may be open to argument which Convention or Conventions apply in the conditions of Northern Ireland;
        (ii) the most eminent lawyers notoriously differ on questions of construction. Words like 'torture', 'inhuman' and 'degrading' are clearly open to doubt;
        (iii) as the procedures were admittedly illegal by the domestic law and no Minister had power to alter the law, it is not necessary, for the purpose of the point I am discussing, to decide whether or not they were also illegal by international law.[10]

This is the strongest statement yet from an establishment figure on Army interrogation procedures, hut it is interesting that despite this he makes no recommendations for the arrest, trial or even disciplining of the torturers and those who gave their orders. Indeed, at the end of his report he appears to have regrets, and makes an almost pathetic attempt to exonerate Brian Faulkner and the RUC:

In fairness to the Government of Northern Ireland and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, I must say that, according to the evidence before us, although the Minister of Home Affairs, Northern Ireland [Brian Faulkner], purported to approve the procedures, he had no idea that they were illegal, and it was, I think, not unnatural that the Royal Ulster Constabulary should assume that the army had satisfied themselves that the procedures which they were training the police to employ were legal.

This is ludicrous. Brian Faulkner was not only the Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs at the time but the Prime Minister as well. As such he personally signed the special warrants for the detention and extensive interrogation of the fourteen men. If the Minister of Home Affairs is not aware that torture and assault are criminal offences (as Lord Gardiner has admitted) then he is either totally immoral or totally incompetent. Similarly, if senior members of the RUC Special Branch didn't know that common law assault is both a tort and a crime they should have been sacked from their posts long ago.[11] Further-more, not only did Brian Faulkner personally sign the special warrants authorizing the fourteen men to be taken away for 'the treatment', he then attempted to deny to the English Cabinet that any of what both Compton and Parker subsequently admitted to have occurred had taken place. There is certain grim aptness in the words of Belfast song-writer Barney McIlvogue:

O the craven and the cowardly,
They cannot be absolved,
They do the work of the torturers,
And say they're not involved,
At Buchenwald and Belsen
They said they weren't to blame,
But at the Court of Nuremburg
They were sentenced just the same.

As yet, Belfast has seen no war crimes tribunals.


On the day, 3 March 1972, that the Parker Report was issued, the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, made a statement to the House of Commons. After fully concurring with the Majority Report and stressing the alleged dramatic successes in the intelligence field which had resulted from torturing the fourteen men, he went on to state that in fact the government would be accepting the Minority Report of Lord Gardiner instead. Some, like Frank McManus, MP, saw this as the PM being 'shamed into discontinuing barbaric practices'; others like Stormont MP Robert Mitchell denounced Heath for 'chickening out'.[12] Most political commentators felt on the other hand that his actions were designed to secure the continued support of the Labour Party with its bipartisan approach to the Irish question, especially with 'peace offensives' in the air. There is an element of truth in this view, but even more likely it seems was the fact that Heath was worried about Europe. He had already been embarrassed by the Army's clumsy handling of the Northern Ireland situation and not least by their repeated claims to have 'got on top of' the IRA. He had neither known nor cared what the Army was up to at the interrogation centres but was annoyed when it was revealed that details of the torture would be raised at the European Human Rights Court at Strasbourg. If Britain were to be indicted in the court by her European neighbours it would not be an auspicious start to Britain's entry to Europe – only two days earlier the European Communities Bill had reached its committee stage – and so peace in Ireland had become a priority. Consequently, blatant illegalities should be avoided; hence the choice of Lord Gardiner, a well-known 'stickler' for the law, as a member of the committee. Now Heath could accept the recommendations of the Minority Report without its censure while at the same time accepting the whitewash of Messrs Parker and Boyd-Carpenter.
     If the Army were displeased they didn't show it. They had got away with their experiment, and had plenty more to occupy themselves with. As for the RUC, no one as usual, had bothered to consult them. Since, however, they had always preferred the less sophisticated methods of boot and fist to new-fangled psychological torture, they were probably quite content so long as they were not used as scapegoats by the Army.

Footnotes Chapter 7:

  1. Report of the Committee of Privy Councillors Appointed to Consider Authorised Procedures for the Interrogation of Persons Suspected of Terrorism, Cmnd. 4901 (HMSO). This quotation is from p. v.
  2. The use of the word 'claims' here is advised, since the committee failed to publish the 'evidence' received or to name those who had furnished it, on the grounds that 'considerations of national security were involved' – considerations convenient for those torturers who presented 'evidence'!
  3. A cynic might question the detached impartiality of Mr Boyd-Carpenter, since his only son Thomas was Company Commander of the First Battalion, Scots Guards, stationed at Lurgan.
  4. The Joint Directive on Military Interrogation in Internal Security Operations Overseas, issued on 17 February 1965 and amended on 10 February 1967.
  5. Indeed, following this logic one could maintain that a major strike at Ford Motor Works, Dagenham, is automatically justified in that it is responsible, through the ensuing substantial loss in car production, for saving the lives of countless would-be road-accident victims.
  6. Sunday Times Insight Team, Ulster (Penguin, 1972).
  7. For example:
April-July 1971:
August-November 1971:
Soldiers killed
RUC killed
Civilians killed
  8. On November 1971 the Sunday Times published statements from various doctors concerning the men who had been savagely beaten by the Special Branch, particularly between 16 October and 18 November. It was widely accepted that these cases were only the 'tip of the iceberg'. Witness also the large number of statements from this period taken by the Association for Legal Justice.
  9. In fact it would seem that the Army was lying about this point. Clearly, certain aspects of the SD treatment were used in Aden, as mentioned previously, but there seems to be no evidence whatsoever of the full SD treatment as used in Ireland being used in Fort Morbut or any of the other Aden torture centres. I base these remarks not merely on the worthless Bowen Report, but on personal interviews with Adeni detainees, the Rastgeldi Report published by Amnesty International, and Peter Deeley's book Beyond Breaking Point.
10. See the Minority Report to the Parker Report, paras. 8-11.
11. In fact in 1973 Michael Slevin, one of the leading SB men of the time, was awarded an MBE. (Two of his subordinates were less lucky. John Doherty, a Gaelic speaker, was identified as one of the torturers at Palace barracks and summarily 'executed' by the Provos near Lifford in October 1973; and Ivan Johnson, who had been accused of brutality at Ballykelly, was shot on 15 December 1973, again by the Provos.)
12. But then, Mr Mitchell was often given to bizarre ideas. In 1971, for instance, he recommended that the Army use flame-throwers against rowdy (and presumably non-'Loyalist') crowds; and later that year he advocated that the internment camp he set up in the wilds of Canada, rather than Long Kesh.

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