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

Chapter 8
The After-effects

'No detainee in Northern Ireland has suffered
permanent lasting injury whatsoever, mental
or physical' – Reginald Maudling[1]

'The basic fact is that there was no brutality,
no torture, no brainwashing, no physical
injury, no mental injury' – Lord Balniel
(as Minister of State for Defense)[1]

When the Parker Committee was set up it invited several well-known psychiatrists and doctors to 'advise' it. In the Majority Report of Lord Parker and Mr. Boyd-Carpenter they admit blandly that the simple answer as to whether the men subjected to SD are likely to suffer mental after-effects was, 'Don't know.' As they explain (para. 15), 'One of the difficulties is that there is no reliable information in regard to mental effects, particularly long-term mental effects, and, as one would expect, the medical evidence varied somewhat in emphasis.' Further on they state that 'it is true that in a small minority of cases some mental effects may persist for up to two months. There is no evidence of a mental effect lasting longer ...' There is a simple reason for this. No one had ever (outside of the Soviet Union, possibly) been subjected to this particular intensive SD treatment before, and consequently at the time of the Parker Report no follow-up psychiatric tests had been run on the victims.[2] As the Majority Report admits (para. 16), previous tests on Army personnel were no guide to the effectiveness of SD – hence the Army's desire for 'rebel guineapigs': 'In such cases no lasting mental effect whatever has been observed, but in our opinion this is by no means conclusive. The real thing is obviously quite different from the experiments. [My emphasis – JM] Going on to explain that the same inadequacies applied to the civilian experimentation, Messrs Parker and Boyd-Carpenter then proceed to widge[3] in a most ludicrous manner. 'There is no real risk for long-term mental injury if the proper safeguards are applied in the operation of these techniques.'

Lord Gardiner in his Minority Report is much less sanguine. He admits that 'it would seem unlikely that the procedures would not result in some minor physical injuries' (para. 13a) and, in contrast to his colleagues, states that the decibel level of the 'white noise' might result for 8 per cent in temporary loss of hearing and in 1 per cent in some permanent loss of hearing.
     As for the mental effects, he is again more frank than his collaborators on the origins of the SD treatment:

According to our information, interrogation in depth as described in the first Compton Report is a form of sensory isolation leading to mental disorientation which was itself invented by the KGB [sic] in Russia where they first placed suspects in the dark and in silence.
     As one group of distinguished medical specialists put it: 'Sensory isolation is one method of inducing an artificial psychosis or episode of insanity. We know that people who have been through such an experience do not forget it quickly and may experience symptoms of mental distress for months or years. We know that some artificially induced psychoses, for instance those produced by drugs like LSD or mescaline, have in fact proved permanent; and there is no reason to suppose that this may not be a danger with psychoses produced by sensory deprivation. Even if such psychotic symptoms as delusions and hallucinations do not persist, a proportion of persons who have been subjected to these procedures are likely to continue to exhibit anxiety attacks, tremors, insomnia, nightmares and other symptoms of neurosis with which psychiatrists are familiar from their experience of treating ex-prisoners of war and others who have been confined and ill-treated.'
     There is a considerable bibliography of experiments in this field, particularly in Canada. Some experiments have been done in England with troops and civilian volunteers, but it was the cumulative effect of the techniques which was important in the present context and naturally neither troops nor civilians had ever been subjected to such cumulative techniques as were used in Northern Ireland and it was impossible scientifically to prove that they would, or that they would not, have lasting effect ... [My emphasis – JM] All emphasised the fact that in the field of mental disorientation everyone had a different threshold, which made the imposition of specific time limits of great, and some though insuperable, difficulty.

So much for the 'safeguards' suggested by Messrs Parker and Boyd-Carpenter, in flagrant contradiction to their own expert witnesses. And what is one to make of Reginald Maudling's statement at the beginning of this chapter? One point worth bearing in mind here is that a distinguished neurologist and a psychiatrist had been invited by the Tory government to give evidence to the Parker Committee. Professor Wall and Dr. Antony Storr were asked by BSSRS[4] to visit the 'guineapigs' in Long Kesh accompanied by a Belfast doctor, Pearse OMalley, who had already seen three of the men, to give an impartial assessment of their mental state. But permission to visit Long Kesh was refused them – the man responsible being none other than Reginald Maudling.

Dr. O'Malley, a Belfast psychiatrist, was the first medical man to see any of the men who had undergone the SD experiment. He saw two of the original twelve men in Crumlin Road jail sixteen days after their ordeal, and one of the subsequent 'guineapigs' in October. He estimated that all three had developed a psychosis within the first day of interrogation. 'The psychosis consisted of loss of sense of time, perceptual disturbances leading to visual and auditory hallucinations, profound apprehension and depression, and delusional beliefs – e.g. hearing Paisley lead an evangelical choir intent on slaughtering Catholics.'[5]
     Of the three men, Dr. O'Malley gave as his professional opinion that one would recover completely, one would possibly recover but the process would be a lengthy one, and one was in need of urgent psychiatric assistance if he was to make a full recovery. Despite the doctor's recommendations, nothing was done by the authorities and all fourteen men were subsequently moved from Crumlin jail to Long Kesh.

As mentioned before, little or nothing had hitherto been known about the long-term effects of such intense and prolonged sensory deprivation upon people. What was certainly known was that in order for men to recover, amongst many other things, relaxed, peaceful and friendly surroundings were needed.[6] In stark contrast to this are the conditions in Long Kesh. Long Kesh is damp. It is overcrowded – and many believe that the overcrowding is deliberate. The actual space allocated, fifty feet by twenty-five feet for forty men, living and sleeping combined, is liable, when applied on a similar scale to rats or monkeys, to produce cannibalism in the former and very aggressive behaviour in the latter.[7] It is almost totally lacking in adequate recreational or educational facilities. Worst of all, perhaps, are the medical facilities. Since 1971 when the camp was first opened there have been numerous complaints about lack of treatment for people suffering from deafness, asthma, dental problems, heart complaints, etc. On 9 September 1973 an internee Francis Dodds, aged 31, who had been previously examined the day before by the camp doctor and informed that there was nothing wrong with him, collapsed and died of a heart attack. Hygiene with regard to sheets, pillow-cases and towels was non-existent and the internees often went for weeks without clean laundry. As for medical treatment, the most common was a standard issue of tranquillizers – 2 mg. or 5 mg. of Valium or the sedative Mist. Chloral Hydrate. This tended to be given out for any ailment, from a sprained wrist to acute anxiety neuroses. Clearly this was not the best environment for men recovering from intense SD. Nonetheless, these were the conditions to which they were subjected.

Although no test results existed, this side of the Iron Curtain at least, of the after-effects of intense SD, much work had been done on the after-effects of similar highly traumatic experiences, such as battle fatigue. Loughlin says: 'Post-traumatic symptoms can run the gamut of clinical manifestations. We also recognize that anxiety, hypochondriacal and hysterical reactions are the most frequent. Phobias, depressions, emotional fatigue and the obsessive-compulsive reactions are less frequently observed.'[8] Hocking adds that the anxieties created can in their turn produce gastro-intestinal, cardio-vascular and genito-urinary symptoms, tremors, sleep disturbance and its subjective reactions, all of which may be very long lasting, if not permanent.[9]

Nonetheless, the government continued to refuse to allow independent and distinguished doctors, psychiatrists and neurologists to examine the men concerned. Despite this, a committee from Amnesty International, consisting of a Swedish chairman, a Dutch doctor and a Norwegian lawyer managed to examine four of the internees mentioned by Compton and concluded that their treatment clearly amounted to brutality', adding that the techniques used on them were 'dangerous both to the immediate mental health of the individual subjected to this treatment and to the long-term health of some subjects, especially those with a family history of mental illness'. Again, there was no response from the authorities.
     There the matter rested for some time. The fourteen men remained incarcerated in Long Kesh, all independent inquiries were consistently refused, and the men were not even allowed visits from their own doctors. Gradually things went from bad to worse as many of the men s mental and physical health deteriorated. In March 1972, seven months after the SD treatment, one of the men, Sean McKenna, became so bad that he had to be transferred to the camp hospital He couldn't bear to be alone, shook continually, found it hard to articulate, had severe headaches, recurrent nightmares about being attacked by groups of men, and kept bursting into tears. He was subsequently transferred to a psychiatric hospital and eventually released. Jim Auld too had to be moved to the camp hospital in a state of collapse. News of this leaked out,[10] and more pressure was put on the Whitelaw administration to speed up the release of internees as he had promised. (That many of the men were being held solely as political hostages was common knowledge, and was confirmed when Whitelaw ordered the release of several hundred men whom both Lord Carrington and Brian Faulkner had publicly, and without a shred of evidence, branded as 'murderers'. Faulkner then hastily made yet another volte-face and announced that he had been going to release the men anyway if Whitelaw had not taken over the imposition of direct rule.) And so, when the gates of Long Kesh opened in July 1972 and large-scale releases began, amongst those freed were six of the 'guineapigs'. Six remained, and were there still two years later. (Francis McGuigan had already escaped and Sean McKenna had been transferred to the psychiatric hospital.) Once some of the men were released reputable doctors, as opposed to paid government functionaries, were able to examine them.

Professor Robert Daly is an expert on Sensory Deprivation. A graduate of Dublin University and then an instructor in psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, he later became a lecturer in psychiatry at Edinburgh University before moving to University College, Cork, where he lectures at present. Among his many publications are articles on the Sensory Deprivation elements in aerospace medicine and artificial kidney machines. Consequently, when the Fianna Fail government of Jack Lynch decided to take the British government to the International Court at Strasbourg it is hardly surprising that Dr. Daly was one of the experts asked to examine some of the victims of Army and Special Branch 'interrogation', and in particular, some of the SD 'guineapigs'.[11] Because the cases were due to be heard at Strasbourg, most of the psychiatrists held their counsel for a time. As the procedures were prolonged and procrastination followed delay, some began to speak out, feeling it to be a very real matter for public concern. One of the first was Dr. Daly.

In an interview with The Times – hardly a 'pro-Republican' or 'subversive' newspaper – he said that he had interviewed around twenty men who had been subjected to extreme coercive pressure while in the hands of the security forces in the North, including some who had been subjected to Sensory Deprivation.

Almost all the patients I saw had overt psychiatric illness. The individuals I have seen have been experiencing considerable psychological disability and suffering, and also psychosomatic problems. The commonest symptoms found were of marked anxiety, fear and dread, as well as insomnia, nightmares and startle responses. These were characteristic of people who had been subjected to traumatic experiences, like shell-shock in wartime. Depression was almost universal amongst these individuals. Weeping attacks have also been common. I feel that it is particularly worrying that the problems of psychosomatic illness, such as peptic ulcers, headaches and buzzing in the ears have emerged in the men so quickly – a considerable number are already showing such symptoms.

Usually, he explained, these symptoms would not emerge until a long period had elapsed.

The shortness of the period in these cases might point to the severity of the experience. The men have a diminished will to live, a generally diminished hold on life. Some of the men have said they don't care if they live or die. These people exhibited 'parasuicidal phenomena'.

In other words, although they may not actually attempt suicide, they might well take undue and dangerous risks, regardless of their safety. 'Some of the men said they would sooner die than face further interrogation or torture chamber experience.'
     'The men are generally irritable and inattentive to their surroundings.' (Although Professor Daly does not mention it, one of the 'guineapigs' walked out of one of the Professor's testing sessions saying that he 'couldn't take it anymore', and that it reminded him too much of the interrogations.) 'Some of the men have had emotional disturbances to the extent that it is disabling. Some are now unable to work.' (One, indeed, had to be sent to Dundrum psychiatric hospital in the South for a period of time after his release from Long Kesh.)
     As to whether the mental illness in the men could be permanent, Professor Daly had this to say:

Only the future can tell us. It would be irresponsible to say that there would be no more long-term effects. In other contexts there has been considerable delay, in some cases, between exposure to ill-treatment and the appearance of symptoms. We should be very worried about the delayed onset of symptoms in a person who has been subjected to ill-treatment.

Professor Daly stressed that the whole SD process was a 'package deal'. Being awoken in the middle of the night, being beaten, confused as to your whereabouts, lied to and insulted, was all part of the 'unfreezing process' through which your psychological defences were broken down, and terror and humiliation were induced. Hence the photographing in the nude, being forced to urinate while running, refusal to allow toilet visits, the sadism and abuse. Meanwhile the physiological functions of the body were being disturbed by the very low or non-existent intake of calories, high temperatures caused by sweating which could lead to dehydration, coupled with the cold at night, sleep deprivation and loss of the sense of touch. 'The whole experience was a package,' he said, put together in a pre-planned way. 'Whether you want to call it interrogation in depth or brainwashing is academic. The aim of the treatment was to cause temporary psychosis – temporary insanity, which was a severe psychological injury liable to have lasting consequences.' Of course, the men did have psychotic illnesses, with delusions and auditory and visual hallucinations.
     When questioned by The Times reporter as to whether the men could be faking the symptoms, Professor Daly replied in the negative. 'It is very hard for a layman to simulate mental illness in a clinical interview,' he said. 'There was a consistency, with a variety of details, in what they told me, which was not in keeping with simulated mental illness. When the men took psychological paper-and-pencil tests their scores indicated that they were what they said they were.' His interviews had been conducted a year after their original SD treatment (i.e., August-September 1972) and judging by the state most of them were in it is important that 'considerable medical help is made available to these men, both for treatment and for prevention of the emergence of further difficulties'.[12]

Confirmation of Dr. Daly's conclusions came from Dr. Anthony Starr, the Harley Street psychiatrist. As early as November 1971 he had warned: 'Nearly everyone can be reduced to a state of helplessness, dependency and even mental illness if the right techniques are used. The physical results of such treatment are severe enough, and some may be permanent. The mental effects are much more difficult to predict, but the effects of terror are seldom entirely transient.'[13] Dr. Storr had given evidence to the Parker Committee on the dangers of SD interrogation methods, but his words had largely been ignored (except perhaps by Lord Gardiner). Two years later, when interviewed by The Times about Professor Daly's conclusions, he said: 'It is exactly what I would expect. All the evidence is that SD, even for paid volunteers in the best possible circumstances, is an extremely alarming experience. It is very frightening to go mad.' ... 'They (the security forces) have by these methods made people experience what schizophrenics or others experience.' In conclusion he said: 'The thing that I think needs stressing is that the general public does not realize that procedures which do not actually involve beating up other people can still do permanent harm to them. What interrogators want today, all over the world, is to find methods of breaking people down which don't leave marks.'[14] Sensory Deprivation is one of those techniques.

The government's response to this barrage of scientific evidence and opinion was predictable – and dishonest. The Northern Ireland Office said that it 'stood by the statement made by Mr. Maudling in November 1971'! Asked if any checks had been made on the 'hooded men' since they had been released in order to find out the long-term effects of the Sensory Deprivation the anonymous spokesman said: 'We have no access to these men. They are not under surveillance.' (A somewhat slipshod attitude for soldiers to take to men whom they had previously alleged were terrorists, or 'murderers', as Lord Carrington would say!) 'It is not really possible to follow up such private individuals, nor do we know what they have been doing since then.' This is another lie. Five of the men have been living at home, at the same addresses from which they were 'lifted' on the morning of 9 August 1971. Four of them have been frequently 'screened' by the Army and one, Micky Montgomery. was recently in the news when he became the first Republican to be elected to the Derry City Council for forty years. As for those still held – Donnelly, Hannaway, Clarke, Shannon. McNally and McKerr – the spokesman admitted that they were still in Long Kesh but declined to comment when asked what mental and physical state they were in or what tests had been carried out on them. In fact. reports emanating from Long Kesh indicate that two of them are in a particularly bad way and are given heavy doses of Librium and Valium daily. Kevin Hannaway, moreover, still has the blood disease which he had on arrest, but now in an exacerbated state which necessitates special blood tablets daily. Most have not been allowed to see their family doctors.[15]

Further light on the after-effects of Sensory Deprivation was also given at the Conference for the Abolition of Torture organized by the Irish Section of Amnesty International in Dublin on 6 October 1973.[16] Despite the apparently naive state of mind of some of the speakers – Professor Russell of Bristol University, for example, claimed that the security forces in Northern Ireland were 'strikingly unaware of the significance of what they were doing' – a patent nonsense – much valuable confirmation of Professor Daly's, Dr. Storr's and Dr. OMalley's findings was presented by Mr. Brendan McGann, Director of the Institute of Psychology in Dublin, Dr. Inigo Fischer, Director of the Behavioural Studies Unit at University College, Dublin, and Mr. Brian Glanville, Director of Psychology of the Eastern Health Board. They had interviewed and tested five of the SD victims and confirmed that long-term after-effects were present. Mr. McGann made the point also that whereas in the early days after the men's release from Long Kesh in 1972 the Southern government had been only too willing to help, there had been in 1973, 'a change in the political climate in the Republic'. Their work into the personality changes experienced by the men had run into serious difficulties. 'When we mentioned the nature of the study, nobody wanted to have anything to do with it.' Supporting him, Dr. Fischer claimed that 'we feel it is absolutely necessary that there should be a follow-up of all persons who have had the in-depth interrogation. As psychologists, because our techniques are being used, and particularly to the detriment of people, we must make a very strong protest.'[17]
     As a result then of the 26-Counties government's recent cordial relations with the British government, despite the Littlejohn Affair and the car bombs in Dublin at the end of 1972, virtually all research into after-effects of SD has stopped in the Republic of Ireland, though research from the interrogators' standpoint of course continues. [ See the next chapter for examples.] And, as has been pointed out, the British government has continually refused permission for responsible independent scientists to visit the 'guineapigs' still in Long Kesh.[18]

In researching this book I have, however, spoken to six of the men concerned. I am not a doctor, nor do I have any psychology credentials, bar a one-year course at university; but I have read widely on SD research and techniques, and interviewed doctors and psychiatrists fully conversant with symptoms and after-effects. Of the six SD victims to whom I have talked, it is obvious even to a layman that at least four have been badly affected. Only two appear to have made an almost total recovery, two years after the experience, and even they are prone to violent nightmares and migraine headaches. One of the other men has had periodical blackouts – once when he was behind the wheel of a car – and has lost all his powers of concentration. He hates to talk about his experiences, but once he starts has an uncontrollable urge to keep on talking about them for hours. Another man has a bad facial tic and is obsessive about 'his case', which his lawyer is bringing for compensation. Two of the men still have trembles in their hands. And, as mentioned before, another has had to be admitted for a spell (two months) to a psychiatric hospital.
     These men have been the victims of a callous and sadistic experiment. As yet, not one has received any compensation whatsoever.[19] On the contrary, they have been vilified and slandered by men like Carrington and Maudling. In the past it has been said of the British Empire that the sun never set on it, and the blood never dried. Now that she has been deprived of her Empire the British government, and her agents the British Army, must divest themselves of their callous colonial state of mind. In the Guardian Peter Jenkins wrote a piece after the Compton Report condemning interrogation in depth and stating that what might have been acceptable treatment of people in Aden was unacceptable in Birmingham or Leeds.[20] It is, apparently, acceptable in Belfast. It should not be. In Belfast. In Aden. In Buenos Aires. In Moscow. In Athens. In Madrid. Anywhere.

'He jests at scars that never felt a wound.'
SHAKESPEARE. Romeo & Juliet.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Throughout this chapter I have followed Professor Daly and Mr. McGann's decision and not named the men suffering from specific after-effects. This is an attempt not to make any recovery they may make any more painful for them. The sceptical or the hostile may attempt to claim that this detracts from any 'scientific validity' this chapter may have. So be it. They have not seen the men involved. The above-mentioned doctors and I have.

Footnotes Chapter 8:

  1. Statements made in the House of Commons, 17 November 1971.
  2. Some psychiatrists have subsequently been making a healthy living – $16.80 a case is the figure quoted – doing tests on the caged inmates of Long Kesh. Indeed, psychiatrists are not the only ones to profit from Long Kesh. Apart from the English and Scottish prison warders imported at great expense and paid considerably more than their Irish counterparts, there are the lawyers. At times they have protested about the ludicrous proceedings at the secret 'trials' but, as Fortnight magazine has pointed out (8 February 1974), 'a day's work at Long Kesh is worth a couple of hundred pounds'.
  3. To widge: deliberately to draw conclusions totally at odds with the evidence hitherto presented – especially during what are termed 'whitewash operations'. cf. Lord Widgery of Bloody Sunday.
  4. The British Society for Social Responsibility in the Sciences. Soon after the Compton Report, they published a memorandum urging the British government to abandon disorientation techniques. They stated that while Russian methods did not involve physical torture or complete SD, they still left 'enormous scars on the personalities of the sufferers'. 'There is no reason,' they went on, 'to suppose that the Ulster methods. shorter, though apparently more intense, than the Russian ones, would not leave comparable after-effects and there is some evidence to suggest that they would. Brainwashing and disorientation techniques overlap to a great extent. In the light of the psychological evidence and of the findings of the committee of inquiry, we urge the government to abandon the use of disorientation techniques during the interrogation of political prisoners.'
  5. From an interview with the author, 12 September 1973. See also articles by Dr. Tim Shallice (Cognition, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 385-405), and Nicholas Wade (Science, 176 (1972), pp. 1102-5).
  6. There is a strong suggestion from data such as those provided by EEGs (electroencephalographs) that the effects of SD depend critically upon how the subject conceives of the situation. Fear and uncertainty clearly exacerbate his state of mind. See C. W. Jackson and J. C. Polland, Behavioural Science, 7 (1962), pp. 332-43.
  7. Long Kesh saw its first suicide in May 1973, when Patrick Crawford took his life. There have been over a dozen cases of men being transferred to mental institutions.
  8. H. P. Laughlin, The Neuroses (Butterworth, 1967).
  9. F. Hocking, 'Extreme Environmental Stress and its Significance for Psychopathology', in American Journal of Psychotherapy, 24(1970), pp. 4-26.
10. see, for example, an article by Simon Hoggart in the Guardian of 6 May 1972.
11. Subsequently, the government of the 26 Counties, first under Jack Lynch and then under the Cosgrave Fine Gael/Labour coalition, has backpedalled rapidly on the question of indicting Britain for torture, brutality and flagrant breaches of the Human Rights Charter. Now they prefer to use the charges as a lever when they negotiate with Britain. Most observers believe that, lust as the Greeks did over Cyprus. they will eventually accept a secret settlement and drop the charges. Despite this, attempts are still being made by various individuals, with the help of the NI Civil Rights Association, to raise other cases, much to the embarrassment of Sir Peter Rawlinson, Britain's representative at Strasbourg to say nothing of the irritation afforded to the Dublin government.
12. Article by Martin Huckerby in The Times of 9 June 1973. See also the Irish Times of the following day.
13. see 'Why Hooding is Mental Torture' in the Sunday Times of 21 November 1971.
14. The Times, 9 June 1973.
15. 'Packi' McNally was finally released on 18 December 1973, Shannon in January 1974. Joe Clarke was refused release on the grounds that 'since August 1971 he had frequently consorted with known Republicans'. Clarke's efforts to explain that the only way he could avoid doing that was to escape, which would have been illegal, were greeted with stony and hypocritical silence. He has just spent his third winter in Long Kesh. For further information on how people's alleged behaviour while imprisoned without charge or trial has affected their chances of getting out see The Times of 31 January 1974.
16. For a report, see Dick Grogan's article in the Irish Times of 8 October 1973.
17. For an interesting statement on the culpability of scientists and psychiatrists who allow their researches into SD to be used for the purposes of torture, see Dr. Shallice's article on Cognition, cit. cf. material from the BSSRS. op.
18. The long-term effects on men who have been tortured and held in concentration camps have been fully documented. See in particular the work of Prof. Paul Thygesen of the University of Copenhagen and Leo Eitinger of Oslo. Precis of their work in English can be obtained from Amnesty International. Briefly, they conclude that after-effects are still present twenty years after the event.
19. At last, some claims have been settled. See Afterword.
20. Guardian, 24 November 1971.

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