Extracts from 'The Guineapigs' by John McGuffin (1974)
[KEY_EVENTS] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
INTERNMENT: [Menu] [Reading] [Summary] [Background] [Chronology] [Main_Pages] [Sources]
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
'I hear music and there's no one there.'
This is an account of the next eight days. It is taken from the victims' own words, in their statements to the Association for Legal Justice and from private interviews. First Joe Clarke, then aged 19, single, motor mechanic:
After being hooded I was led to the helicopter and I was thrown bodily into the helicopter. During this exercise my hands and wrists were hurt due to the others handcuffed to me not being pushed equally. (Before being led off to the helicopter, I understand that one of the hooded men, now known to be F. McGuigan, collapsed when the hood was first applied.) On being put into the copter, the handcuffs were removed and were applied to the back of the hood to tighten it around the head. The helicopter took off and a journey which I would estimate to have taken about an hour began. The helicopter than landed at a destination unknown to me and we were taken from the copter and led into a building and eventually into a room where I was made to stand in a search position against a wall. My position was the same as for other men fully stretched, hands as far apart as humanly possible and feet as far from the wall as possible. Back rigid and head held up. Not allowed to relax any of the joints at all. If any relaxation of limbs arms, elbow joints, legs, knee joints someone came along and grabbed the limb in a rough manner and put it back into position again. After being against the wall for a few hours. I was taken away and brought, I was told, to a doctor. Sometime during this period I was taken out of this room, put into a helicopter and flown away. I was always handcuffed and hooded. When the 'copter landed I was put into a lorry, driven a short distance, transferred to a jeep, five-minute journey, put into another 'copter, taken for half-hour journey. End of journey put into a police van, driven short distance, five-ten minutes, beaten about the face and body, transferred to other vehicle. Holding my face, asked why, said that I did not want to be beaten again. Assured that I wouldn't be. Brought into a building, hood removed, shown detention form. Hood replaced, return journey as before
It is worth noting that of the twelve men only Clarke physically resisted. After days of ill-treatment and goaded beyond control, he reacted with an attempt, albeit futile, to strike out at his captors and tormentors. Dr. Pearse O'Malley of the Mater Hospital, Belfast, who examined two of the 'guineapigs' while they were recovering in Crumlin jail from their ordeal, has explained how during the intensive sensory deprivation, as the disorientation is prolonged, aggression is likely to manifest itself. In the case of Joe Clarke this took the form of trying to retaliate, but in the case of at least two other men the agression became inverted and they even attempted suicide, by throwing themselves head first at the water-pipes.
Another account of the eight days of fear and pain was given by Pat Shivers. Having had virtually no sleep for two nights at Magilligan, at 4:45 a.m. along with McClean, Montgomery and Donnelly he was taken from the hut. His account goes on:
Plain-clothes men beside us. Four blue bags produced and put over our heads. Short of breath because of bag. Then released from handcuffs which connected one to the others and hands handcuffed in front individually. Then run across field to 'copter. Landed, did not know where. Lorry backed up to 'copter. Taken out and thrown into back of lorry, like a sack of potatoes. Lorry smelt of cow dung. Driven in lorry for about 100 yards. Pulled out of lorry (bag still over head) marched into some sort of building. Stripped naked, examined by doctor. Bag still over head. Put lying on bed and examined. Army overalls (I later discovered) put on me, taken into room. Noise like compressed-air engine in room. Very loud, deafening.
Hands put against wall. Legs spread apart. Head pulled up by bag and backside pushed in. Stayed there for about four hours. Could no longer hold up arms. Fell down. Arms put up again. Hands hammered until circulation restored. This happened continually for twelve or fourteen hours, until I eventually collapsed. Thinking how that Paisley had seized power in some way and that I would be executed or tortured to death. Started to pray very hard. Mouth dried up. Couldn't get moisture in mouth. Pulse taken. Thought of a youngster who had died at six months old, started to pray that God would give me strength that I would not go insane. Fell down several times more. Slapped back up again. This must have gone on for two or three days; I lost track of time. No sleep. No food. Knew I had gone unconscious several times, but did not know for how long. One time I thought, or imagined, I had died. Could not see youngster's face but felt reconciled to death. Felt happy.
During this time no one word spoken at all. No words had been spoken since I left Magilligan. Bag still over my head. I did not speak just prayed out loud. Noise all the time. After collapsing on final occasion, I felt somebody working my body up and down as if to revive me and restore circulation. Seemed to rise again and go against wall again, put my hands up.
I was dragged into a room by the bag over my head, and a voice in my ear asked me if I had anything to say. These were the first words since I left Magilligan I reckoned about two or three days previous. Hands pushed against the wall until I collapsed again. Fell with face against wall. Fell against pipes at floor level. Pulled up again and threw face against wall until by body sore. Then arms out again, head well back and something like a ruler stuck into my back to force it straight.
Shoes slipped on at this stage. Then taken out and thrown into back of lorry. Half carried, half pulled out again. Heard noise of helicopter. Boarded again. Did not know how long helicopter stayed in the air. Can't recall. Could hear someone moaning beside me. Taken off helicopter into back of lorry. Very roughly handled.
Taken out of lorry by two or three men. Hunched and made to run over something like corrugated iron. Head beaten against wall. Brought into building. Sat in chair. Bag taken off head. First thing I saw was RUC officer Head Constable, I thought from two stars on shoulder. Might be able to recognize him again, seemed to be plain-clothes secretary sitting behind him. Looked horrified when he saw me. Scum over my lips from lack of water and of thirst. Must have looked terrible. Read out paper. I know I looked terrible. Later found out it was a detention document. I tried to speak. Could only manage to whisper. 'Why did you do this to me?' Man behind me holding bag, pulled my hair back, said, 'Speak up. Can't hear you. I can't hear you,' I reached over for document to look at it. Eyes blurred, could not read it properly. Taken from me by man behind. Shoved it in my breast pocket. Bag pulled over my head again. I was pulled out at running pace. Run about fifty yards. Thrown into back of lorry again. Seemed to be police or military in the back. All punching me in neck and knee-caps. I could see what appeared to be Army or police boots by toe-caps. Got a heavy crack at side of face. Passed out.
When I came to I was in the helicopter again, heading I knew not where. Lorry backed up again. Taken into noisy room. Same room where I had been before. Same treatment. Hands up feet apart. Getting weaker. Did not feel hungry now but had nothing to eat for many days. I had lost count of days. Hands hammered until blood came back again. Collapsed. Hands taken up loosely as I lay on the floor, let drop again to see if I was out.
Sat on backside in straight position with protruding pipe at floor level cutting into base of spine. Arms, legs and knees now numb and stiff.
Taken into room. Bag taken off head for second time. Detective of Special Branch there before me, with a cup of water sitting on the desk. Men who had taken bag off my head slipped out the door behind me. My voice was nearly gone. Told me to take a drink of water. I drank a mouthful my first in about four or five days.
Started asking questions. Could not answer. No voice and half hysterical. My lips sticking together with scum. He got angry and told me to speak up. Began asking questions about IRA activity and arms dumps around Toome. I did not know what he was talking about. I had no knowledge of anything. After about half an hour he said, 'I am going to send you in there again,' which he did.
By this time I was at the end of my tether, my whole body, my arms, legs started to tremble uncontrollably. I passed out again. After this, the doctor wrapped me up in blankets. Carried me out to what appeared to be a small surgery. I lay there shivering and shaking. Took my pulse. Felt behind my ankles., Got excited, took some blood pressure twice by tourniquet method (belt around arm inflated with airj. Put something in my mouth, I thought it was a drug and spat it out. The second time he said, 'Keep that in your mouth as I am only taking your temperature. He spoke with an English accent. Bag still half over my head. Could not see him. Now gave me mug of hot liquid. They held my mouth and forced it in. Taken into another room. Put lying on floor. Lay there. Started to sweat heavily. Dungarrees became sticky. I could not sleep. My body was sore all over. Bag still over my head. I lay there for a long while. Can't recall. Then taken out. Marched around the room a few times and up a hallway. Taken into interrogation office, I discovered later.
A different Special Branch man interrogated me. Asking me about Civil Rights, Roddy McCorley Memorial Fund, Credit Union and my views about politics. Asked me who I voted for in the last Stormont election. Insisted I was connected with one of two IRA groups. Taken out again. Bag over my head and put into a cell. Sat there on ground. No furniture, no blankets. New appearance. Half slept, shivered from cold for some hours, can't recall exactly.
Detective came in again. Put bag over my head. Interrogated again. Some questions, my religion, took ages of all my children. My wife's name and address, where she was born, where I was born etc. Name and address of all my friends. Offered me a cigarette, I took it.
Put back into tell with mattress on the floor. Lay there for a while, taken out again and interrogated. Lost count of these interrogations. Perhaps four or five times. Same questions. According to Branch men, all my friends were in the IRA. At last interrogation, Branch man turned very nice. I told him I was going to see my own doctor because I had no faith in the doctor who would put me through all this agony. I thought at that time I was a physical wreck. Told me I could stay in cell with no bag on me, provided I lay with my head turned against wall possibly so that I would not identify men who put bag over my when when they came again.
They offered me stew meat and potatoes, which I refused. Asked me if I had a bad stomach. Then I was brought hot coffee which I took. One piece of bread and marmalade which I took. Then he told me I would get a shave and clean up in the morning. I was going to Belfast prison which I did not mind. Could not sleep well. In the morning I was taken into a room. Got shaved, feet washed. Chalk marks washed off back of my hands. My feet and hands had been numbered when I was against wall. Hands. feet and back of dungarees had been marked. They seemed to have been changing these marks from time to time. Saw number four on back of hands. I think the soles of my feet were marked similarly. Now washed off. Shaved myself.
Taken out and into cell. Clothes brought in for my identification. Taken out and then brought in again. Put them on. Took belt off me. My trousers would not stay up as they used to without the belt. Knew then I had lost weight.
I was told to walk up and down to get blood circulating in my body. I was very weak. Detective came in again and put bag over my head. Taken to see doctor and helper, told me to strip. Given full examination. Weighed me. To my amazement I weighed only 115 lb. I knew I was 128 lb. when I was arrested.
Went to put my clothes on. Detective said I had to go through another procedure. Took me naked into another room with a photographer with the detective standing beside me. Told me to turn around. Picture taken again. Clothes put on. Back to cell.
Bag over my head again. Lorry. 'Copter. Over an hour in the helicopter. Taken into police jeep. Taken through hole in wall. Taken to reception, weighed again. Doctor saw me that night. I asked what day it was. Tuesday. I had been eight days in custody.
It should be pointed out that, while some of the twelve 'guineapigs' were in the IRA, Shivers was not and never had been, a fact which even the local SB men in Toome, his hometown, recognized. On his eventual release, the local sergeant told him that he had no idea why he had been arrested in the first place.
Another completely innocent man, and one of the most articulate arrested, was Paddy Joe McClean, a remedial school teacher from Beragh, County Tyrone. McClean's was the first account of the SD experiment smuggled out to the AU. In it he told how at 4:45 am. on Wednesday 11 August.
a hood was pulled over my head and I was handcuffed and subjected to verbal and personal abuse, which included the threat of being dropped from a helicopter which was in the air, being kicked and struck about the body with batons on the way.
After what seemed about one hour in the helicopter I was thrown from it and kicked and batoned into what I took to be a lorry. The lorry was driven only a couple of hundred yards to a building. On arriving there I was given a thorough examination by a doctor. After this all my clothes were taken from me and I was given a boilersuit to wear which had no buttons and which was several sizes too big for me.
During all this time the hood was still over my head and the handcuffs were removed only at the time of the 'medical examination'.
I was then taken into what I can only guess was another room and was made to stand with my feet wide apart and my hands pressed against a wall. During all this time I could hear a low droning noise, which sounded to me like an electric saw or something of that nature. This continued for what I can only describe as an indefinite period of time. I stood there, arms against the wall, feet wide apart. My arms, legs, back and head began to ache. I perspired freely, the noise and the heat were terrible. My brain seemed ready to burst. What was going to happen to me? Was I alone? Are they coming to kill me? I wished to God they would, to end it. My circulation had stopped. I flexed my arms to start the blood moving. They struck me several times on the hands, ribs, kidneys and my knee-caps were kicked. My hood-covered head was banged against the wall.
As I have said this particular method of torture lasted for an indefinite period, but having consulted other men who suffered the same experiences I believe the period to have been about two days and nights.
During this time certain periods are blank fatigue, mental and physical, overwhelmed me. I collapsed several times, only to be beaten and pulled to my feet again and once more pushed, spreadeagled against the wall. Food, water and the opportunity to relieve my bowels were denied me. I collapsed again.
I came to in what I believed to be Crumlin Road jail, having been pushed into a chair. The hood was removed and I was handed what I was told was a detention form. I was told to read it. My eyes burnt and were filled with pain:
they would not focus and I couldn't read the form. I was thanking God that my ordeal was over. No more pain, now I could sleep. But no! The hood was pulled over my bursting head. I was roughly jerked to my feet and half pulled, half kicked and beaten for about 400 yards. This was the worst and most sustained beating to date. Fists, boots and batons crashed into my numbed body. someone else's not mine. Hands behind my back, handcuffs biting into my wrists. Pain! Someone pulling and jerking my arms. Thrown headlong into a vehicle soft seats, beating continued, boots, batons, fists. Then the noise, that dreaded helicopter again. Dragged out of the vehicle by the hair, thrown onto the floor of the helicopter. Blacked out.
Conscious again. Hands manacled in front of me. Pushed against a wall, legs wide apart. I dug my fingernails into the wall. Pain all over me.
Now that I can relax and think about it I can't find words to describe that pain. Without attempting to be melodramatic I think I can best describe it by saying I was enveloped in stretching. cramping pain.
My mind began to drift. I tried to sing to myself. I was going mad. I must already be mad to stick this.
Still standing rigid against the wall someone takes my pulse, sounds my bruised chest over my heart. Must be a doctor.
Dragged along. Pushed into a chair. hood pulled off. Screaming, blinding light, questions fast and hard, couldn't speak. 'Spell your name.' Tried to find the letters, swimming in my brain couldn't spell my name. I must be insane. More questions blows, hair pulled. Still can't see well. A table three men at it all writing blinding light.
I was told I would be given half an hour to rest and think. Then I would be asked more questions and if I didn't answer them I would be taken back to the music room' the room with the noise pain.
Sleep deep, black sleep. Pulled to my feet. Back to the questions again. would not give answers. Back to 'music room
Feet wide apart, hands handcuffed against the wall. Droning noise fills my head. By this time I could feel no pain. Just numb. Dragged away from the wall, legs buckled under me, fell to the floor. Dragged by the ankles up and down shallow steps. Didn't care past feeling pain. Didn't have a body.
From now on it was interrogation back to the 'music room some sleep. Then the first taste of water in how many days? Some dry bread and more water.
We were given our first 'meal'. This consisted of a cup of watery stew which I had to eat using my fingers as utensils. The hood was lifted just enough to leave my mouth free. We were then allowed to the toilet for the first time since we arrived.
Punishment now eased off. Interrogation continued. Strict questioning no beatings just threats and personal insults. Food of a more substantial nature, still badly cooked and served, but at least it was regular.
The hood was taken off and I was allowed my first wash.
Now I was allowed to sleep, but the room was so cold that sleep was hard to come by. The fear of more beatings was still with me. I was terribly alone! They gave me one blanket to keep me warm, they said.
I was then told it was 'all over' and that I was going to be interned in Crumlin Road jail. I didn't believe them another trick, I thought. Still uneasy still worried still alone.
Hood still over my head, but treated better now. No questions, no beatings.
Journey to Crumlin Road jail by lorry, helicopter and Land Rover. I was still sane, still alive thank God!
In many ways McClean is the most 'interesting' of the 'guineapigs' in that he was the one man who was able to figure out what was really going on and acted accordingly. After hours at the wall he decided on a policy of total non-cooperation. This meant going limp and collapsing. It also meant a lot of beatings as he was lifted against the wall, collapsed and was lifted again in a seemingly endless cycle. But, as McClean later said, 'we were getting beatings all the time anyway'. Eventually McClean was left alone on the floor for a time, only being hauled up to his feet when being dragged off to yet another interrogation. Later, however, he was hung by handcuffs on a hook on the wall on three occasions. His questioning was entirely political rather than military, and confirmed that the interrogators knew that he wasn't a member of either wing of the IRA. McClean was able to give details of his interrogators, who informed him that he was 'somewhere on the continent'. One of them even told him his name, doubtless false, and had a Ballymena accent, while another claimed to have come from Fivemiletown, though, McClean says, he had no local geographical knowledge.
McClean claims that his main mistake was to tell his interrogators that he knew what they were up to. This greatly annoyed them and made things worse for him in the short run. 'It is much better to adopt a policy of total non-cooperation and say nothing at all,' he says. 'Whether you are innocent, as I was, or guilty, it makes no difference. They weren't concerned on whether we were guilty or not indeed they knew that some of us were completely innocent they were concerned with our reactions to the extreme stress of Sensory Deprivation...
Micky Donnelly, aged 22, a bricklayer from Derry, gave, his story also on his arrival at Crumlin:
We were taken out at 4:00 a.m. into another hut where we were given sausages and beans which nobody could eat. We were then put back into the hut. After about an hour we were taken out, handcuffed and brought into another room. Two of us were handcuffed together. I complained to an RUC constable called Hood that the handcuffs were too tight, so he promptly took them off and put them on even tighter. I asked him if we were going to Rathlin Island,. and he jeered back. 'Where you are going is worse than Rathlin.' Then the black hood was put over our heads. This hood was made double, i.e. two layers of cloth all around. There was no mouthpiece or sights in it. It was impossible to breathe through it, one had to suck air from below. It was reasonably loose on the shoulders. Initially it was a horrific sensation. I was at this time handcuffed myself my two hands together. I was then led out and put into a helicopter. I was walked into the step up to the helicopter, banging my legs. From this point onwards I have no clue where I was until this hood was removed on the afternoon of Tuesday. 17th August.
Wednesday morning, 11 August. until Tuesday evening, 17 August:
During all this time I did not know where I was. I was led to believe by the Special Branch that I was in England. On being removed from Magilligan I would estimate that the helicopter journey lasted half an hour at the end of which journey I was taken out and transferred to a lorry. During this first helicopter ride there was no threatening or abuse. After a short lorry ride during which I was made to lie face downwards in the back with other men thrown on top of me, I was dragged in and out of this lorry and in the course of this dragging my arms, legs, and body and head were being banged against the lorry. On getting out of the lorry after a short journey I was led into a building. In this building the hood was held tight around my neck. All my clothes were removed and I was given a medical examination by a person whom I presume to be a doctor and who spoke with an English accent. After this medical I was given an Army overall to wear. It was too short for me. This was the only clothing that I had to wear until my own clothing was returned to me, shortly before I left on my last helicopter ride which took me. as I now know, eventually to Crumlin Road prison.
After being given the overall I was taken outside the room and along a corridor into another room and made stand against the wall as one is made to do for frisking, only I was made to stretch my legs and arms as far apart as I could get them. My feet also had to be as far from the wall as possible.
I was made remain in this position for at least two and at most four days with the hood on. I lost all track of time, but there is no doubt that I remained in this position for days. If I did not keep my head straight I was hit with a fist on the small of the back to make me straighten up. If I did not keep my back rigid I was 'thumped' again in the small of the back. On occasions, not very often, I was struck on the genitals with a hard object and on other occasions a similar hard object was thrust into my arms. During the duration of this stance, to my knowledge I went unconscious at least four times. I do not know for how long I was out. On numerous occasions I fell flat from fatigue and physical exhaustion, due to my hands and arms becoming numb, painful and powerless. When this occurred I was lifted and feeling was beaten back into my arms and hands and I was put back into my original position As the duration of my stance against this wall grew longer, the collapsing and falling became more frequent, until eventually I must have been falling once every twenty minutes to thirty minutes. During all of this time against the wall I was fed bread and water, i.e., one slice of hard dry bread and half a cupful of water. This was taken by means of the hood being lifted up to the level of just above the mouth. This was fed to us by one of our captors. I would have been fed this on about six occasions in all.
A further factor which played particularly on the mind was the constant presence of a high-pitched hissing sound which seemed to have been 'piped' into the place where we were. After a period this really played on the mind and led eventually to a kind of illusion where I thought I heard someone singing familiar tunes. At times I sang along with them. I remember in particular singing 'Henry Joy'. Outside of this noise nothing else could be heard, except the groans and squeals of other men, I presume, who were undergoing some sort of physical anguish or mortal torture.
At the end of this period against the wall I was then taken away from the wall and asked if I would like to see a policeman. I replied that I did. I was taken away and I presume into another room where a voice said 'You wanted to see me? You asked to see me?' I said that I did and that I wanted to know why I was there. At this time the hood was held tightly against my neck by someone behind me. I also asked for my wife to be contacted. In reply to this they told me that I'd see nobody and that I'd never see her again. Having spoken to this man who was alleged to be an RUC man, I was let out, my shoes put on and I was thrown into a lorry. I was manhandled, thumped and punched all the way to the lorry and in it. I had been handcuffed again before being taken out. In the lorry other people were thrown on top of me. A hand was put over my mouth, the result being that I could not breathe and so I yelled. In reply to my yell, I was beaten about the head and face with what I presume to be fists. The next I knew was being put into a helicopter and taken away. I would have been half an hour at most in the 'copter. In the 'copter I overheard voices talking about 'throw him out'. Before I went into the 'copter I was asked if I could swim.
At any rate the 'copter landed again and I was removed and manhandled into a van. I was thrown onto the floor of this van. Whilst lying on the floor of this van the hood was pulled tightly around my neck and someone stood heavily on my handcuffed hands. After this I felt my wrists bleeding. After this journey in the van I was taken into a room where the hood was lifted up sufficient for a detention form to be thrust in front of my face by an RUC sergeant whom I had seen before at Magilligan before the hood was put on. After being shown this, the hood was put back on again and I was removed again and put back into the same van, I think, out of which I was taken and the van moved off again. During this van journey I was severely beaten with fists with concentration on my stomach and kidneys, chest and ribs. I was beaten unconscious. When I came round I was being dragged out of the van and along the ground. I was being dragged by the handcuffs.I was then put back into the helicopter. I was verging on the unconscious whilst in the helicopter and 1 cannot remember clearly anything about this trip in the 'copter. When the helicopter landed I was taken from it and put into a lorry, only this time I was thrown in on top of someone else. After this journey in the lorry which appeared short a few minutes I was put back into the room where the hissing noise was and where I was the long period prostrate against the wall. My shoes were again dragged off me. I was just then left to stand as before against the wall and the collapsing continued as before. At this stage I was fairly far gone and so I cannot recollect precisely how long I was against the wall on this occasion but I would say that it was for a good number of hours perhaps twelve. At the end of this period I was again asked if I wished to speak to a policeman; I said I did, and so I was after a period of time brought to one, but all I asked him to do was to contact my wife. I was then led back against the wall again. By now I had lost all track of time, but the remainder of the time from now until I had the hood removed on Tuesday 17th, 1 was subjected to continuous interrogation by what I presume to be RUC Special Branch. In between interrogations I was put back against the wall and on other occasions I was just thrown into a room. I was suffering a great deal from the cold. I was so cold that I could not drink the water. In the course of the interrogations by the SB I was offered the odd cigarette. I was interrogated then at great length about the IRA both in Belfast and Derry. The interrogation was entirely concerning IRA activities and IRA men. I completely denied all knowledge of any complicity in any illegal activity. The interrogation was, on the whole, friendly. I was not beaten during it. The interrogation also covered a gamut extending from the influence of the RC Church in the troubles to Blaney, the Fianna Fáil TD [MP]. The Catholic Church, I was told, was responsible for the trouble. This interrogation would have extended over a period of a couple of days, at the end of which period I was again driven a short journey in a lorry and put into a helicopter and then the helicopter moved off. Before being taken on this journey I was washed up and shaved and photographed in the nude back and front. This last 'copter journey must have lasted at least one hour and at the end of the journey when the helicopter landed the hood was removed and I found myself in a lawn. I was marched through a hole in a wall past a football pitch and into what I now know to be Belfast prison. It was daylight and since it was my first time in daylight since Wednesday 11th, my eyes were dazzled and sore. Just before I left on this last 'copter journey I had got my clothes and my shoes back.
When I was first brought into the prison I did not know where I was and so I asked someone, I think a policeman, and he told me that I was in Salisbury jail. I then asked a warder where I was and he told me. He also told me what day it was Tuesday 17 August. On Tuesday in the prison I was given something to eat but was kept locked up alone in the cell until the following morning. I was not interrogated during this time.
In order to increase the men's sense of confusion and to increase their well-founded paranoia, most of them were told that they were 'in England', 'on the Continent', 'in the Hebrides' etc. Where in fact were they? We cannot be absolutely certain. The location of a torture centre is classified as an official secret by Her Britannic Majesty's Government. Neither the Compton Report nor the Parker Report reveal its location. Nonetheless, consensus of opinion points to Palace barracks, Holywood, a few miles outside Belfast. The Sunday Times Insight Team have stated this as a definite fact,7 and it is true that the two later SD victims William Shannon and David Rodgers were almost certainly subjected to the treatment at Holywood. If this is so, however, the Army appear to have gone to some considerable lengths to have concealed the location from the victims, to the extent of flying around to kill time, since each trip to the centre appears to have taken about thirty minutes, while a direct helicopter trip from the landing stripe at the back of Crumlin jail to Palace barracks, Holywood should take no more than ten minutes at most.*
At any event, from the point of view of the British Army, this part of the operation was a 'success' the men were really disorientated. Fear, hooding, the noise, cold, hunger, all led to trance-like states for all the men. Hallucinations began. One of the men described how he thought he was in a lighthouse, looking out to sea. Two sailors kept forcing him to look at the view. One of them kept 'standing at ease' and stamping on his left foot. (His left foot was in fact very swollen and several toe-nails had come off.) Finally he felt he couldn't stand it any more and turned on the sailor. Seizing his gun a Colt 45, as used in all the best Westerns he ran out of the lighthouse and up a mountain, pursued by hundreds of armed men. Reaching the top, he found he was trapped, and tried to commit suicide rather than fall into the sailors' hands again. He turned the gun onto his stomach and pulled the trigger. When he realized he wasn't dead he fired again. He felt that since he was dead, he must fall, so he collapsed. Awakening from the 'dream' he found himself being kicked awake as he lay on the floor. He was then lifted up and put against the wall. In his own words, 'I cried because I wasn't dead.'
Later, still up against the wall, he dreamt that he was at home and in bed. He could feel pain and the hood over his head was suffocating him. He couldn't reconcile the hood over his head with being at home, but finally puzzled it out, that the hood must be his blankets. He turned around and took the hood off 'these aren't blankets', he said. He saw a huge Negro, dressed in a check shirt, a loose tie, grey flannels and baseball boots rushing at him. 'Sorry mister, I was dreaming,' he said, putting the hood back on and turning around to the wall again.
The same man is certain that he was four or five days and nights without sleep. 'I got a wee doze while diving to the floor,' he claimed, and 'I used to fall down so that they would kick me and get the circulation going again.'
Interrogation periods had to be prolonged at all cost. They generally occurred after he had collapsed, and he was dragged in. The longer he could prolong the conversation the better. The constant threat was 'back to the music room'. The bribe was 'a cigarette, a mattress and sleep'. Once he was offered a cigarette if he would tell his interrogators the names of any IRA men. He agreed, took the cigarette and managed to get three pulls on it before they took it out of his mouth and insisted that he fulfil his part of the 'bargain'. 'I stalled for almost a minute it's not much, but even a minute out of the "music room" was worth it. Then I blurted out "Joe Cahill" and "Sean MacStiofain". "Get back in there, you cheeky bastard."'
Most of the others 'heard' music at one time or another during the days of wall-standing. Mickey Montgomery 'heard' Sousa marches and an Italian tenor singing. P. J. McClean heard protest poems, hymns and the death service being declaimed.
Montgomery overhead one of the interrogators say, as he was being led back to the wall, 'Your man thinks he hears music,' and then laughter. Another 'heard' ferocious sermons about hell fire in the distinctive ranting voice of Ian Paisley.
These were all probably audio-hallucinations no two men heard the same sounds apart from the white noise, but it is also possible that tape recordings were used to confuse and add to the disorientation.*
Cold was also a factor used to weaken the men an element that neither Compton nor Parker mentioned. All the men complained of cold hardly surprising considering the barn-like structure of the holding room, with its concrete floor and the ill-fitting boilersuits which were their only garments, and, coupled with mental and physical exhaustion, the lack of warmth was certainly a factor contributing towards their collapse.
But nothing could last forever. Eventually, on the eighth day, as they have related, they were transferred back to Crumlin Road jail, In their exhausted state their chief emotion was that of overwhelming relief, They were not, then, to appreciate how serious the after-effects were to be, In Crumlin some spent the first two days in the prison hospital and some in the basement cells, where they were segregated from the rest of the detainees. There they met some of the men who, it was planned, were to be their successors, For while the twelve 'guineapigs' were going through their terrifying ordeal, a 'second eleven' was being carefully picked from among those detainees in Crumlin. Seven men Sean Murphy, Billy Close, Angelo Morrelli, Dessie Crossan, Eamonn Kerr, Billy Reid and Peter Farran were picked and removed to the basement.*
The reasons for this are still an official secret, but some grounds can be discerned. Most important of all was the secret visit to Edward Heath. The visitor was none other than Cardinal Conway, Archbishop of Armagh.
Since the initial internment swoop of 9 August, wives and relatives had of course frantically been trying to locate their men. By 13 August they had all been either released or located at Crumlin 'all or on Board HMS Maidstone all, that is, except for the twelve 'guineapigs'. Officialdom was completely silent about their whereabouts. As frantic wives were fobbed off with one lie after another* [*Mrs. Shivers of Toome for example, was given a phone number to ring by the Army at Palace barracks, It turned out to be the number of Ian Paisley's 'Dial a Prayer'.] and ran from one jail to another they were aided by various social workers, MPs and priests. One of the most tireless of the latter was Father Denis Faul of Dungannon. Even he, however, made little headway in his search for the missing twelve. Then, on 17 August, news came. The men had all turned up at last in Crumlin. What was more, despite strict security one of them had managed to smuggle a detailed message out, giving an account of what the twelve had been through. The account got to Father Faul. After one look at it he went to his Archbishop.
Conway had doubtless read the accounts of brutality in the initial forty-eight hours which had been smuggled out and had started to appear in the Irish News, Irish Times and the Tyrone Democrat (who printed a special eight-page supplement on 19 August on the brutality). What he read in the smuggled message from Crumlin added a new dimension. Assured by Father Faul of the correspondent's veracity, he took the next plane to London.
His meeting with Heath was, and is to this day, secret but, obviously, enough was said to worry the Prime Minister. He, Lord Carrington, Reggie Maudling and Brian Faulkner were the men who ultimately had to bear the responsibility for Army and police behaviour. Labour MPs, admittedly keener, most of them, on embarrasing the Tory government than in demanding justice, were clamouring for the recall of Parliament. Heath refused to accede to this hard-working MPs must be entitled to their four months a year holidays, after all but clearly something would have to be done. And so the wheels were put in motion for yet another face-saving operation. On 31 August 1971 Reggie Maudling announced that he was appointing a committee to investigate allegations 'of physical brutality' by the 'security forces' during the initial forty-eight-hour detention period. Specifically excluded was all mention of mental cruelty. The committee was to be chaired by Sir Edmund Compton.
They were not able to get away with this, however. On 17 October, as the committee was sitting, the Sunday Times at last published some of the statements of the 'guineapigs' with their allegations of SD torture. Along with the rest of the press the Sunday Times had been in possession of these papers for some weeks, having been given them by the Association for Legal Justice. They were, however, the first English newspaper to publish the allegations. Brian Faulkner immediately phoned Heath to state that the new charges were 'substantially without foundation', but to no avail. Carrington, Heath and Maudling had to see Harold Wilson and James Callaghan of the Labour Party the next day. Eighteen days later, Maudling wrote to Compton asking him slightly to expand his terms of reference. He could now include three further cases mention by the Sunday Times, Benard McGeary and Tony Rosato, both of whom had been released by then, and a third man William Shannon.
While the members of the Compton Committee were deliberating in the luxurious surroundings of the Conway Hotel, the Army Intelligence Squad and the RUC Special Branch were not idle either. While some of their members were giving evidence about SD to the Committee others were at work at the secret interrogation centre in this case almost certainly Palace barracks, Holywood. Another two subjects had been selected for experimentation.
The first was William Shannon, aged 24, from the St. James's area of Belfast. Shannon came from a staunchly Republican background. His father and uncle had both been detained and then interned in the original August 1971 swoop. The Shannon family had been constantly harassed by the troops ever since. At 11:30 p.m. on Saturday 9 October 1971 Shannon was walking home. As he neared his street an Army patrol jumped out of a driveway. Shannon, in his own words, panicked and ran'. Two shots were fired at him, both narrowly missing. He was captured and taken in custody to Springfield Road police barracks. He was unarmed and had no incriminating documents on him. No charges were preferred against him nor was he informed why he had been arrested. Instead, after an hour, he was taken to Girdwood barracks, at the back of Crumlin Road jail, in an armoured car. After half an hour there he was again transferred, this time to Palace barracks, Holywood. What follows is his account of what happened next.
I was in Holywood military barracks till Monday evening. I was interrogatd by a member of the Special Branch. I was spreadeagled against the wall. My feet were kicked from under me. I was made to count the holes on a wall, a section of which appeared to be made of pegboard material. I told him there were twenty-three spots. He said I was wrong and I got a thumping.
I was threatened with a truth drug. He took my coat off. He had a syringe his hand. He asked me had I any illnesses. I told him I had an ulcer. He then remarked, 'Maybe it's well not,' meaning not to inject the truth drug. I could state that he had the needle up to my arm and was about to inject it. He kept punching me on the head and on the shoulders and back, as well as in the sides and in the back of the neck. This happened over a period of approximately one hour and a half.
He then sent me into a room with a lot of other fellows. I was made to sit facing the wall. Periodically from Sunday to Monday afternoon I was pulled out of the room and back into the first room. On Sunday morning I, with others, was made clean the whole place out.
Interrogation continued on and off all day Sunday. At one stage I was put into a room with my face against the wall. A shot was fired. It sizzled past my ear and either lodged in the wall or went right through it, I am not sure which. There were several police outside and they all had a good laugh at this. In a room off this room which had cubicles in it, about six policemen kept taking out their guns, emptying them and pulling the trigger. They were in uniform. All this carry-on went on until Monday.
I got a couple of hours' sleep on Sunday night. On Monday morning the interrogation commenced again by two young Special Branch officers. Again I was spreadeagled. Continual interrogation. I was put back into a cubicle. I was always made to face the wall and not allowed to look around me. I was beaten three or four times by a police officer in uniform who had some sort of a plastic hose. He was not satisfied as to how quick we were cleaning up the place.
On the following Monday I was taken to Crumlin Road prison. I was there no more than ten minutes and then taken Out again. I do not know where I was taken to after that. I remember going down the inside of the jail. My coat was taken off and wrapped round my head. I was heaved out of a tender for about fifteen minutes. I do not know where. I was put into a helicopter. The engines roared and it lifted but I do not know whether it actually took off or not. There were two Special Branch men. I appeared to be in the helicopter for about twenty to thirty minutes.
The helicopter then landed. I had the coat still on my head. I was thrown out onto the ground as soon as it landed. This appeared to be quite a drop of about three or four feet. I was then put into what I think was an Army lorry, the coat still round my head. The lorry drove off and I appeared to be about ten minutes in it. I was taken out of the lorry and put into a room.
A doctor took the coat off my head. This was a square room with no windows. I was told to strip completely and was examined. I think he was an Army doctor. He appeared to be very English.
I was then taken into another room. I do not know where this was still undressed the bag was over my head again and I was put against the wall. The bag was then pulled off and I was photographed. I was made to turn round and the number '21' was drawn in blue on the back of both my hands.* [* The number 21' is interesting. Each of the original twelve subjects had had a number inked on the backs of their hands and the soles of their feet: P. J. McClean was No. 1. Pat Shivers was No. 2, Micky Montgomery was No. 3. etc. The first twelve coupled with the seven men in the basement cells in Crumlin who were prepared as the 'second batch' of subjects make the numbers up to 19, leaving Davy Rodgers as No. 20 and Liam Shannon as No. 21, thus indicating a degree of long-term planning which both Compton and Parker tried to play down. When P. J. McClean was at the original holding centre at Magilligan he was escorted by a local SB man. As he was being taken into the main room with the rest of the men as Army officers stopped both of them and, consulting his records, said, No. he's No. 1', to the apparent surprise of the Branch man.] The bag was then taken off again and I was given a pair of overalls. I put them on. I was then taken away. There was then more interrogation. I do not know where I was. I was made to stand for hours at a time, spreadeagled.
At one stage I was taken out into a garden. I had the overalls on me and there was only one button and the bag over my head. There was a man at each side of me and they dragged and made me run all over the garden. This was taken in relays by the two men and lasted for about half an hour. I was then taken inside again against the wall and spreadeagled again. This was all on Monday but I do not know where.
The bag was taken off my head three times during interrogation. I did not recognize any of the men at this stage. My feet were very badly bruised.
On quite a few occasions during this interrogation a gun was put at the back of my head and the trigger pulled. From Monday I lost all conception of time.
I had no shoes or socks on me, only the overall. On the same day I was put into a room with a fantastic noise like steam hissing through a pipe. I was completely disorientated from this until the following Monday.
I had nothing to eat for, I reckon, four days except a cup of water and one round of dry bread each time. I got asleep after three days. This went on and on. I had no idea where I was. I lost all track of time. The noise of steam was varying roaring at times and then it would calm down and then roar up again. At one stage I was completely exhausted.
I was taken outside I do not know where. I was put against a rough brick wall. The overall which had only one button was pulled open. The bag was still over my head and I was rubbed against the wall.
When eating the dry bread and drinking the water I was allowed to lift the bag up as far as my nose and no more. I got my first meal on 16 October and I got my first wash on Monday, 18 October.
I arrived at Crumlin Road prison at 1 p.m. that Monday. I have no idea where I was. I was taken out in the morning, with a bag over my head and put into a helicopter.
The journey by helicopter appeared to be about half an hour, i.e. the helicopter journey when I was taken to Girdwood Park. During the flight I heard someone with an English accent say that they had to stop to re-fuel before they crossed the sea. The helicopter came down and then took off again.
I was taken from Girdwood to the prison by a police Land-Rover via Cliftonpark Avenue. I have bruises on my feet, legs, back and shoulders. I was made to take a good wash before I was taken to Girdwood.
The torture was mostly psychological with the exception of the punchings which I got on my first day there. I was warned by a Special Branch officer not to say anything about being ill-treated before I arrived at Girdwood.
On Sunday last when I was in Holywood a telephone call came through when I was in the cubicle. A man with an English accent answered the phone and said to a police officer (bag not over head at this time), 'This is that fucker Faul again. He wants to know who's here.' The peeler replied, Tell him to fuck off.'* [*This is no doubt a reference to Fr. Denis Faul, who had been phoning Holywood continually to inquire as to the whereabouts of Shannon.]
On Monday last, 11 October, when I arrived at Crumlin Road prison the Deputy Governor told me that the police wanted to remove me but he had no idea where I was being removed to.
When Shannon disappeared his wife was frantic. No one, neither police, Army nor prison authorities would admit that he was being held. He had literally vanished. After some days, however, some news filtered out. A student, Tony Rosato, had been picked up with some friends, threatened and interrogated by the SB at Palace barracks for two days before being released. Despite threats from the police to keep his mouth shut or else', Rosato went straight to the press. He gave an account of his experiences to members of the Sunday Times staff and claimed that while in Holywood he had seen the missing man, Liam Shannon. Questions were asked in Parliament. Faulkner, as Minister of Home Affairs as well as the Northern Ireland PM, denied what was happening, but orders must have filtered down. Finally, nine days after his disappearance, word came that Shannon had emerged. He was now in Crumlin jail, detained, like so many other men, without charge or trial.
Although he had gone through a shattering experience, Shannon was to some extent 'luckier' than another man Liam David Rodgers. Rodgers is from Warrenpoint, a Republican but not an IRA man. In the early hours of Monday 11 October he was driving to Belfast from Newcastle, Co. Down, when his car was stopped and searched by the Army. In it they found a variety of Republican pamphlets none of them 'subversive'. He was taken in for questioning to Castlereagh police barracks and then to Holywood. What follows is his account of what happened.
I was taken to Palace barracks, Holywood, where both my particulars and photographs were taken. I was put into a cubicle. After a half hour I was taken out for a ten-minute interrogation, asked if I were a member of the IRA I said, 'No'. I accepted responsibility for the literature, saying that I was a member of a Republican Club. No violence was used and I was returned to my cubicle. 1 helped to remove books to the Interrogation Office.
Next interrogation was an hour later and it involved three Special Branch men, one behind the table and one on either side of it. Same four questions asked and same replies given. They then tried to find out the destination of the books. I replied that this was irrelevant if I was being charged with possession. Then one of the Branch men kicked my chair with the intention of knocking me to the ground. Questions came thick and fast. I was accused of lying. The Branch then moved on to questions relating to the IRA. I denied any connection. They claimed they had information regarding my position, etc. Violence up to this point had consisted of kicking the chair and pulling my hair. Questions changed again to, 'Who held the Quarter-master position in the IRA?' When accused of being QM I denied it. I was told that I would reveal hiding places of arms under pressure.
I was made to stand spreadeagled with fingertips touching the wall. Whilst in this position I was assaulted by the Branch men and repeatedly hit in the stomach. I fell to the ground and was kicked about the body by another Branch man. Then I was asked the same questions again and I gave the same answers. The beating was repeated. One Branch man drove two fingers under my breastbone saying this would release poison into my system. The other Branch man stood behind me kicking the seat of my chair. I lost all sense of time during this interrogation.
Much later Harry Taylor* [*Harry Tayor, Belfast's best-known SB man, was the Branch Number Two at Palace barracks his superior was Michael Slevin, who (shades of Col. Wilford of Bloody Sunday fame) was subsequently to receive the MBE in Her Majesty's Honours List of 1973. Taylor is unlikely to receive a similar decoration and indeed has already been used by both the Army and the police as a 'tall guy' because he is so well known to both Republicans and Loyalists. The likely upshot of his long-standing loyalty and service to the Special Branch would seem to be a golden handshake and more likely silver than golden and a ticket to some faraway former colony, as a sop to the SDLP and those Catholics who demanding a reform of the RUC and Special Branch. (A false prediction. He is still in Belfast in 1981.)] came and took me to another interrogation room. He asked after my welfare and said that he [Taylor] had nothing to do with the beatings. Asked if I wanted to make a statement about the IRA, I said, 'No'. I was then sent back to the cubicle and allowed to make up a bed.
When woken the next morning, I was made to take down the bed, was taken to the toilet and allowed to wash. I was then sent back to the cubicle and made sit facing the wall until breakfast. After breakfast I was made to sweep out the cubicles, the SB interrogation centre and another hut occupied by Englishmen in plain clothes. For the most of the day I was forced to sit facing the wall or forced to stand with my nose touching the wall.
At 5 p.m. I was again taken to the interrogation hut and told that I was being held in Crumlin Road for a period of twenty-eight days, then sent back to the cubicle. Later I was brought back to the interrogation hut and confronted by one Branch man while another stood behind him. I was ordered to stand to attention. I was asked if I had anything to say and said, 'No'. They said they would hand me over to the paratroopers who they claimed wanted to get their hands on me. I made no reply. I was then told I would be taken to a place where I would be treated twice as severely as I had been up to now. I was then taken to Crumlin Road prison.
In Crumlin Road I was marked in, taken for a bath, medically examined and brought before the Assistant Governor, who informed me that he had received written orders to return me to custody of the RUC. I asked if I was allowed Legal Aid. The Deputy Governor said that he would have to ask the RUC about that.
I was then taken through the prison and into Girdwood where a man wearing a three-quarter-length coat handcuffed me and put a black hood of soft material over my head. This man spoke with an English accent. I was then placed on what I presumed was a jeep, brought to a waiting helicopter and put aboard. I was taken to an unknown destination where I was forced into another vehicle in which I was taken for a two-minute ride.
I was then brought into a building. From the time the bag was put over my head not a word was spoken to me. All communications were made by means of taps on my body and these only concerned the need for movement. I was taken into a room where the handcuffs were taken off and then the hood. The man with an English accent told me that he was a doctor and that he wished to examine me. There was another man present, presumably an assistant. The doctor asked me to strip and gave me a very thorough examination. I was not allowed to dress again but was told to put the hood back over my head which I did.
The door was then opened and someone came and escorted me to the next room. I was stood against the wall, the hood removed and a flash picture was taken. The hood was replaced and I was made to walk forward and after about three minutes a NI voice listed my clothing and asked me to sign for it. The hood was lifted and a light shone into my eyes so that I could only see the paper I was signing. The hood was replaced and I was dressed in a lightweight green boilersuit. I was then taken from that room down a long corridor and through another room where I both felt and heard a rush of air possible compressed air. Next I was taken into a room which was very cold and where there was a sound as if a very large volume of water was being pumped near by. This impression was supported by the dampness and vibrations of the wall. I was then led to the wall and spreadeagled against it. My feet and arms were stretched to their limits and I was made to lean with just my fingertips against the wall and unshod feet resting on what I assumed was a concrete floor strewn with chips and bits of wood. These small particles were very sore on the soft pads of my feet. I was in this position for a considerable time until my arms collapsed and my head hit the wall. At this point someone came in and forced me back into my original position. I was feeling the extreme cold.
I was then taken away for interrogation. I was brought into a room and when the guard left the bag was taken off my head. I could see a very shiny table but could only distinguish the outline of my interrogator. The questions related to my supposed connection with the IRA, which I denied. I was then asked about arms dumps and the whereabouts of certain people. I could answer none of these questions through lack of knowledge.
I was then taken back to the original room and spreadeagled against the wall again. This time they straightened my arms against the wall when I collapsed and it was not until my legs gave in that I was taken back for interrogation. This treatment lasted until I completely lost track of time and I only remember vague details. I was given water and bread three times during this period.
One occasion after I had collapsed they forced a pair of shoes onto my feet which were in a very painful condition. I was then taken outside and forced to run twice around some track. I collapsed on the track and was dragged for a short distance. They then half dragged, half ran me, then they let me go and I fell and hit my head against what I think was a door. I was taken back to the original wall, then taken out again, where the process was repeated.
When they returned me to the wall this time I was made to lie on the ground and was rolled in a blanket and allowed to sleep for a short period.
I was taken out again for interrogation, was returned to the wall for a while. I was then rolled in the blanket and allowed to sleep in the blanket, this time for a long while. I was then taken again to the interrogation room where for the first time no light was shone in my face. I was given a cup of hot coffee and allowed to smoke my pipe. I was also allowed to sit down.
After this interrogation I was returned to a different room in which there was a mattress and three blankets. The interrogator led me to believe that he had got these specially for me. I was allowed to remove the bag from my head in this room and also to sleep for a good deal of the time. I also got at least five wholesome meals from this time on.
There were two more interrogations. Eventually I was given a thorough medical, was photographed back and front in the nude and was given back my clothes and personal belongings. The bag was put back over my head. I was driven to the helicopter and returned to Crumlin on Monday 18 October 1971.
Rodgers was 'unluckier' than Shannon in that there was not as widespread a hue and cry about his disappearance. Nonetheless the questions asked in Parliament seem to have embarrassed the government, and he was released from Holywood and returned to Crumlin at the same time as Shannon. As a result of the Sunday Times article Compton was asked to prepare a special addendum on the allegations of ill-treatment regarding Shannon and Rosato. This he grudgingly did. It was not published, however. Instead, a few hundred roneoed copies of the addendum were run off and given to MPs. It was signed only by Compton and not Messrs Fay or Gibson. While admitting that Shannon had received 'similar ill-treatment' to that received by the other eleven (sic) 'guineapigs' it makes no reference to Rodgers. As for Tony Rosato's claims that guns had been put in his mouth and blanks fired beside his head Compton lived up (or down) to his usual standard and stated that since it was laid down in the holding centre regulations that all personnel must empty their guns on entry into the hall, Rosato's allegations could not have been true. There was a rule against it!
The main difference between the treatment meted out to the first twelve 'guineapigs' and the last two seems to have been that while the former were part of a carefully conceived and executed experiment, the latter were not. They seem to have been the victims of some RUC 'freelancing' experiment though clearly there was collusion with the Army personnel. Physical exhaustion was an added factor also, with both men being made to run around in a circle outside the hut. The threat of a 'truth drug' was also used, as part of the build-up designed to terrify the men.*
There remain a few points to be made about the actual SD treatment. If, as the Parker apologia claims, it was undertaken with regret only because it was necessary to extract information from 'dangerous terrorists', why did the 'security forces' at no time take the fingerprints of these 'terrorists'? This is surely one of the first things to do when you get your hands on such dangerous men. The forensic evidence can be used not only to obtain convictions against bombers from unexploded or defused bombs the police have a wide range of fingerprints but can be used as a weapon during interrogation. Most people will co-operate if confronted with cast-iron evidence of their guilt, such as a fingerprint on an unexploded bomb! The answer of course is that information was not the primary aim of the exercise. It only came second to the experimentation side.
This brings us to another aspect of the whole operation: the basis for selection of the 'guineapigs'. It is clear that the original twelve men were selected on primarily geographical grounds. The province was divided into three, and four men were taken from each area Belfast, Counties Down and Armagh and Counties Derry and Tyrone. That they were not selected on the grounds that the police/Army/Special Branch believed them to be the top hard-core. IRA men was admitted by both Faulkner and Whitelaw, for, of the fourteen men selected for the experiment and subsequently detained and then interned, no fewer than seven were released from Long Kesh. Of the other seven, six were still interned after two years and one, Francis McGuigan, escaped.*
But why these fourteen men in particular? Admittedly the 9 August swoop was, from a military point of view, most unsuccessful. No top Provisional or Official leaders were captured. Indeed, of the 342 men still held after forty-eight hours only some 150 were actually in the IRA. Nonetheless, if the Army wanted information on arms dumps, explosions, shootings, etc., they had in their grasp several men whom they knew only too well were more involved and had more information in their heads than most of the fourteen 'guineapigs'. Yet they were left untouched. At their interrogation in Girdwood two well-known members of the IRA were told by Harry Taylor, 'It's a waste of time talking to youse men, you've seen it all before.' This may give some clue as to the pattern involved in choosing the SD 'subjects'. They were nearly all young men, under 30, who were exceptionally fit. Their fitness was necessary if they were to last the eight days (here, however, insufficient research into medical records was done, and several apparently fit but in point of fact quite ill men were included). Their youth also meant that most of them with four exceptions had not experienced intensive interrogations before. Most had had experience of being roughly kicked up against a wall, searched, abused and then perhaps questioned for an hour before being released but then so had a large percentage of the male Catholic population of Belfast by that time. But few if any had had experience likely to prepare them for the SD experiment, designed as it was to induce a week-long psychosis. Consequently, with the exception of the older and more perceptive P. J. McClean, they were unwitting and unsuspecting guineapigs. (One man told me how after an hour standing at the wall he thought to himself that they, the interrogators, were 'soft in the head'. Three days later, he was one of the men who tried to commit suicide by throwing himself head first onto the water pipes.)
Civilian subjects and even Army volunteers' had proven unsatisfactory from the SD researcher's point of view. Here, sanctioned by the government, the researchers had had the perfect subjects upon whom they could experiment. Small wonder that they had a field day. Small wonder that there had to be another cover-up when Compton failed.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :