DUBLIN – Ireland has accused Britain of torturing 14 Irish Republican Army suspects in 1971 and formally petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to review its original findings on the case, reopening one of the biggest legal disputes from the Northern Ireland conflict.
Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said Ireland sought to reopen the case with reluctance, given its close relations with Britain today. But he argued Tuesday that a trove of newly uncovered documents in London indicated that Britain withheld important evidence from 1970s court proceedings that, if considered now, would overturn the court's 1978 ruling.
That landmark judgment ruled that British security forces in 1971 employed interrogation techniques against the 14 men which were "inhuman and degrading" but fell short of meeting legal definitions of torture. The United States cited that judgment as part of its legal defense a decade ago of various aggressive interrogation practices, including waterboarding, of al-Qaida suspects in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
A British government inquiry in 1972 found that the 14 suspects -- dubbed the "hooded men" because their heads were kept covered for days in custody -- had been targeted by experimental sensory deprivation techniques intended to disorient the men and break their will to resist questioning about IRA activities. They were denied sleep, food and drink, exposed to continuous white noise, and forced for protracted periods to stand spread-eagled against a wall.
The newly uncovered government records, obtained by Irish documentary makers and used in a June broadcast, suggest that Cabinet-level British government officials authorized the interrogation methods and were concerned that the practices might constitute torture. These documents were not disclosed to the European court.
"On the basis of the new material uncovered, it will be contended that the ill treatment suffered by the hooded men should be recognized as torture," Flanagan said.
The Strasbourg, France-based court could take months to respond to Ireland's request. Britain offered no immediate reaction.
Amnesty International, which lobbied Ireland to file an appeal before a Dec. 4 legal deadline, welcomed the move.