Gerry Adams: Abu Ghraib images are all too familiar to Irish republicans


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,3604,1231978,00.html

I have been in torture photos, too

The Abu Ghraib images are all too familiar to Irish republicans

Gerry Adams
Saturday June 5, 2004

News of the ill-treatment of prisoners in Iraq created no great surprise in 
republican Ireland. We have seen and heard it all before. Some of us have even 
survived that type of treatment. Suggestions that the brutality in Iraq was 
meted out by a few miscreants aren't even seriously entertained here. We have 
seen and heard all that before as well. But our experience is that, while 
individuals may bring a particular impact to their work, they do so within 
interrogative practices authorised by their superiors.

For example, the interrogation techniques which were used following the 
internment swoops in the north of Ireland in 1971 were taught to the RUC by 
British military officers. Someone authorised this. The first internment swoops,
"Operation Demetrius", saw hundreds of people systematically beaten and forced 
to run the gauntlet of war dogs, batons and boots.

Some were stripped naked and had black hessian bags placed over their heads. 
These bags kept out all light and extended down over the head to the shoulders. 
As the men stood spread-eagled against the wall, their legs were kicked out from
under them. They were beaten with batons and fists on the testicles and kidneys 
and kicked between the legs. Radiators and electric fires were placed under them
as they were stretched over benches. Arms were twisted, fingers were twisted, 
ribs were pummelled, objects were shoved up the anus, they were burned with 
matches and treated to games of Russian roulette. Some of them were taken up in 
helicopters and flung out, thinking that they were high in the sky when they 
were only five or six feet off the ground. All the time they were hooded, 
handcuffed and subjected to a high-pitched unrelenting noise.

This was later described as extra-sensory deprivation. It went on for days. 
During this process some of them were photographed in the nude.

And although these cases ended up in Europe, and the British government paid 
thousands in compensation, it didn't stop the torture and ill-treatment of 
detainees. It just made the British government and its military and intelligence
agencies more careful about how they carried it out and ensured that they 
changed the laws to protect the torturers and make it very difficult to expose 
the guilty.

I have been arrested a few times and interrogated on each occasion by a mixture 
of RUC or British army personnel. The first time was in Palace Barracks in 1972.
I was placed in a cubicle in a barracks-style wooden hut and made to face a wall
of boards with holes in it, which had the effect of inducing images, shapes and 
shadows. There were other detainees in the rest of the cubicles. Though I didn't
see them I could hear the screaming and shouting. I presumed they got the same 
treatment as me, punches to the back of the head, ears, small of the back, 
between the legs. From this room, over a period of days, I was taken back and 
forth to interrogation rooms.

On these journeys my captors went to very elaborate lengths to make sure that I 
saw nobody and that no one saw me. I was literally bounced off walls and into 
doorways. Once I was told I had to be fingerprinted, and when my hands were 
forcibly outstretched over a table, a screaming, shouting and apparently 
deranged man in a blood-stained apron came at me armed with a hatchet.

Another time my captors tried to administer what they called a truth drug.

Once a berserk man came into the room yelling and shouting. He pulled a gun and 
made as if he was trying to shoot at me while others restrained him.

In between these episodes I was put up against a wall, spread-eagled and beaten 
soundly around the kidneys and up between the legs, on my back and on the backs 
of my legs. The beating was systematic and quite clinical. There was no anger in

During my days in Palace Barracks I tried to make a formal complaint about my 
ill-treatment. My interrogators ignored this and the uniformed RUC officers also
ignored my demand when I was handed over to them. Eventually, however, I was 
permitted to make a formal complaint before leaving. But when I was taken to 
fill out a form I was confronted by a number of large baton-wielding redcaps who
sought to dissuade me from complaining. I knew I was leaving so I ignored them 
and filled in the form.

Some years later I was arrested again, this time with some friends. We were 
taken to a local RUC barracks on the Springfield Road. There I was taken into a 
cell and beaten for what seemed to be an endless time. All the people who beat 
me were in plain clothes. They had English accents.

After the first initial flurry, which I resisted briefly, the beating became a 
dogged punching and kicking match with me as the punch bag. I was forced into 
the search position, palms against the walls, body at an acute angle, legs well 
spread. They beat me systematically. I fell to the ground. Buckets of water were
flung over me. I was stripped naked. Once I was aroused from unconsciousness by 
a British army doctor. He seemed concerned about damage to my kidneys. After he 
examined me he left and the beatings began again. At one point a plastic bucket 
was placed over my head. I was left in the company of two uniformed British 
soldiers. I could see their camouflage trousers and heavy boots from beneath the
rim of the bucket. One of them stubbed his cigarette out on my wrist. His mate 
rebuked him.

When the interrogators returned they were in a totally different mood and very 
friendly. I was given my clothes back, parts of them still damp. One of them 
even combed my hair. I could barely walk upright and I was very badly marked. In
the barrack yard I was reunited with my friends and photographs were taken of us
with our arresting party. For a short time other British soldiers, individually 
and in groups, posed beside us. Someone even videoed the proceedings.

We were to learn from all the banter that there was a bounty for the soldiers 
who captured us. According to them we were on an "A" list, that is to be shot on
sight. The various regiments kept a book which had accumulated considerable 
booty for whoever succeeded in apprehending us, dead or alive. From the craic in
the barracks yard it was obvious that the lucky ones had won a considerable 

So for some time we were photographed in the company of young, noisy, exuberant 
squaddies. I'm sure we were not a pretty sight. I'm also sure that they were 
grinning as much as the soldiers in the photographs we have all seen recently. 
Our photos were never published, but somewhere, in some regimental museum or in 
the top of somebody's wardrobe or in the bottom of a drawer, there are 
photographs of me and my friends and our captors. To the victor, the spoils.

· Gerry Adams is president of Sinn Féin and MP for Belfast West
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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