Roll Out the Barrel

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Torture in Iraq echoes the brutal British record in Northern Ireland.

The events of the last few weeks in Iraq have been shameful, appalling and tragic, but are a complete vindication of the arguments put forward by those of us who thought the war could only lead to untold misery.

Ever since the crowds welcoming the 'forces of liberation' by tearing down statues quickly melted away (and they were always much smaller then the 'sexed up' pictures on the telly presented), it was clear that the occupiers were not being seen as liberators.

Just as there has been no discovery of WMD, so there has been no serious attempt to win over 'hearts and minds'. Indeed, the horrible pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib prison would suggest exactly the opposite. It is also clear that the behaviour of the troops was not just some random cruelty by 'trailer trash', but was deliberate policy authorised by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice.

So where does this leave the British pro-war apologists? Frankly, clutching at a pathetic and laughable straw. The British army are much better at hearts and minds, we are told - they don't behave like the bellicose Yanks, they wear nice berets rather than horrid helmets, they are cheery and polite rather than domineering and threatening. An astonishing claim when one looks at the reports coming out of Basra and elsewhere. Leaving aside the Daily Mirror's pictures, there is more than enough cause for concern about the behaviour of the Brits.

Both Amnesty and the International Committee of the Red Cross have reported beatings, torture, deprivation, hooding, etc, from British-run prisons, not to mention some very reckless shooting at unarmed civilians. A handful of soldiers have apparently backed the allegations. Even the government has had to acknowledge that the practice of hooding prisoners 'has stopped', which even if true acknowledges that it was being employed.

What makes all this 'good at peaceful soldiering' crap even more laughable is that it is being explained as something 'learnt in Northern Ireland'! Yes, that's why the soldiers were so very popular with the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland, who even now demonstrate daily for more Tommies on their streets. The reality is the soldiers were hated there. Rude, aggressive, overbearing, reminding the local population every day that they ran the show.

Strangely enough, when the soldiers arrived in the North in 1969, they probably did get a little more genuine support than they ever got in Iraq. The Catholics had been under siege from two sectarian police forces and Loyalist mobs. In no time, however, the British employed a 'hearts and minds' policy every bit as successful as that deployed in Iraq.

Carrying out the internment policy, they waded into the homes of Catholics in Nationalist areas, smashing down doors, dragging people from their beds, beating them randomly, abusing them and their families, threatening even worse. This was followed by the infamous expression of the great British sense of fair play on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972. Fourteen people shot dead, all unarmed, none even known Republicans.

From that moment on they were hated. When the IRA achieved any success in killing British soldiers (unlike when they killed innocent civilians), barely a tear would be shed in Nationalist areas. In his brilliant account of army behaviour in Northern Ireland following internment, The Guinea Pigs, John McGuffin outlined treatment that some of those arrested suffered at the hands of the army. It has a strangely familiar ring to it. In particular he highlights the case of the 'guinea pigs', 12 internees who were used by the army to experiment with torture techniques. The torture included hooding, sleep deprivation by noise and light, beatings, hair pulling, photographing naked. Their religion was mocked, and intimidating questions asked about their wives, children and siblings. Each was flown around in a helicopter for some time, and then told they were somewhere remote, so anything could be done to them.

One of the many descriptions went as follows:

'I was always handcuffed and hooded... I closed my fists [to deal with numbness] only to find that my hands were beaten against the wall, until I opened my fingers again... On another occasion I tried to rest by leaning my head against the wall but the response to this was my head was 'banged' on the wall and shaken until I resumed my position... The insides of my feet were kicked until my ankles were swollen to almost twice their normal size... The noise was insistent, I thought I was going mad.'

All this was done while the victims' relatives thought they had disappeared. The mother of one was given a number to ring by the army to find out where her son was. When she rang it turned out to be a number for Ian Paisley's 'Dial a Prayer'. One victim of all this was blind. None had been found guilty of anything.This was the soft approach of the British army that we are told makes them so superior to the Americans.

Their contempt for those they lorded it over never diminished. Many years after the guinea pigs experiment there were the infamous banners seen in a regimental barracks that celebrated the fact that a British soldier, Lee Clegg, shot a couple of unarmed teenage joyriders.

Every time the army was caught out there would be some toffee-nosed officer defending the indefensible and whitewashing the abuse. If that didn't work, those famous 'one or two rotten apples' would roll out of the cider barrel. The truth was always of course that the only thing 'rotten' about the apples was that they got caught.

So the next time you hear that the Brits are better at it than the Yanks because of what they learned in Northern Ireland, there might just be some truth to it - they may just be better at not getting caught!areas. In his brilliant account of army behaviour in Northern Ireland following internment, The Guinea Pigs, John McGuffin outlined treatment that some of those arrested suffered at the hands of the army. It has a strangely familiar ring to it. In particular he highlights the case of the 'guinea pigs', 12 internees who were used by the army to experiment with torture techniques. The torture included hooding, sleep deprivation by noise and light, beatings, hair pulling, photographing naked. Their religion was mocked, and intimidating questions asked about their wives, children and siblings. Each was flown around in a helicopter for some time, and then told they were somewhere remote, so an