BRITISH soldiers subjected detainees to ‘beatings’ over several months at a base where a west Belfast man claims he was water tortured, the High Court has heard.
Further complaints came as a military expert described the frustration felt by the military in 1972 over curbs on the deployment of controversial interrogation techniques.
General Harry Tuzo, the officer commanding troops in Northern Ireland at the time, wanted to advance methods of questioning suspects as part of attempts to “break the will of the IRA within 13 weeks”.
Details have emerged in a legal action brought by a man who says he was tortured to make a false confession to murder.
Liam Holden (68) was the last man in Northern Ireland to receive the death penalty after his conviction for killing Private Frank Bell.
He was arrested after Private Bell was shot dead in West Belfast in September 1972.
A teenage leader at the time, he was taken to a military post at Blackmountain School where members of the Parachute Regiment allegedly pinned him to the ground and poured ice cold water through a towel placed over his face . He said it made him worry about drowning.
Mr Holden’s sentence was commuted to life in prison before a 40-year fight to clear his name resulted in the conviction being overturned in 2012.
He is now seeking damages from the Ministry of Defence.
As part of his case, Dr Huw Bennett, a reader in international relations at Cardiff University, testified about his studies of the British military in Northern Ireland during the early years of the conflict.
A report prepared for the action expressed the view that by mid-1972 senior military officials felt frustrated with the legal constraints imposed on their fight against the IRA.
“The idea existed up to the level of the chief of staff that threats could be useful in the context of an interrogation,” the court said.
At this point the army launched Operation Motorman, aiming to retake parts of Belfast and Derry classified as “no go zones”.
On the eve of the mission, General Tuzo reportedly expressed his belief that he could “break the will of the IRA within 13 weeks”.
According to the report, he advised a high-ranking military colleague, “We should continue the interrogations while closing our ears to storms of protest.”
The court heard that from August 1972 others also alleged similar mistreatment by soldiers.
These testimonies, some of which came from anonymous individuals, were compiled at the time by an organization called the Association for Legal Justice.
Dr Bennett told the court: ‘There were a number of complaints over several months involving brutality, including interrogation by the British Army and, in particular, the Parachute Regiment.
The case continues.