Friday, September 9, 2011


BRITAIN continued to take part in colonial campaigns – no fewer than ten of them from 1945 to 1971. There were four main areas – Malaya (1948-60), Kenya (1952-6), Cyprus (1955-9) and Aden (1963-7). It is instructive briefly to look at the development of British interrogation methods during these four campaigns.

Firstly Malaya. This is the only area where the British can lay claim to a 'victory'. The Communist guerrillas were defeated, and Britain was able to make the transition from overt colonialism to the much less expensive and much more profitable neo-colonialism.

The 'victory' nonetheless was expensive. The 'security force' admit to 1,865 killed and 2,560 wounded (though of these only 506 killed were actually British soldiers) and official figures give the civilian casualties as 2,473 killed, 1,385 wounded and 810 missing, presumed dead. But the Communists were contained and then defeated despite the cost, and the methods used are interesting. Most of the credit for their defeat has been given to Robert Thompson who rose to be Secretary for Defence in Malaya until 1961 when he headed the British Advisory Mission to Vietnam and received his knighthood.[24]

He developed a policy of massive resettlement of Chinese workers (over 600,000 were moved) into what the Americans in Vietnam were euphemistically to call 'strategic hamlets' and the local people 'concentration camps', extensive deportation to China, internment – under Regulation 17D 29,828 people were interned without trial during 'the emergency' – as well as a wide-ranging set of special powers; these methods all contributed to the defeat of the Communists. But it is interesting to note that the British did not resort to torture, nor even much brutality – the occasional atrocity such as the Batang Kali massacre when men of the Second Battalion of the Scots Guards shot down unarmed villagers (11 December 1948) definitely seems to have been an isolated, unauthorized 'incident' – (it was nevertheless hushed up).

Instead of trying to torture prisoners to obtain information the British adopted the unorthodox, but highly productive, method of bribery. That this was effective is conclusively proven by the fact that leading Communist guerrillas such as Lam Swee, Osman China and Hor Lung were all persuaded to surrender with their groups in this manner. Rewards were, by local standards, enormous – Hor Lung for example got $120,000 and a complete pardon. In May 1952 the price on Communist leader Chin Peng's head was $250,000 and the price-scale ranged down to $2,500 for an ordinary 'private'. This may have been expensive and raised a few hackles from the local 'Pukka Sahibs', but it was certainly more beneficial to the British than the lunatic schemes of men like General Templer who wanted collective fines and twenty-two-hour curfews.

And so, by 1961 when the 'emergency was officially declared to be at an end, Britain had succeeded in countering the Communist threat without having to resort to torture. At the same time, however, her record was by no means as untarnished elsewhere.

In Kenya the Mau Mau were not motivated by fanatical Communism, but they were bound together by strong traditional tribal loyalties and oaths. Robert Graves, for instance, reports how he had heard Mau Mau men condemned to be executed the next morning, laughing, joking and singing all night in the hut.[25] The Mau Mau may have been brutal – though judging by the very small numbers of white casualties their threat seems to have been exaggerated – but as John Stonehouse MP has pointed out, the movement could never have arisen or gained such a hold on the Kikuyu if the Kenyans had been allowed some legitimate outlet for their very real grievances' over land reforms and political representation.[26] The British response was barbaric. Over 80,000 men and women were rounded up and the vast majority were interned without charge or trial in truly appalling conditions. Even after seven years, over 7,000 men were still interned.

The worst of the excesses were justified under the infamous 'Cowan Plan' whereby uncharged and untried prisoners were forced to work scraping soil with their bare hands in temperatures of 1200° F, while sadistic guards brutalized and beat them. The raison d'être for this was given by the English Secretary of State for Defence Lennox-Boyd after the murder of eleven men in Hola camp. Speaking on 3 March 1959 he told his fellow MPs: 'Experience has shown, time after time, that unless hard-core detainees can be got to start working, their rehabilitation is impossible. Once they have started working there is a psychological breakthrough and astonishing results are then achieved.' Sydney Silverman then intervened to ask: 'Who told the Right Honourable Member that? Stalin?'[27]

Duncan McPherson, Kenyan Assistant Commissioner of Police, in charge of the CID, claimed however that

hundreds of these men and women were just listed and detained on the whim of various clerks with no authority at all ... All seemed well, provided a 10 per cent quota was returned for detention ... I would say that the conditions I found existing in some camps in Kenya were worse, far worse, than anything I experienced in my four and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese.[28]

But there was little or no outcry about the conditions in Kenya – after all, weren't the victims black?, and the press had constantly 'blackened' the Mau Mau's image. Not only were the murderers at Hola Camp exonerated, but Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II saw fit to award Mr. J. B. T. Cowan, author of the 'Cowan Plan', the MBE in the June Honours List for 1959.

Interrogation methods in Kenya seem to have been primitive. The boot, the baton, the fist, all were common. On several occasions prisoners were actually beaten to death – according to Barbara Castle MP, for example, Samuel Githu, a warder at Aguthi camp, beat a detainee to death in September 1958, with the apparent approval of his superiors.[29] In the same camp, which was one of the more notorious ones, a detainee was given twelve strokes of the cane for the heinous offence of daring to write a letter to an MP. Mr. Paul Williams, MP for Sunderland South, approved, calling it 'a perfectly natural punishment for the crime'.[30] Transgressing warders did not always escape reprobation, however – a chief inspector was actually fined $60 and a former district officer $24 for causing actual bodily harm to a Kikuyu prisoner, and two European officers who beat Kamau Kichina so badly that he died from the injuries even got eighteen months! Brutality there was aplenty, but few examples of torture to obtain information and certainly no signs as yet of SD-type experiments, contrary to the assertions of the Parker Commission.[31]

Cyprus was a rather different matter. Here, too, the police were nominally responsible for the interrogations, but the Army, increasingly exasperated at their inability to capture Grivas or smash EOKA, eventually took over completely when Maj.-Gen. Kenneth Darling was appointed as Director of Anti-Terrorist Operations in October 1958. But by then the crisis was almost over. There were sporadic examples of the troops 'disgracing themselves', as the British press reluctantly put it – such as the incident on 3 October 1958 in the streets of Famagusta when they used such force in rounding up over 2,000 Cypriot civilians that at least 200 were taken to hospital; needless to say, no one was reprimanded officially for this 'excess of zeal'. Had an inquiry been held in any case, it is hard to believe that it would have been any less of a 'whitewash' than that which exonerated the men of the Royal Horse Guards who had taken a number of Greek Cypriot detainees just released from custody to the Turkish Cypriot village of Gunyeli and handed them over to the tender mercies of the local villagers. Several were killed. (This was a practice used later in Aden and also in sectarian Belfast.)

The most serious allegations against the British concerned detainees. In 1957 these culminated with Britain being taken to the 'dock' of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg and in front of the UN by Greece. Forty-nine cases of torture were alleged, and it took some sordid behind-doors dealing between the British and the Greeks before the cases were dropped – no one consulted the Cypriots about it, of course. But in Cyprus itself the torture allegations became so numerous that eventually something had to be done. Members of the conservative Cyprus Bar Association set up a Human Rights Committee to investigate some of the allegations and by December 1956 had submitted fifty-seven complaints to the Cyprus government. Reluctantly, the British disciplined four men – a police superintendent convicted of assault was bound over, an assistant superintendent was fined $60, a PC was given an absolute discharge for assault and an auxiliary PC got three years for shooting and wounding two Cypriots.[32] Soon, however, Archbishop Makarios produced a further list of 317 cases where it was alleged that torture had been used, and two men had died under torture.

Undoubtedly allegations regarding torture can be, and at times are, exaggerated. But not all that much. Field-Marshal Harding must have been very naive if he seriously expected Cypriots to be convinced by his concluding paragraphs in the Cyprus White Paper:

If the price of immediately clearing the security forces of these allegations is to impair their ability to deal effectively with fresh outbreaks of terrorism and to gain information which will assist them in protecting the public from murder, violence and brutality, then the security forces will continue to place their duty first. They will be content that one day they will be vindicated. Meanwhile Her Majesty's Armed Forces and the police in Cyprus will rely on the world-wide knowledge of their traditions of humanity and decency to convince the public of the free world of the falsity of the allegations which emanate from men who have no scruples in aiding and abetting murder.

Such slobber would not disgrace Sir Edmund Compton. It had the effect of giving the 'interrogation squad' carte blanche.

In fact the torture used during interrogations in Cyprus was almost all physical rather than mental, and of little or no practical use. Despite the fact that Cyprus is only a small island Grivas was never captured and EOKA, a very small group with few arms, was not smashed.[33] EOKA also claims that in addition to physical beatings (in one isolated incident a captain of the Intelligence Corps and an acting captain in the Gordon Highlanders were cashiered for beating detainee Christos Constantinou with an iron chain[34]) men were forced to stand on nails, sit for hours on blocks of ice or were given narcotics. If this is true, the views of Peter Hamilton, the security adviser to the British government, may not be far from the mark.[35] He claims that one of the main reasons for British Intelligence's lack of success was that many of the interrogators had a lot of sympathy for the Cypriots, who 'were very close to us'. 'My heart wasn't in it,' he adds – an inhibition which certainly was not to hinder later British interrogators in Aden and Ireland.

Interrogation methods in Cyprus were still rudimentary, but a pattern was emerging which was to develop even more strongly during the British Army's next major conflict – Aden.

Against the wishes of a large majority of her people, in February 1963 Aden was incorporated into the Federation of South Arabia for the better protection of British oil interests. For the next four years Britain had another guerrilla war on her hands, this time mainly urban guerrilla war. Wholesale arrests and internment soon produced enough suspects for the interrogation teams to get to work on. The usual brutality, made worse by the innate racism of the average British soldier, further alienated the Adenis, and 'Cyprus-like' incidents such as when detainees were handed over to a neighbouring Sultan to be tortured and kept in abominable conditions for sixty-two days didn't help. But it was the infamous Fort Morbut 'interrogation centre which aroused most hostility amongst the Adeni population.

As guerrillas had done in Malaya, Cyprus and Algeria the NLF and FLOSY, the two main guerrilla groups, concentrated initially on eliminating the Adeni Special Branch, whose local knowledge they rightly regarded as a threat. This forced the Army more and more into the role of 'intelligence gathering' and in the summer of 1965 the torture HQ at Fort Morbut was set up. Torture complaints soon poured in. In 1964 the International Red Cross had been refused permission to visit Aden. In the next year they were grudgingly allowed in but refused permission to see any of the detainees.

Meanwhile Amnesty International was trying to investigate the torture allegations made to them by the Civil Service Association of South Arabia. In the summer of 1966 Dr. Salahaddin Rastgeldi, a Swede, travelled to Aden to attempt to determine whether there was any truth in the serious allegations made. Rastgeldi was to suffer the traditional British 'cold-shoulder' treatment from the authorities. They refused to let him investigate or to interview any of the 164 detainees whose names and dates of arrest he had. The High Commissioner, Sir Richard Tumbull, informed him with polished casuistry that there were 'no political detainees in Aden'. According to Rastgeldi, 'I produced the list of 164 names and asked if all, without exception, were terrorists?' 'How can we know? We cannot produce any evidence against them,' the Commissioner replied. Reporting back to Amnesty, Rastgeldi stated that he had convincing proof that many innocent people had been arrested since the declaration of the emergency and that their cases hadn't been brought to court. 'But, he added, 'this is not in contradiction to the British constitutional laws. Once a state of emergency is established for a certain area ... no application can be made to any higher order of justice in favour of the detainees.' He went on to point out that the UN itself had condemned the idea of 'states of emergency', so beloved by Britain for her troublesome colonies. (The emergency laws provided that whenever the High Commissioner or Governor was satisfied that for the purpose of maintaining public order it was necessary to exercise control over any person, a detention order could be made against that person. In detention suspects could be held indefinitely, subject to a periodic review by a special tribunal. For interrogation purposes a suspect was only supposed to be held for twenty-eight days.) As Rastgeldi pointed out, such 'states of emergency' are in flagrant contravention of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

It is instructive to examine the tortures alleged against the interrogators in Fort Morbut and Waterloo interrogation camps, for they show an increasing use of techniques allied to SD, though still only in rudimentary stage. Ten main allegations of torture were made:

1. Undressing detainees and making them stand naked during interrogation;
2. keeping them undressed in very cold cells with air conditioners and fans running at full speed;
3. keeping them awake by constant irritation until they were exhausted;
4. offering food to hungry detainees and then removing it before they could eat it;
5. hitting and twisting their genitals;
6. forcing them to sit on poles directed towards their anuses;
7. extinguishing cigarettes on their bodies;
8. banning visits to toilets so that they had to soil their cells;
9. at other times keeping them in filthy toilets;
10. forcing them to run in circles until they were exhausted.

Rastgeldi gave accounts of interviews with various people who had been through the Fort Morbut process, and they have a ring of truth about them. One example was twenty-five-year-old Hashim Jawee, a local Aden councillor, of whom Rastgeldi said, 'He seemed to be deeply shaken by the interrogation and showed feelings of shame for the humiliating treatment to which he was subjected. There was no doubt about the truth of his description of his arrest and interrogation. Jawee was stripped, thrown into an isolation cell, and left naked for a time before interrogation began. His buttocks and genitals were examined in order to humiliate him; the examiner was not a physician and the examination was not a medical examination. During the first three days the barrel of a gun was pointed at him through the cell window and Jawee was told he was going to be shot within a short time. Although the cell had a temperature of over 100° F. He was not allowed to wash or have a shower. At times he was kicked and had his hair pulled; he was also forced to run around the courtyard until he was exhausted and when he asked for water they spat in his face. At no time was he allowed to see the lawyers and visitors who tried to see him. His elder brother Hussein, who was Chief of Police for the Crater district, was also taken to Fort Morbut and threatened with execution. In another case a law graduate of Hull University, Adel Khalifa, was arrested on the day that he was to have been appointed a magistrate. He was systematically beaten, denied sleep and drink and subjected to psychological tortures, such as being blindfolded and told that a youth in the same room was his younger brother who was going to be shot if he didn't confess to something. The interrogators also told him that they had his wife in the barracks and that she was having 'a nice time' with the soldiers. He also met the mysterious French torturer, fresh from the torture-chambers of Algeria, whom several other detainees report as having threatened and beaten them.[36]

The Amnesty report caused a stir, and reluctantly the British government in October 1966 appointed Roderic Bowen QC to 'examine the procedures current in Aden for the arrest, interrogation and detention of persons suspected of terrorist activities and to advise upon any ways in which they might be improved'. Bowen spent only eleven days in Aden and presented his report on 8 November.[37] He found that there was 'a most regrettable failure to deal expeditiously and adequately with allegations of cruelty'. He admitted that senior British legal advisers had been sending in memoranda concerning torture allegations for some time and urging an inquiry, but that nothing had been done. 'Why should anything be done?' was the Army's reply. Had not the Foreign Secretary, George Brown, claimed in his introduction to the Bowen Report that the Fort Morbut centre had 'operated with considerable success, having provided information leading to the discovery of numerous arms caches and to the arrest of a large number of terrorists', etc. etc.? Armed with this testimonial the Army certainly didn't feel inclined to pay any attention to the complaints of 'bleeding hearts', 'liberals' and 'pinkoes'. And so the memoranda sent by the legal advisers to the Deputy High Commissioner from 18 October to 26 December 1965 were ignored, and it might seem to those of a particularly cynical bent that Bowen made little or no attempt to get at the truth, not considering it to 'be part of my task to investigate in detail any specific allegation'.[38] He claimed that there had only been three 'bad apples'.

Three torturers were spirited away, one of them a 'veteran' of the Cyprus interrogations. The Deputy Superintendent of the Special Branch, sent belatedly to 'investigate', submitted his report but he hadn't even bothered to look at the medical records – a 'surprising' omission when we consider that the Director of Health Services was one of those who had been protesting about ill-treatment of detainees. Following this up, the Director of Army Intelligence refused to allow any of his gallant officers to be identified, let alone charged or tried.