Five techniques

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The five techniques, also known as deep interrogation, are a group of interrogation methods developed by the United Kingdom during the 20th century. Originally developed by British forces in a variety of 20th-century conflicts, they are most notable for being applied to detainees in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The five collective methods are prolonged wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink.[1]

They were first used in Northern Ireland in 1971 as part of Operation Demetrius – the mass arrest and internment of people suspected of involvement with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Out of those arrested, fourteen were subjected to a programme of "deep interrogation" using the five techniques. This took place at Shackleton Barracks, a secret interrogation centre in Northern Ireland. For seven days, when not being interrogated, the detainees were kept hooded and handcuffed in a cold cell and subjected to a continuous loud hissing noise. Here they were forced to stand in a stress position for many hours and were deprived of sleep, food and drink. They were also repeatedly beaten, and some reported being kicked in the genitals, having their heads banged against walls and being threatened with injections. The effect was prolonged pain, physical and mental exhaustion, severe anxiety, depression, hallucinations, disorientation and repeated loss of consciousness.[2][3] It also resulted in long-term psychological trauma. The fourteen became known as "the Hooded Men" and were the only detainees in Northern Ireland subjected to all five techniques together. Other detainees were subjected to at least one of the five techniques along with other interrogation methods.[4]

In 1976, the European Commission of Human Rights ruled that the five techniques amounted to torture. The case was then referred to the European Court of Human Rights. In 1978 the court ruled that the techniques were "inhuman and degrading" and breached Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but did not amount to torture. In 2014, after new information was uncovered that showed the decision to use the five techniques in Northern Ireland in 1971–1972 had been taken by ministers,[5] the Irish Government asked the European Court of Human Rights to review its judgement. In 2018, the Court declined.

The Court's ruling that the five techniques did not amount to torture was later internally cited by the United States to justify its own interrogation methods,[6] which included the five techniques.[7] British agents also taught the five techniques to the forces of Brazil's military dictatorship.[8]

During the Iraq War, the illegal use of the five techniques by British service members contributed to the death of Baha Mousa.[9][10] In 2021, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom found that the use of the five techniques amounts to torture.[11]

Parker Report[edit]

In response to the public and Parliamentary disquiet on 16 November 1971, the Government commissioned a committee of inquiry chaired by Lord Parker, the Lord Chief Justice of England to look into the legal and moral aspects of the use of the five techniques.

The "Parker Report"[12] was published on 2 March 1972, and had found the five techniques to be illegal under domestic law:

10. Domestic Law ...(c) We have received both written and oral representations from many legal bodies and individual lawyers from both England and Northern Ireland. There has been no dissent from the view that the procedures are illegal alike by the law of England and the law of Northern Ireland. ... (d) This being so, no Army Directive and no Minister could lawfully or validly have authorised the use of the procedures. Only Parliament can alter the law. The procedures were and are illegal.

On the same day (2 March 1972), the United Kingdom Prime Minister Edward Heath stated in the House of Commons:

[The] Government, having reviewed the whole matter with great care and with reference to any future operations, have decided that the techniques ... will not be used in future as an aid to interrogation... The statement that I have made covers all future circumstances.

Directives expressly prohibiting the use of the techniques, whether singly or in combination, were then issued to the security forces by the Government.[13] These are still in force and the use of such methods by UK security forces would not be condoned by the Government.

European Commission of Human Rights inquiries and findings[edit]

The Irish Government, on behalf of the men who had been subject to the five methods, took a case to the European Commission on Human Rights.[14] The Commission stated that it "considered the combined use of the five methods to amount to torture, on the grounds that (1) the intensity of the stress caused by techniques creating sensory deprivation "directly affects the personality physically and mentally"; and (2) "the systematic application of the techniques for the purpose of inducing a person to give information shows a clear resemblance to those methods of systematic torture which have been known over the ages... a modern system of torture falling into the same category as those systems... applied in previous times as a means of obtaining information and confessions".[14][15][16]

European Court of Human Rights trial Ireland v. the United Kingdom[edit]

The Commission's findings were appealed. In 1978, in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) trial Ireland v. United Kingdom (5310/71) [1978] ECHR 1, the facts were not in dispute and the judges court published the following in their judgement:

These methods, sometimes termed "disorientation" or "sensory deprivation" techniques, were not used in any cases other than the fourteen so indicated above. It emerges from the Commission's establishment of the facts that the techniques consisted of:

  • (a) wall-standing: forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a "stress position", described by those who underwent it as being "spreadeagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers";
  • (b) hooding: putting a black or navy coloured bag over the detainees' heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation;
  • (c) subjection to noise: pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise;
  • (d) deprivation of sleep: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep;
  • (e) deprivation of food and drink: subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the centre and pending interrogations.[17]

These were referred to by the court as the five techniques. The court ruled:

  1. ... Although the five techniques, as applied in combination, undoubtedly amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, although their object was the extraction of confessions, the naming of others and/or information and although they were used systematically, they did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood. ...
  2. The Court concludes that recourse to the five techniques amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment, which practice was in breach of [the European Convention on Human Rights] Article 3 (art. 3).[18]

On 8 February 1977, in proceedings before the ECHR, and in line with the findings of the Parker report and United Kingdom Government policy, Samuel Silkin, the Attorney General for England and Wales and Attorney General for Northern Ireland, stated that

The Government of the United Kingdom have considered the question of the use of the 'five techniques' with very great care and with particular regard to Article 3 (art. 3) of the Convention. They now give this unqualified undertaking, that the 'five techniques' will not in any circumstances be reintroduced as an aid to interrogation.[19]

Irish Government seek to re-open case[edit]

On 2 December 2014, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan announced that the Irish Government had asked European Court of Human Rights to revise its judgment,[20] following evidence uncovered by an RTÉ documentary called The Torture Files.[21]

In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights decided not to revise its judgment, by six votes to one.[22]

See also[edit]


  • Ireland v. United Kingdom – Commission report
  • Ireland v. United Kingdom – ECHR Grand Chamber judgment
  • Lauterpacht, Elihu; Greenwood, C. J. (1980), International Law Reports, Cambridge UP, p. 198, 241, ISBN 978-0-521-46403-1


  1. ^ Lauterpacht & Greenwood 1980, p. 198.
  2. ^ The Guineapigs by John McGuffin (1974, 1981). Chapter 4: "The Experiment".
  3. ^ The Guineapigs by John McGuffin (1974, 1981). Chapter 6: "Replay".
  4. ^ The Guineapigs by John McGuffin (1974, 1981). Chapter 9: "Down on the Killing Floor".
  5. ^ "British ministers sanctioned torture of NI internees". The Irish Times. 21 March 2013. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  6. ^ "The Hooded Men – joint press release from CAJ and the Pat Finucane Centre" Archived 22 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Committee on the Administration of Justice. 24 November 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
  7. ^ "Paper trail: from Northern Ireland's hooded men to CIA's global torture". Amnesty International. 9 December 2014. Quote: "Within months, the CIA was using the "five techniques" in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world."
  8. ^ "How the UK taught Brazil's dictators interrogation techniques". BBC News. 30 May 2014.
  9. ^ "Baha Mousa inquiry: 'Serious discipline breach' by army". BBC News. 8 September 2011.
  10. ^ "Baha Mousa inquiry: innocent father died due to Army's failings". The Telegraph. 8 September 2011.
  11. ^ "Judgement - In the matter of an application by Margaret McQuillan for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland) (Nos 1, 2 and 3) In the matter of an application by Francis McGuigan for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland) (Nos 1, 2 and 3) In the matter of an application by Mary McKenna for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland) (Nos 1 and 2)" para. 186-188
  12. ^ Report of the committee of Privy Counsellors appointed to consider authorised procedures for the interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism, retrieved 30 December 2012 held at CAIN part of ARK in collaboration with Queen's University Belfast and University of Ulster
  13. ^ Lauterpacht & Greenwood 1980, p. 241.
  14. ^ a b "Ireland v United Kingdom 1976", Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, Strasbourg: European Commission on Human Rights, pp. 512, 748, 788–94, retrieved 30 December 2012
  15. ^ Security Detainees/Enemy Combatants: US Law Prohibits Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, p. Footnote 16, archived from the original on 20 November 2005
  16. ^ Weissbrodt, David, materials on torture and other ill-treatment: 3. European Court of Human Rights, retrieved 30 December 2012
  17. ^ Ireland v. the United Kingdom 28 October 2016 Paragraph 96
  18. ^ Ireland v. the United Kingdom Paragraphs 167 and 168
  19. ^ Ireland v. the United Kingdom Paragraph 102
  20. ^ Affairs, Department of Foreign. "Statement on 'Hooded Men' case - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade". Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  21. ^ "Prime Time Web: RTÉ Investigations Unit: The Torture Files". Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  22. ^ ECtHR revision judgment on application No. 5310/71

Further reading[edit]