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24 Mar, 2023 19:50

Court rules British army tortured Irish prisoner

The late Liam Holden was falsely convicted of killing a UK soldier
Court rules British army tortured Irish prisoner

The High Court in Belfast awarded damages to the family of Liam Holden on Friday, ruling that the late Irishman was waterboarded into making a false confession while in British military custody.

Holden, who died last year aged 68, was falsely convicted of killing a UK paratrooper in the early 1970's. The period of near civil war is known as "The Troubles."

“The plaintiff was subjected to waterboarding; he was hooded; he was driven in a car flanked by soldiers to a location where he thought he would be assassinated,” the judge said. “A gun was put to his head and he was threatened that he would be shot dead.”

Ruling that this amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment,” the judge said the soldiers “unquestionably acted in bad faith,” for all their “honest belief” they were acting lawfully. The Ministry of Defence was ordered to pay Holden’s family £350,000 (about $427,700) in damages.

According to Holden’s family and their lawyers, it was the first time a court had confirmed that waterboarding was used during the decades-long sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. 

“My father is not here to see this finished,” Holden's son, Samuel Bowden, told BBC Radio Ulster after the verdict. “What he went through should never have happened ... today it’s all clear that he was innocent.”

Holden was detained in 1973, by British soldiers deployed to the north of Ireland, on suspicion of fatally shooting A Private, named Frank Bell, in the nationalist Ballymurphy neighborhood of Belfast. After Holden confessed to the killing in a four-day trial, he was sentenced to death by hanging.

Holden’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the region abolished capital punishment shortly afterwardS.. He spent 17 years behind bars before being released on parole. His conviction was eventually quashed in 2012, and he was awarded £1 million in damages due to the miscarriage of justice.

During that process, Holden had revealed the details of his torture, saying the soldiers had pinned him to the floor and “started pouring a bucket of water slowly through the towel” they had placed over his face. After four such sessions, Holden said the soldiers threatened to execute him unless he confessed, so he made something up.

“The first thing I felt was the cold, then trying to breathe and then sucking water in through my mouth and up my nose,” he told the court at the time. “It was like you were just drowning.” 

The term waterboarding was coined in the mid-2000s to describe the water torture used by the US government on suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Also known under the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques,” waterboarding was eventually banned by executive order in 2009.

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