Revealed: victims of UK's cold war torture campIan Cobain
Apr. 03, 2006
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Photographs of victims of a secret torture programme operated by British authorities during the early days of the cold war are published for the first time today after being concealed for almost 60 years.
The pictures show men who had suffered months of starvation, sleep deprivation, beatings and extreme cold at one of a number of interrogation centres run by the War Office in postwar Germany.
A few were starved or beaten to death, while British soldiers are alleged to have tortured some victims with thumb screws and shin screws recovered from a gestapo prison. The men in the photographs are not Nazis, however, but suspected communists, arrested in 1946 because they were thought to support the Soviet Union, an ally 18 months earlier.
Apparently believing that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, the War Office was seeking information about Russian military and intelligence methods. Dozens of women were also detained and tortured, as were a number of genuine Soviet agents, scores of suspected Nazis, and former members of the SS.
Yesterday there were calls for the Ministry of Defence to acknowledge what had happened and apologise. Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, said: "It's too late for anyone to be held personally responsible, or held politically to account, but it's not too late for the MoD to acknowledge what has happened." Sherman Carroll, of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said British authorities should also apologise and pay compensation to survivors. "The suggestion that Britain did not use torture during world war two and in the immediate aftermath, because it was regarded as 'ineffective', is a mythology that has been successfully propagated for decades," he said. "The fact that it took place should be acknowledged."
The MoD dismissed the calls, saying questions about the interrogation centres were a matter for the Foreign Office.
Declassified Whitehall papers show that members of the Labour government of the day went to great lengths to hide the ill-treatment, in part, as one minister wrote, to conceal "the fact that we are alleged to have treated internees in a manner reminiscent of the German concentration camps".
Almost six decades later the photographs were still being kept secret. Four months ago they were removed from a police report on the mistreatment of inmates at one of the interrogation centres, near Hanover, shortly before the document was released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.
Although the file was in the possession of the Foreign Office, the pictures were removed at the request of the Ministry of Defence. They have finally been released after an appeal by the Guardian. The photographs were taken in February 1947 by a Royal Navy officer who was determined to bring the torture programme to an end. Pictures of other victims, taken by the same officer, appear to have vanished from the Foreign Office files.
Meanwhile documents about a secret interrogation centre which the War Office operated in central London between 1945 and 1948, where large numbers of men are now known to have been badly mistreated, are still being withheld by the Ministry of Defence. Officials say the papers cannot yet be released because they have been contaminated with asbestos.
It is not clear whether the men in the photographs fully recovered from their mistreatment. It is also unclear, from examination of the War Office and Foreign Office documents now available, when the torture of prisoners in Germany came to an end.