Robert J Daly and ‘hooded men’ case


A chara, – Your fine obituary “Psychiatrist instrumental in holding British to account for torture” (February 15th) of the eminent psychiatrist and human rights activist Bob Daly, a key expert and witness in the case before the European Commission on Human Rights (Ireland v the United Kingdom), recalled a dramatic day in Strasbourg in the spring of 1973.

Prof Daly was being cross-examined by the UK attorney general and other prominent British silks in the hectoring traditions of the Old Bailey. The tone began to change when Prof Daly explained that as a young psychiatrist in the US he had consulted for some years for the US Air Force who were training American military personnel who might be captured in combat to resist sophisticated forms of torture, including the “five techniques” that the Irish government alleged amounted to torture.

He explained how knowledge of these “techniques” had originated with the debriefing by US experts of the crew of the US Navy vessel USS Pueblo which had been captured by North Korea in January 1968.

During 10 months the captain and crew were subjected to various forms of torture, including the “five techniques”. Several suffered long-term psychological and physical damage.

By now the hectoring had stopped and was replaced by an expectant silence from the commission members and the entire courtroom. Prof Daly produced irrefutable written evidence from US government sources of the transmission of the findings by the US medical and intelligence authorities on the impact on their victims of the North Korean techniques to their counterparts in the UK.

He explained devastatingly how British medical and security experts had used these methods on the 14 “hooded men” knowing beforehand how damaging their effects could be, including possibly major damage to a victim’s nervous system.

The British attorney general and his team made no attempt to refute any of this.

As a junior official of the Department of Foreign Affairs, I was an adviser to the Irish government’s legal team in collecting evidence in Northern Ireland of abuse of detainees at that time.

My strong recollection is that none of our legal experts had expected Prof Daly’s evidence to be as starkly conclusive as it proved to be.

Speaking to him years later he told me that he had had no political motivation whatever but, even knowing the risks to his professional standing that could arise, particularly in the UK, he had felt an obligation as a doctor to expose those of his own profession who were literally supervising torture.

Bob Daly is an heroic example to every Irish medical student today and to the rest of us. – Is mise,


Dublin 6.