Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors appointed to consider authorised procedures for the interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism.


Presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister by Command of Her Majesty
March, 1972


Cmnd. 4901.


N. E. A. Moore. Esq.


To the Right Honourable EDWARD HEATH M.P.

1. We, the undersigned Privy Counsellors, were appointed to consider

“whether, and if so in what respects, the procedures currently authorised for the interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism and for their custody while subject to interrogation require amendment”.

2. The setting up of this Committee was announced in the House of Commons by the Home Secretary on 16th November 1971, and the final constitution of the Committee was made public on 30th November. We held our first meeting on 3rd December 1971. Since then we have held a number of meetings, all in private, for the purpose of hearing evidence and of discussion. In the course of our inquiry we· considered some 25 written representations from members of the public and 10 from representative organisations. We heard the oral evidence of 33 witnesses, many of them from representative organisations and the Civil and Armed Services. Following precedent, however, in inquiries where there are considerations of national security, we do not propose to publish the evidence we have received, or the names of persons who have provided that evidence, whether orally or in writing.

3. We would like to record at the outset the Committee’s appreciation of the services of Mr. N. E. A. Moore, our Secretary, Mr. S. G. Evans, our Assistant Secretary, and of all our staff.

4. Unfortunately we have been unable to agree and accordingly submit two reports:

I The majority report of the Chairman and Mr. Boyd6Carpenter
II The minority report of Lord Gardiner.


Our approach

1. “Terrorism” no doubt connotes violence, and violence for political ends. This could arise under normal conditions, in which case. those suspected, of such conduct would be dealt with ill the same way as any other persons suspected of crime. We do not, however, construe our terms of reference as including in our inquiry ordinary police interrogation. We have accordingly confined our inquiry to interrogation in circumstances where some public emergency has arisen as a result of which suspects can legally be detained without trial.

2. We also read our terms of reference as calling upon us to inquire quite generally into the interrogation and custody of persons suspected of terrorism in such circumstances in the future, and not specifically in connection with Northern Ireland. In particular, we are not called upon to consider afresh. matters already dealt with in the Compton Report (Cmnd. Paper 4823).
Further, while in our view the use of some if not all the techniques in question would constitute criminal assaults and might also give rise to civil proceedings under English law, we refrain from expressing any view in respect of the position in Northern Ireland in deference tp the courts there, before whom we understand proceedings which raise this issue are pending.

3. As our inquiry progressed it became clear that the only “procedures currently authorised”, in the sense of authorised by the civil power, were such as could be said to comply with a Joint Directive on Military Interrogation dated 17th February 1965, as amended in 1967 as “a result of the Report of Mr. Roderic Bowen Q.C. (Cmnd. Paper 3165). A note summarising the rules of this Directive was published in paragraph 46 of the Compton Report but for the sake of accuracy we set out in the Appendix such extracts from this Directive as are immediately relevant to our inquiry.

4. It will be seen that this Directive, though dealing with Internal Security operations, refers to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention re1ative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (1949) and then sets out the principles contained in that Article. However, that Convention, Convention No III, dea1s with international warfare and the more apt Convention is Convention No IV, dealing with internal civilian disturbances in which Article 3 is in the same terms.

5. Even so, it is arguable that Convention No IV itself does not apply in the emergencies which we are considering and the same can be argued in respect of our other international obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 3) and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 5).

6. Whether any of these international obligations are applicable in circumstances such as have occurred in Northern Ireland and, if so, whether and to what extent the interrogations conducted there conflicted with those obligations is the subject of an application to the European Commission and accordingly we refrain from expressing a view thereon. It is however in any event unnecessary for us to express a view as to the applicability of any of these obligations. The principles in paragraph 5 (a) and (b) of the Directive fairly set out the obligations under the Geneva Convention and those to whom it is addressed are enjoined to comply with them. In other words, if that Convention is applicable, operations that are within the Directive will be in conformity with our obligations under that Convention. Moreover, since the obligations in Article 3 of that Convention embrace in all material respects our other international obligations, operations which are in conformity with the former will also be in conformity with the latter obligations.

7. The first question therefore is whether the techniques in current use in fact comply with the Directive.

8. The Directive moreover merely sets out the limits beyond which action may not go, and does not attempt to define the limits to which it is morally permissible to go. Accordingly a second and more difficult question arises as to whether, even if the use of these techniques complies with the Directive, their application by a civilised and humane society can be morally justified. Some of the witnesses who appeared before us urged that this Country should set an example to the World by improving on the standards in the Geneva Convention and applying what were described as the basic principles of “humanitarian law”. They took the line that, even though innocent lives could be and had been saved by the use of the techniques described in the Compton Report, a civilised society should never use them. They argued that, once methods of this character were employed on people in detention in order to obtain information from them, the society which employed them was morally on a slippery slope leading to the deliberate infliction of torture. It was better that servants of the State and innocent civilians should die than that the information which could save them should ever be obtained by such methods. This approach has the attraction of relieving one of the difficult exercises of judgment involved in deciding exactly how far it is permissible to go in particular circumstances.

9. Further, in considering the limits to which action may go, terminology is not of great assistance. There is a wide spectrum between discomfort and hardship at the one end and physical or mental torture at the other end. Discomfort and hardship are clearly matters which any persons suspected of crime, under ordinary conditions, will suffer and that is accepted as not only inevitable but permissible. Equally, everyone would agree that torture, whether physical or mental, is not justified under any conditions. Where, however, does hardship and discomfort end and for instance humiliating treatment begin, and where does the latter end and torture begin? Whatever words of definition are used, opinions will inevitably differ as to whether the action under consideration falls within one or the other definition.

The techniques and their history

10. Essentially interrogation in depth consists in the main of questions and answers across a table. The techniques which have been criticised are in a sense ancillary activities. While other techniques may be devised in the future, the only techniques in current use are those referred to in the Compton Report, that is, wall-standing, hooding, noise, bread and water diet and deprivation of sleep. A demonstration of these techniques was given to your Committee. They have been developed since the War to to deal with a number of situations involving internal security. Some or all have played an important part in counter insurgency operations in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus and more recently in the British Cameroons (1960,61), Brunei (1963), British Guiana (1964), Aden (1964-67), Borneo/Malaysia (1965.66), the Persian Gulf (1970-71) and in Northern Ireland (1971).

11. The object of all the techniques undoubtedly is to make the detainee, from whom information is required, feel that he is in a hostile atmosphere, subject to strict discipline, and that he is completely isolated so that he fears what may happen next. A further object of some of the techniques, varying according to local conditions, is one of security and safety. Thus it may be vital in the detainee’s own interest that he is not recognised by his fellow detainees. It is also necessary that the detainees should not communicate with each other, or with the outside world, or get to know where they are being held or the identity of their guards. Finally, it is necessary to ensure the safety of the guards and prevent the escape of the detainees. In fact, some of these techniques when applied fulfill both aims: thus the wall posture not only ensures the safety of the guards, but also induces stricter discipline. Hooding and noise likewise have dual aims, that of security and that of producing a sense of complete isolation.

12. One of the unsatisfactory features of the past has been the fact that no rules or guidelines have been laid down to restrict the degree to which these techniques can properly be applied. Indeed, it cannot be assumed that any U.K. Minister has ever had the full nature of these particular techniques brought to his attention, and, consequently, that he has ever specifically authorised their use.

13. These techniques are taught at purpose-built intelligence centres where Service personnel are instructed in the art of interrogation in depth, and where members of our Services are also taught to be resistant to such interrogation. Even at such a centre there are no standing orders or manuals dealing in detail with the use of such techniques, and accordingly their exact application in real life situations depends upon the training already received by those who employ them. It will be seen at once that such techniques can easily be used to excess, and specially so when their use is entrusted to personnel not completely trained in their use. To illustrate the matter, we understand that the Service training envisages a comparatively short period at the wall and subjection to hooding and noise there, while the detainees are taken one by one to be medically examined and the method of interrogation is assessed. Once that interrogation has taken place, it is envisaged that normal1y the detainee will be taken to a cell and not returned to the wall, or be hooded or subjected to noise. In practice, it may turn out that, through lack of proper accommodation, through lack of guards, through lack of interrogators, through the need to obtain personal and medical files and such matters, the degree of use envisaged is exceeded. In those circumstances, and in the absence of definite guidelines, there is a risk that the techniques will be applied to a greater degree than is justified either morally or under the Directive.

Medical aspects and dangers

14. Provided the techniques are applied as envisaged by those responsible for Service training, the risk of physical injury is negligible. That was the evidence of all the medical witnesses, save that in the case of a detainee suffering from ear damage the condition might be aggravated by the noise.

15. We received a good deal of evidence O!fl the effect of these techniques on mental health. One of the difficulties is that there is no reliable information in regard to mental effects, particularly long-term mental effects, and, as one would expect, the medical evidence varied somewhat in emphasis. Evidence we have received is to the effect that,while the techniques may produce some mental disorientation, this is expected to disappear within a matter of hours at the end of the interrogation. It is true that in a small minority of cases some mental effects may persist for up to two months. There is no evidence of a mental effect lasting longer, though very fairly all the medical witnesses were unable to rule out that possibility, certainly in the case of a constitutionally vulnerable detainee. Moreover, even if the mental effect did not disappear at once, it was impossible to say how far that was due to the techniques employed as opposed to the anxiety state which would be induced by reason of the detainee’s continued detention, and, if he gave information, the guilty knowledge which he had of letting down his fellows coupled with the fear of reprisals.

16. We considered the results of such experiments as have been made in connection with sensory deprivation. We heard evidence concerning army personnel who had been subjected to these techniques in order to train them in resistance. In such cases no lasting mental effect whatever has been observed, but in our opinion this is by no means conclusive. The real thing is obviously quite different from the experiment. We also heard evidence of experiments conducted on student volunteers, usually involving a more extreme form of sensory deprivation. In these cases many or the volunteers were found unable to withstand such sensory deprivation for more than a comparatively short period. However, not only were the experiments again of necessity different from the real thing, but in these cases the volunteers neither enjoyed a break during which medical examination and later interrogation took place, nor were they members of an organisation bound together by bonds of loyalty which would help them to hold out.

17. In the result, we have come to the conclusion that, while long-term mental injury cannot scientifically be ruled out, particularly in the case of a constitutionally vulnerable individual, there is no real risk of such injury if proper safeguards are applied in the operation of these techniques. We deal with suggested safeguards in paragraphs 35 to 42 below.

The value of the techniques and the alternatives

18. There is no doubt that when used in the past these techniques have produced very valuable results in revealing rebel organisation, training and “Battle Orders”. Interrogation also sometimes had the effect of establishing the innocence both of other wanted people and of the detainee himself.

19. Coming to recent times, the position in Northern Ireland prior to August 1971 was that the Security Forces were in need of hard intelligence. Information obtained by the R.U.C. by ordinary police interrogation had failed to provide anything but a general picture of the I.R.A. organisation.
As a result the Security Forces were hampered in their search for arms and explosives and in addition were liable to harass and antagonise innocent citizens. On the introduction of internment two operations of interrogation in depth took place involving the use of these techniques. In August 1971 12 detainees and in October 1971 two detainees were interrogated in depth.

20. As a direct result of these two operations the following new information was obtained:

(1) Identification of a further 700 members of both I.R.A. factions, and their positions in the organisations.

(2) Over 40 sheets giving details of the organisation and structure of I.R.A. units and sub-units.

(3) Details of possible I.R.A. operations: arms caches; safe houses; communications and supply routes, including those across the border; and locations of wanted persons.

(4) Details of morale, operational directives, propaganda techniques, relations with other organisations and future plans.

(5) The discovery of individual responsibility for about 85 incidents recorded on police files which had previously remained unexplained.

21. It is also not without significance that the rate at which arms, ammunition and explosives discovered in Northern Ireland by the Security Forces increased markedly after 9th August, and much the greater part of the haul has resulted either directly or indirectly from information obtained by interrogation in depth. Details of the total amount discovered in 1971 are as follows:

22. There is of course a danger that, if the techniques are applied to an undue degree, the detainee will, either consciously or unconsciously, give false information. So far as the operations in Northern Ireland are concerned, however, the information given was quickly proved to be correct except in a few cases in which incorrect descriptions were given of persons who could not be identified by name.

23. A further advantage was the “snowball” effect generated by following up the information, thus obtained. Moreover, the indirect effect of these two operations of interrogation was that further information could be, and was, more readily obtained by ordinary police interrogation.

24. There is no doubt that the information obtained by these two operations directly and indirectly was responsible for the saving of lives of innocent citizens.

25. We have thought it right to consider whether it is possible to obtain valuable information of this kind by other means. There is no doubt that in time of war skilled interrogators can obtain and have obtained valuable information by other means-by guile, by careful grouping of prisoners and monitoring of conversations with the aid of microphones, and by the introduction of “stool pigeons”. Circumstances in time of war are, however, very different. Large resources are generally available in the form both of skilled interrogators and guards and ample accommodation; certainly as time goes on, if not at the beginning, ample information is available to assist interrogators; there is no need or wish to keep the prisoner’s identity secret; and there are often, as in the last War, a number of prisoners who dislike the current enemy regime and are only too willing to talk. Moreover, it is doubtful whether today, when” bugging” is a well-known and unfortunately often used technique, its use would produce any information.

26. Considerable and persuasive evidence has been put before us that in counter-revolutionary operations, and in particular in urban guerilla warfare, interrogation as conducted in conditions of war is not very effective. While highly skilled interrogators might succeed in getting valuable information over a substantial period of time, they would be unlikely to obtain it as quickly. This evidence we accept.

Should these techniques be employed?

27. We do not subscribe to the principle that the end justifies the means. The means, in our view, must be such as not only comply with the Directive, but are morally acceptable taking account of the conditions prevailing.

28. It is at this point that we encounter divergencies of view in what is a highly emotive field. Some take the view that any attempt to disorientate the mind, to lessen the will so as to make a man more susceptible to oral interrogation is, if not mental torture, at any rate not humane, and that the techniques in any form are humiliating or degrading. Others claim that the techniques produce no more than hardship and discomfort for a short period.

29. The true view, it seems to us, must depend upon the degree to which the techniques are applied. It is one thing, for instance, to keep a detainee at the wall, hooded and subjected to noise, for x hours before oral interrogation, and thereafter to return him to a cell un-hooded and not subjected to noise. It is another to keep him under these conditions at the wall for 2x hours and to return him to the wall after interrogation again hooded and subjected to noise. It must also depend on the length of time during which he is deprived of sleep or given a restricted diet. And all these matters depend upon the medical condition of the detainee. What would be intolerable for a man in poor health might amount to no more than inconvenience for a fit man.

30. Whether or not what is done is in conformity with the Directive falls in our view to be judged by how a dispassionate observer would view the operation if he saw the techniques being applied. Further, we think that such expressions as “humane”, “inhuman”, “humiliating” and “degrading” fall to be judged by such an observer in the light of the circumstances in which the techniques are applied, for example, that the operation is taking place in the course of urban guerilla warfare in which completely innocent lives are at risk; that there is a degree of urgency; and that the security and safety of the interrogation centre, of its staff and of the detainees are important considerations.

31. Viewed in this way we think that the application of these techniques, subject to proper safeguards, limiting the occasion on which and the degree to which they can be applied, would be in conformity with the Directive.

32. So far as she moral issue is concerned, we feel that in a limited number of situations, in particular those in which urban guerillas are concerned, the attitude taken up by the witnesses as set out in paragraph 8 is unrealistic and one which is unfair both to the State and to law abiding citizens. Moreover, circumstances caan be envisaged in which “humanitarian” law as well as domestic law will allow a measure of self-defence. The public emergencies in which alone we are concerned, though short of war in its ordinary sense, are in many ways worse than war. Guerilla warfare will be taking place within the country; friend and foe will not be identifiable; the rebels may be ruthless men determined to achieve their ends by indiscriminate attacks on innocent persons. If information is to be obtained. time must be of the essence of the operation.

33. We have also considered the argument that, however careful the selection of detainees for interrogation in depth, it may on occasion involve the interrogation of a man wrongly suspected. It can accordingly be argued that to subject such a man to these techniques is something which should not be tolerated. There is some force in this argument, but it must be remembered that even under normal conditions it is accepted that a person suspected of ordinary crime, who may thereafter be found not guilty, can be subjected to some measure of discomfort, hardship and mental anxiety. Moreover, interrogation in depth may itself reveal the innocence of the detainee and allow of his release from detention.

34. We have come to the conclusion that the answer to the moral question is dependent on the intensity with which these techniques are applied and on the provision of effective safeguards against excessive use. These safeguards are dealt with in the following paragraphs. Subject to these safeguards we have come to the conclusion that there is no reason to rule out these techniques on moral grounds and that it is possible to operate them in a manner consistent with the highest standards of our society.

Recommended Safeguards

35. It is, however, we think of importance that, except in so far as their use is required for purposes of security and safety, these techniques should only be used in cases where it is considered vitally necessary to obtain information.

36. Whether the techniques are used only for the purposes of security and safety or also for purpose of obtaining information, care should be taken that they are only applied in conformity with tbe Directive. Accordingly, we think that there should be guidelines to assist Service personnel as to the degree to which in any particular circumstances the techniques can be applied. We suggest guidelines as opposed to rules because we recognise that it may sometimes be impracticable to comply fully with them. Some discretion must be left to the man in charge of the operation, but any departure from them should be the subject of a special report to his superior officer.

37. We are satisfied that Her Majesty’s Forces should neither apply nor be party to the application of these techniques except under the express authority of a U.K. Minister. It follows that if he is to authorise their application he must have full knowledge of what they involve and of the persons to whom they are to be applied. He must, in the light of the conditions prevailing, decide whether and to what extent their application is necessary. He should also lay down guidelines as to their use for the assistance of Service personnel. These will for obvious reasons have to remain secret and we suggest that the Minister might be advised by a small and experienced Committee whose members are appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. Such a Committee should also be informed of, and keep under review, any new techniques which may in the future be developed.

38. Despite the clear instructions in paragraph 6 of the Directive, it does not appear that in the past much, if indeed any, consideration has been given to the domestic law of the country in which it is considered necessary to employ the techniques. We have in mind that the application of some, if not all, the techniques may in the country concerned constitute criminal assaults, even if care is taken not to use violence, and could also give rise to civil action. If the suggestions we have made are adopted it would be for the Minister concerned to take advice as to the legal position and if need be to take steps to ensure protection for those taking part in the operation.

39. It is, we think, important that there should always be a senior officer present at the interrogation centre who is recognised as being in overall control and who will carry personal responsibility for the operation. The chain of command and responsibility above him and to the Minister should be clear.

40. We think that a panel of highly skilled interrogators should be kept in being. This would, among other things, tend to reduce the number of occasions on which there would be a real necessity to use these techniques. Where it is necessary to use them, it is highly desirable that they should be in the bands of skilled and experienced interrogators, assisted by guards and staff who are under strict discipline. Mr. Roderic Bowen, Q.C., recommended that the interrogators employed should be civilians. While not disagreeing with that recommendation in relation to Aden, we do not think that it should be adopted generally. Unless therefore there are other and overriding considerations, for example, difficulties of 1anguage, the operation should, in our view, be conducted by Service personnel.

41. We think that a doctor with some psychiatric training should be present at all times at the interrogation centre, and should be in a position to observe the course of oral interrogation. It is not suggested that he should be himself responsible for stopping the interrogation-rather that he should warn the controller if he felt that the interrogation was being pressed too far having regard to the demeanour of the detainee, leaving the decision to the controller. This should be some safeguard both for the constitutionally vulnerable detainee and at the same time for the interrogator.

42. We think that, when these techniques are employed, machinery should be set up to ensure that complaints are passed on to the Ministry concerned and that a person or body should be appointed to investigate any such complaints. In this connection it might be advisable to have a representative of the civil authority present at the interrogation centre. The existence of such machinery for the receipt and investigation of complaints would go a long way to ensure that the operation was conducted within the limits authorised. In this connection we think it is important that careful records be kept of the movement and treatment of those being interrogated.



31st January, 1972.


1. I very much regret that I am unable to agree with my distinguished colleagues in their report.

2. It seems to me clear that the “procedures” which our terms of reference require us to consider are the procedures of “interrogation in depth” so described in the report of the Compton Committee of 3rd November 1971 (“the first Compton report”) and in the further report of Sir Edmund Compton of 14th November (“the second Compton report”). If there were any doubt, it is clear from the statements in the House of Commons made by the Home Secretary on 16th, 17th and 29th November and by the Minister of State for Defence on 9th December that those are the “procedures” intended to be referred to.

3. The questions which arise therefore appear to me to be:

(a) Of what did those “procedures” consist?
(b) Were they “authorised”?
(c) What were their effects?
(d) Do they, in the light of their effects, require amendment and, if so, in what respects?

Of what did those procedures consist?

4. The first Compton report considered the cases of 11 out of 12 men who had been submitted to “interrogation in depth” at an interrogation centre in Northern Ireland from 11th to 17th August 1971 and the second Compton report considered the case of one of two men who had been so interrogated from 11th to 18th Ootober.

5. Their conclusions were that the procedures consisted of:

(a) Keeping the detainees’ heads covered by a black hood except when being interrogated or in a room by themselves and that this constituted physical ill-treatment.
(b) Submitting the detainees to continuous and monotonous noise of a volume calculated to isolate them from communication and that this was a form of physical ill-treatment.
(c) Depriving the detainees of sleep during the early days of the operation and that this constituted physical ill-treatment.
(d) Depriving the detainees of food and water other than one round of bread and one pint of water at six-hourly intervals and that this constituted physical ill-treatment for men who were being exhausted by other means at the same time.
(e) Making the detainees stand against a wall in a required posture (facing wall, legs apart, with hands raised up against wall) except for periodical lowering of the arms to restore circulation, and that detainees attempting to rest or sleep by propping their heads against the wall were prevented from doing so and that, if a detainee collapsed on the floor, he was picked up by the armpits and placed against the wall to resume the required posture and that the action taken to enforce this posture constituted physical ill-treatment.

They found that the 11 men were at the wall for periods totaling 9, 9, 13, 14, 15, 20, 23, 29, 30, 40 and 43 1/2 hours. The second Compton report shows that the man the subject of that report was at the wall for periods totaling 35 hours.

6. I have thought it essential to state what the procedures referred to in the Compton reports were because they were never published or even written down anywhere. We have been told that these procedures of interrogation in depth, namely hooding, a noise machine, wall-standing and deprivation of diet and sleep, were never committed to writing in any directive, order, syllabus or training manual. They had been for some time orally taught for use in emergency conditions, in Colonial-type situations, at an army intelligence centre in England. They had been used in Aden, although, surprisingly, it does not appear from the report of Mr. Roderic Bowen, Q.C., on Interrogation in Aden (Cmnd. 3165 of 1966) that he ever discovered that these interrogation procedures were used there. Officers and men of the English Intelligence Centre held a seminar on the procedures in Northern Ireland, in April 1971 to teach orally the procedures to members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary; officers from the English Intelligence Centre were present in the control room of the interrogation centre in Northern Ireland throughout the periods covered by the Compton reports.

7. We are not a court of appeal from the Compton Committee and I accept their conc1usions subject to the following points:

(a) While records. were kept of the movements of the detainees for 11th, 12th and 13th August, the records for most of them were discontinued some time on 14th or 15th and for four on 16th August, so that the figures of wall-standing in the first Compton report only re1ate to the dates for which there were records, wall-standing being discontinued thereafter.
(b) The report does not indicate for how long any detainee was standing continuously at the wall. We have seen copies the of partial records. They show that, subject to breaks for bread and water and for toilet visits, some detainees were standing continuously at the wall for periods of 6, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 8, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, , 10, 10, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16 hours.
(c) The first Compton report states in paragraph 68 “Weight. The records kept by the doctor for each detainee on entering and leaving the centre all show loss of weight during the time spent there.” We have ascertained that, as there was no weighing machine when the 11 men arrived, the recorded entry weights were mere estimates made by the doctor looking at the man. On the assumed weights there were losses up to 1 stone 2 lbs. in six days.
(d) In paragraph 105 of the first Compton report the Committee say “We consider that brutal1ty is an inhuman or savage form of cruelty, and that cruelty implies a disposition to inflict suffering, coupled with indifference to, or pleasure in, the victim’s pain.” Lest by silence I should be thought to have accepted this remarkable definition, I must say that I cannot agree with it. Under this definition, which some of our witnesses thought came from the Inquisition, if an interrogator believed, to his great regret, that it was necessary for him to cut off the fingers of a detainee one by one to get the required information out of him for the sole purpose of saving life, this would not be cruel and, because not cruel, not brutal.

Were they authorised?

8. We have found this a point of some difficulty because our terms of reference appear to assume that the procedures were or are authorised. The only evidence before us on this point was that it could not be said that U.K. Ministers had ever approved them specifically, as opposed to agreeing the general principles set out in the Directive on Military Interrogation. If any document or Minister had purported to authorise them, it would have been invalid because the procedures were and are illegal by the domestic law and may also have been illegal by international law. I regard this point as so important that I must develop it.

9. I agree with my colleagues that the only relevant document is the Directive. This lays down two requirements:

(a) Those concerned are to acquaint themselves with the laws of the country concerned, and are not to act unlawfully under any circumstances whatever.
(b) They are to follow the principles laid down in Article 3 of The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (1949) and these include the prohibition of “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading; treatment”.

10. Domestic law

(a) By our own domestic law the powers of police and prison officers are well known. Where a man is in lawful custody it is lawful to do anything which is reasonably necessary to keep him in custody but it does not further or otherwise make lawful an assault. Forcibly to hood a man’s head and keep him hooded against his will and handcuff him if he tries to remove it, as in one of the cases in question, is an assault and both a tort and a crime. So is wall-standing of the kind referred to. Deprivation of diet is also illegal unless duly awarded as a punishment under prison rules. So is enforced deprivation of sleep.
(b) In Northern Ireland in normal times the powers of the police and prison officers in relation to those in custody are substantially the same except for an immaterial difference in their Judges’ Rules. Of the Regulations scheduled to the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, Regulation 10 provides that “Any officer of The Royal Ulster Constabulary, for the preservation of the peace and maintenance of order, may authorise the arrest without warrant and detention for a period of not more than 48 hours of any person for the purpose of interrogation”. This Regulation does not in any way extend the ordinary police powers as to the permissible methods or limits of interrogation. Regulation 11 provides a limited power of detention and a limited right to photograph and finger-print and Regulation 12 a limited right of internment. Regulation 13(5) provides that “Persons detained or interned in any of Her Majesty’s prisons shall be subject to any rules for the government of prisoners awaiting trial including such general rules as are applicable to such prisoners, for the time being in force, except in so far as the said rules are inconsistent with this regulation”. We have seen the Prison Rules and certain Directions made by the Minister for Home Affairs, Northern Ireland, with regard thereto. There is nothing in them to extend the ordinary police powers of interrogation or to validate the procedures.
(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. We have seen the Constitution of Aden and the relevant Statutory Instruments and Regulations relating to Aden and the same applies to Aden law.
(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.

11. International law

(a) It has been submitted to us that the procedures also involved infringement of

(i) Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that

“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
(ii) Articles 7 and 10 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which the United Kingdom has signed but not yet ratified) which provides that

“7. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.
10. (i) All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”.

(iii) Article 3. of each of the four Geneva Conventions scheduled to the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 which so far as material provides that

“In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely. . .

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; …………..
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment”.

(iv) Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides that

“3. No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman
or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Article 15(i) provides that in time of war or other public emergency some of the provisions of this Convention may be derogated from but Article l5(a) provides that “No derogation from . . . Article 3 . . . shall be made under this provision.”

(b) I do not propose to express any opinion on these submissions because

(i) It may be open to argument which Convention or Conventions apply in the conditions of Northern Ireland.
(ii) The most eminent lawyers notoriously differ on questions of construction. Words like “torture”, “inhuman” and “degrading” are clearly open to doubt.
(iii) As the procedures were admittedly illegal by the domestic law and no Minister had power to alter the law, it is not necessary, for the purpose of the point I am discussing, to decide whether or not they were also illegal by international law.
(iv) The Government of the Republic of Ireland has laid a complaint of a breach or breaches of The European Convention before the European Commission on Human Rights. This question is therefore sub judice and it would not, I think, be proper for me, unnecessarily, to express any opinion

What were their effects?

12. It is necessary to consider this in some detail. The situation in Northern Ireland is one in which members of the Irish Republican Army are conducting a campaign of terror which includes brutal murders, arson, the use of explosives against innocent men, women and children and outrages of all kinds. There is virtually a war going on between the Government of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republican Army and in this conflict the lives, not only of innocent civilians but of the police and army, are at stake in circumstances of appalling difficulty for the members of those forces whose courage, resolution and behaviour are all so well known.

It has been submitted to us that because these things are so-and in my opinion they are so-the procedures were necessary to obtain, for the purpose of saving lives, information which could not otherwise have been obtained or alternatively not obtained so quickly, that they are therefore morally justifiable, that the same may well be so in future conditions of emergency elsewhere and that the procedures with such amendments as may be thought desirable, should remain available.

This raises questions, including moral questions, which cannot be determined without considering the effects of the procedures on the obtaining of intelligence information, on the detainees, on the relations between the forces of law and order and the people of Northern Ireland and on the reputation of the United Kingdom.

13. Their effect on the detainees

Their immediate effect was on the detainees. We have had to consider both the physical effects and the mental effects.

(a) Physical effects

(i) It would seem unlikely that the procedures would not result in some minor physical injuries. Eleven men made complaints of physical ill-treatment and some of them who had no injuries on arrival at the interrogation centre were found by the Compton Committee to have had minor injuries when they left. Like the Compton Committee we have not seen any of the detainees and, like them, we cannot say how these injuries were occasioned.
(ii) We have received unchallenged medical evidence that subjection to a noise level of 85 decibels (at the interrogation centre it was 85 to 87 decibels) for 48 hours might result for 8 per cent in temporary loss of hearing and in 1 per cent (with ear disorders) in some permanent loss of hearing.

(b) Mental effects

(i) We have received a great deal of evidence from medical experts on this question.

According to our information, interrogation in depth as described in the first Compton report is a form of sensory isolation leading to mental disorientation which was itself invented by the K.G.B. in Russia where they first placed suspects in the dark and in silence.

As one group of distinguished medical specialists put it:
“Sensory isolation is one method of inducing an artificial psychosis or episode of insanity. We know that people who have been through such an experience do not forget it quickly and may experience symptoms of mental distress for months or years. We know that some artificially induced psychoses, for instance those produced by drugs like L.S.D. or mescaline, have in fact proved permanent; and there is no reason to suppose that this may not be a danger with psychoses produced by sensory deprivation. Even if such psychotic symptoms as delusions and hallucinations do not persist, a proportion of persons who have been subjected to these procedures are likely to continue to exhibit anxiety attacks, tremors, insomnia, nightmares and other symptoms of neurosis with which psychiatrists are familiar from their experience of treating ex-prisoners of war and others who have been confined and ill-treated.”
(ii) There is a considerable bibliography of experiments in this field, particularly in Canada. Some experiments have been done in England with troops and civilian volunteers, but it was the cumulative effect of the techniques which was important in the present context and naturally neither troops nor civilians had ever been submitted to such cumulative techniques as were used in Northern Ireland and it was impossible scientifically to prove that they would, or that they would not, have lasting effect. Some of our medical witnesses believed that they would, but others thought that they would not last more than two months. All emphasised the fact that in the field of mental disorientation everyone had a different threshold, which made the imposition of specific time limits of great, and some thought insuperable, difficulty.
(iii) In an experiment in England, fully described in the “Lancet” of 12th September, 1959, 20 men and women volunteer members of a hospital staff, aged between 20 and 55 were each placed in a “silent room” standardised up to a mean sound pressure level difference of 80 decibels and the further sensory deprivation consisted of having to wear translucent goggles which cut out patterned vision and padded fur gauntlets. On the other hand they had four normal meals a day when they were visited by colleagues on the hospital staff and could take off the goggles and gloves, and they had “dunlopillo” mattresses on which they could sleep or rest, or they could walk about. They were promised an amount of paid time off equal to that spent in the room and were asked to stay there as long as they could.

Six remained for 48, 51, 51, 75, 82 and 92 hours, but 14 of the 20 gave up after less than 48 hours (two or them after only 5 hours), the usual causes being unbearable anxiety, tension or attacks of panic. Dreams were invariable in those who slept for any length of time and in a quarter of the 20 included nightmares of which drowning, suffocating, killing people etc. were features.

These were the results although they were volunteers in their own hospital who knew that there was no reason for any panic and who were not submitted to any wall-standing or deprived of any food or sleep.

14. Their effect on the obtaining of information

(a) There is no doubt that a considerable quantity of intelligence information was obtained at the intelligence centre in Northern Ireland which, in the opinion of the army and of the interrogators, would not have been obtained, or not so quickly. by other means.

(b) On the other hand

(i) Some of the 14 were only too anxious to give information and were “co-operative” from the start and in their case the procedures appear to have been unnecessary.
(ii) During the period after 9th August there was a sudden and considerable increase in the number of people arrested and questioned so that a dramatic increase in intelligence information was in any case to be expected, whether or not those interrogated were submitted to ill-treatment.
(iii) An important element in the procedures was their surprise:
once their nature and limits were known, their effect would naturally be greatly limited.
(iv) It is natural that those applying the procedures should consider that they would not have obtained so much information, or not have obtained it so quickly, by other means.

(c) We have read a number of statements made by men who interrogated thousands of prisoners and some civilian suspects in the last world war and have beard oral evidence thereon.

(i) Article 17 of the Third Geneva Convention provides that

“No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.”

It must have been appreciated by our Government when it signed the Convention in 1949 and ratified it in 1958 that in time of war there is a pressing need to obtain information from captured soldiers, information upon which the very survival of the State and the outcome of the war might depend.

(ii) The evidence we heard from the main interrogation centres during the war where so much vital information was obtained was that the prisoners and suspects were treated with kindness and courtesy and without anything which would contravene Article 17, that, as is now well known, it was accompanied by interrogation, the cross-referencing of information and the use of microphones and “stool pigeons” in cells. We were told that there were occasions when information was wanted, and was obtained in a matter of hours, relating particularly to the course of U-boat packs or the path to be taken on the next air-raid and that, even after the Germans knew of the methods and warned their men about microphones in cells and the use of “stool pigeons”, the methods were still effective owing to the overwhelming desire to talk to another human being whatever the circumstances.

(iii) The planning of the interrogation centre in Northern Ireland began in March 1971. There was ample time to train a team of interrogators in our well tried and effective war-time methods.

(iv) I am not persuaded that substantially as much information might not have been obtained by those methods.

15. Their effect on the relation between the forces of law and order and the people of Northern Ireland

If, however, the view is taken that the use of the procedures may initially have saved lives, this has to be balanced against the fact that in a guerilla-type situation the position of the forces of law and order depends very much on how far they have the sympathy of the local population against the guerillas. If the sympathy of a large pact of the population is lost, the difficulties of the forces of law and order are increased. How far the loss of that sympathy since 9th August is due to internment or to the procedures or how far in the end they may have saved lives or cost lives, seems to me impossible to determine.

16. Their effect on the reputation of the United Kingdom

It is more convenient to deal with this under the next question to be considered.

Do they, in the light of their effects, require amendment and, if so, in what respects?

17. Our terms of reference are no doubt expressed as they are because it was assumed that the procedures were authorised. As, however, they were not authorised the question which really arises is “should the procedures be continued, or abandoned or amended and, if amended, in what respects?”

18. As they were illegal by our domestic law and by the domestic law of Aden and of Northern Ireland and are likely to be so by the domestic law of any place in which we might consider their use, and as no Minister can alter the law, their use cannot be continued without legislation.

19. The real question at the end of the day, therefore, is whether we should recommend that Parliament should enact legislation making lawful in emergency conditions the ill~treatment by the police, for the purpose of obtaining information, of suspects who are believed to have such information and, if so, providing for what degree of ill-treatment and subject to what limitations and safeguards.

20. I am not in favour of making such a recommendation for each of the following five reasons:

(1) I do not believe that, whether in peace time for the purpose of obtaining information relating to men like the Richardson gang or the Kray gang, or in emergency terrorist conditions, or even in war against a ruthless enemy, such procedures are morally justifiable against those suspected of having information of importance to the police or army, even in the light of any marginal advantages which may thereby be obtained.

(2) If it is to be made legal to employ methods not now legal against a man whom the police believe to have. but who may not have, information which the police desire to obtain, I, like many of our witnesses, have searched for, but been unable to find, either in logic or in morals, any limit to the degree of ill-treatment to be legalised. The only logical limit to the degree of ill-treatment to be legalised would appear to be whatever degree of ill-treatment proves to be necessary to get the information out of him, which wou1d include, if necessary, extreme torture. I cannot think that Parliament should, or would, so legislate.

(3) Our witnesses have felt great difficulty in even suggesting any fixed limits for noise threshold or any time limits for noise, wall-standing, hooding, or deprivation of diet or sleep.

All our medical witnesses agreed that the variations in what people can stand in relation to both physical exhaustion and mental disorientation are very great and believe that to fix any such limits is quite impracticable. We asked one group of medical specialists we saw to reconsider this and they subsequently wrote to us

“Since providing evidence to your Committee we have given much thought to the question of whether it might be possible to specify reasonably precise limits for interrogators and those having charge of internees. The aim of such limits would be to define the extent of any ‘ill-treatment’ of suspects so that one could ensure with a high degree of probability that no lasting damage was done to the people concerned.

After a further review of the available literature, we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that no such limits can safely be specified. Any procedures such as those described in the Compton Report designed to impair cerebral functions so that freedom of choice disappears is likely to be damaging to the mental health of the man. The effectiveness of the procedures in impairing willpower and the danger of mental damage are likely to go hand in hand so that no safe threshold can be set.”

(4) It appears to me that the recommendations made by my colleagues in the concluding part of their Report necessarily envisage one of two courses.

One is that Parliament should enact legislation enabling a Minister, in a time of civil emergency but not, as I understand it, in time of war, to fix the limits of permissible degrees of ill-treatment to be employed when interrogating suspects and that such limits should then be kept secret.
I should respectfully object to this, first, because the Minister would have just as much difficulty as Parliament would have in fixing the limits of ill-treatment and, secondly, because I view with abhorrence any proposal that a Minister should in effect be empowered to make secret laws: it would mean that United Kingdom citizens would have no right to know what the law was about police powers of interrogation.
The other course is that a Minister should fix such secret limits without the authority of Parliament, that is to say illegally, and then, if found out, ask Parliament for an Act of Indemnity.
I should respectfully object even more to this because it would in my view be a flagrant breach of the whole basis of the Rule of Law and of the principles of democratic government.

(5) Lastly, I do not think that any decision ought to be arrived at without considering the effect on the reputation of our own country.

For many years men and women and a number of international organisations have been engaged in trying patiently to raise international moral standards, particularly in the field of human rights. The results are to be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the four Geneva Conventions, which 129 countries have signed and ratified, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and The European Convention on Human Rights, whose provisions are referred to in paragraph ll above.
And this is not all. The World Conference on Religion and Peace, representative of all the world’s religions, held in October 1970 declared

“The torture and ill-treatment of prisoners which is carried out with the authority of some Governments constitute not only a crime against humanity, but also a crime against the moral law.”

while the subsequent Consultation of all the Christian Churches declared

“There is today a growing concern at the frequency with which some authorities resort to the torture or inhuman treatment of political opponents or prisoners held by them. . . . There exists at the present time, in certain regions of the world, regimes using systematic methods of torture carried out in the most refined way. Torture itself becomes contagious. . . . . The expediency of the moment should never silence the voice of the Church Authorities when condemnation of inhuman treatment is called for.”

There have been, and no doubt will continue to be, some countries which act in this way whatever Conventions they have signed and ratified. We have not in general been one of these. If, by a new Act of Parliament, we now depart from world standards which we have helped to create, I believe that we should both gravely damage our own reputation and deal a severe blow to the whole world movement to improve Human Rights.


21. I cannot conclude this report without mentioning two points:

(1) An eminent legal witness has strongly represented to us that as Article 144 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that

“The High Contracting Parties undertake, in time of peace as in time of war to disseminate the text of the present Convention as widely as possible in their respective countries, and, in particular, to include the study thereof in their programmes of military and, if possible, civil instruction, so that the principles thereof may become known to the entire population”

and as the other three Geneva Conventions contain somewhat similar Articles, and as we do not appear to be complying with these provisions, some step should now be taken to incorporate such instructions in military training.

As we have been told by those responsible that the army never considered whether the procedures were legal or illegal, and as some colour is lent to this perhaps surprising assertion by the fact that the only law mentioned in the Directive was the wrong Geneva Convention, it may be that some consideration should now be given to this point.

(2) Finally, in fairness to the Government of Northern Ireland and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, I must say that, according to the evidence before us, although the Minister of Home Affairs, Northern Ireland, purported to approve the procedures, he had no idea that they were illegal; and it was, I think, not unnatural that the Royal Ulster Constabulary should assume that the army had satisfied themselves that the procedures which they were training the police to employ were legal.

The blame for this sorry story, if blame there be, must lie with those who, many years ago, decided that in emergency conditions in Colonial-type situations we should abandon our legal, well-tried and highly successful wartime interrogation methods and replace them by procedures which were secret, illegal, not morally justifiable and alien to the traditions of what I believe still to be the greatest, democracy in the world.


31st January, 1972.


17th February 1965
(as amended 10th February 1967)



Persons arrested or detained during Internal Security operations or in near emergency situations are likely to be valuable sources of intelligence. They may be the only sources of intelligence at a time when it is urgently required.

2. Successful interrogation depends upon careful planning both of the interrogation itself, and of the premises wherein it is conducted. It calls for a psychological attack. Apart from legal and moral considerations, torture and physical cruelty of all kinds are professionally unrewarding since a suspect so treated may be persuaded to talk, but not to tell the truth.
Successful interrogation may be a lengthy process.

3. Any detainee therefore must be properly handled and treated from the moment of his arrest and adequate facilities provided for his interrogation.


4. The aim of this Directive is to-

(a) establish rules for the conduct of interrogation by military personnel.
(b) set out the requirements for successful interrogation.


5. Broad principles for the treatment of persons under arrest or detention during civil disturbances are laid down in Article 3 of The Geneva Convention Relative io the Treatment of Prisoners of War (1949). Military personnel will follow these principles when conducting interrogation. These principles are-

(a) Persons taking no active part in hostilities shall in all circumstances be treated humanely without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth, wealth or any other similar criteria.
(b) The following acts are prohibited-

(i) Violence to life and person, in particular mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(ii) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.

6. Under conditions of emergency, or near emergency, there is likely to be internal security legislation controlling the treatment of detainees and arrested persons. Legislation will vary from country to country and reflect prevailing conditions. Military personnel are to acquaint themselves with the laws of the country concerned, and will not act unlawfully under any circumstances whatever.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Application to Interrogation

8. To obtain successful results from interrogation, the actual and instinctive resistance of the person concerned to interrogation must be overcome by permissible techniques. This will be more easily achieved by sustained interrogation in an atmosphere of rigid discipline. It may therefore be necessary for interrogation to be carried out continuously for long periods both by day and by night with consequent disruption of the normal routine of living.

9. Where practicable, all persons detained in the Interrogation Centre should be seen daily by a Medical Officer and asked if they have any complaints; any allegations of cruelty or torture should be reported at once to the appropriate superior medical headquarters or senior responsible civil or military authority. Medical examinations should be mandatory on admission and discharge (including temporary transfers to or from a detention or other holding centre) and medical treatment available as required. The Medical Officer is to maintain a record of each person’s weight as recorded on admission and discharge.

Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

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