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From Belfast to Baltimore, Police Tactics Spread. Can Justice Go Global?

The police tactics a far-off stranger is facing today just may be what you’re up against tomorrow.

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It’s an old adage but it’s true, especially when it comes to policing: an injury to one really is an injury to all. That’s because like a bad movie, bad police tactics spread the globe. Accountability can go global too, but as in a recent case out of Ireland, justice moves more slowly.

Shortly after the death of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray, a leaked police document claimed that a prisoner transported with Gray heard him “banging against the walls” of the vehicle as if he “was intentionally trying to injure himself.”

That prisoner quickly refuted the story, but not before it brought to my mind very similar claims from police in Northern Ireland.

“Throwing oneself down stairs…punching own face and poking own eyes…injury to the neck by attempted self-strangulation.”

That’s how investigators explained injuries sustained in police custody in Ireland according to documents recently dug up by human rights investigators. They’ve spent years getting beneath the spin, and now we know that while they fed the public guff about “self inflicted” harm, internally British ministers sanctioned torture .

The new evidence is returning attention to a case that has serious implications for the UK and the US also. It involves twelve men, aged between 19 and 42, who were rounded up during the period of mass internment in the early ’70s and subject to hooding, prolonged stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and drink – the so-called “five techniques” developed by the British Army during what they called “The Troubles.”

When the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case in ’78, they declared the treatment “inhuman and degrading” but not torture. The Bush administration reportedly cited that decision in justifying its own torture programs. Soon enough, Britain’s “five techniques” started showing in Abu Graib and Gitmo.

Now the Irish Government is backing a call for the Court to reopen the case. And all because the families simply wouldn’t give up. They’ll be represented this time by among others, attorney Amal Clooney, but her celebrity shouldn’t obscure decades of work done by the families and grassroots groups like the Center for the Administration of Justice and the Pat Finucance Center. Their victory would be huge on that side of the Atlantic and this one.

It all goes to show that the police tactics a far-off stranger is facing today just may be what you’re up against tomorrow. Can I hear it for a global movement?

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