A Northern Ireland police surgeon has revealed that 150 to 160 suspected IRA terrorists he examined in police custody during the past three years were beaten and otherwise "physically ill-treated" while being interrogated by police in Belfast.
In a taped interview to be broadcast Sunday on Weekend World, a popular television news magazine program here, Dr. Robert Irwin said he was disturbed by the injuries he found prisoners to be suffering after they had been questioned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary at its Castlereagh interrogation center in Belfast.
"I've seen five ruptured eardrums," Irwin said. "I have seen two injuries to bones of the forearm... I have seen joint injuries in both the wrist and to the little joints in the fingers, which have been caused by squeezing the hand or by twisting the fingers."
Irwin said these are not injuries that could be self-inflicted, as the authorities in Northern Ireland have sometimes claimed.
"Ruptured eardrums, I would say, being one of the most serious injuries, could not possibly be self-inflicted," he said. "There is not enough leverage in one person's arm to rupture their own eardrums, and falling about does not produce a ruptured ear. It can only be produced by a blow with force from somebody else.
"Also, some of the sites of some of the injuries would defy even a contortionist to produce the injuries, and the extent of the bruising that has been seen on occasions indicates that considerable force had been used from some other source."
Irwin said such mistreatment, which he attributed to "probably twenty" Ulster police officers at Castlereagh, is "destroying" the Ulster police force's reputation and undermining the "magnificent" work of the majority of its officers, who he said have helped the British army reduce violence in Northern Ireland in recent years.
His public statements corroborate an Amnesty International report of last summer, which described 78 cases of brutality allegedly suffered by suspected terrorists in police custoday in Uster. Amnesty International complained repeatedly in the report that Ulster police authorities would not allow access to police surgeons or their records.
The report prompted the British government to set up a committee, headed by a noted judge, to investigate these allegations and report on interrogation methods in Northern Ireland.
The committee's inquiry is finished and its report is now being reviewed by Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, Roy Mason, before being made public later this month. A spokesman for the Northern Ireland office said today he could not comment on Irwin's statements or on reports here that the investigating committee has found that Ulster police interrogation methods "leave a lot to be desired."
Irwin, an official of the Association of Police Surgeons of Great Britain, said he will resign if the committee's report does not acknowledge the mistreatment he has found. He said he also would urge the other 600 police surgeons in Britain to "walk out in protest."
A Protestant lawyer recently resigned from the complaints committee of Northern Ireland's police authority because, he said, it took no action on a number of specific complaints of "alleged torture" he had presented. "They don't want to know," attorney Jack Hassard said.
More than 1,000 formal allegations of police brutality during interrogations of suspected IRA terrorists in Ulster have been made in the last three years. Some police officers have been prosecuted, but none has been convicted.
British security forces have killed 10 persons in Northern Ireland in the past year. Authorities have acknowledged that some innocent people may have been killed mistakenly in these incidents, and there have been disputed about whether some suspected terrorists were shot by British soldiers although they offered no resistance.
British officials, who point out that sectarian killing has decreased dramatically in the recent years of direct British rule, nevertheless have become increasingly sensitive about allegations that the British Army and the predominantly Protestant Ulster police have been brutal in their treatment of Catholic terrorist suspects.
The European Commission of Human Rights, which previously found the Ulster police guilty of brutality in their treatment of IRA suspects interned without trials -- a practice later abandoned -- is now investigating allegations that convicted terrorists are being mistreated in prison.
For the past year, about 300 IRA terrorists imprisoned in the Maze prison outside Belfast for robbery and other crimes have been refusing to wear clothes, wash or use the prison's toilet facilities, in an IRAorchestrated campaign to have them recognized as politicial rather than criminal prisoners.