The horrifying interrogation methods that belie our proud boast that we fought a clean war
The German SS officer was fighting to save himself from the gallows for a terrible war crime and might say anything to escape the noose. But Fritz Knöchlein was not lying in 1946 when he claimed that, in captivity in London, he had been tortured by British soldiers to force a confession out of him.
Tortured by British soldiers? In captivity? In London? The idea seems incredible.
Britain has a reputation as a nation that prides itself on its love of fair play and respect for the rule of law. We claim the moral high ground when it comes to human rights. We were among the first to sign the 1929 Geneva Convention on the humane treatment of prisoners of war.
Surely, you would think, the British avoid torture? But you would be wrong, as my research into what has gone on behind closed doors for decades shows.
It was in 2005 during my work as an investigative reporter that I came across a veiled mention of a World War II detention centre known as the London Cage. It took a number of Freedom Of Information requests to the Foreign Office before government files were reluctantly handed over.
From these, a sinister world unfolded — of a torture centre that the British military operated throughout the Forties, in complete secrecy, in the heart of one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the capital.
Thousands of Germans passed through the unit that became known as the London Cage, where they were beaten, deprived of sleep and forced to assume stress positions for days at a time.
Some were told they were to be murdered and their bodies quietly buried. Others were threatened with unnecessary surgery carried out by people with no medical qualifications. Guards boasted that they were ‘the English Gestapo’.
The London Cage was part of a network of nine ‘cages’ around Britain run by the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS), which came under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. More