The Bagman of Hong Kong

In 1971, after the Parker report into internment practices in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom's government led by Prime Minister Edward Heath officially banned the hooding of prisoners.  More recently in Iraq, United Kingdom Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon had to admit that this banned practice had been regularly used.  Hoon offered an 'unreserverd' apology and he promised that it will be discontinued hereafter.

The existence of so many photos of hooded prisoners held by the Americans clearly shows the practice of hooding was extensive.  Whereas the British had banned hooding, the Americans didn't think twice about it until the photos of Abu Ghraib came out.  At a news conference last year when a British journalist complained about the US practice of hooding prisoners as a form of torture, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld absolutely ridiculed her. "Hooding?" He asked sarcastically.

Then, today, in Oriental Daily (Hong Kong), the following photo appeared.  This photo shows a burly police plainclothesman standing over a hooded and handcuffed prisoner.  Iraq redux?

Not quite.  In Hong Kong, suspects have their faces covered up as a matter of routine.  This is done primarily to protect the rights of the suspects.  First of all, they may in fact be innocent, in which case their faces should not have been displayed on all the news channels and newspaper covers.  Secondly, if they should ever have to be in a police line-up for identification purposes, the witnesses would not be influenced by the view that they glimpsed on television or in newspapers.  In this case, the suspect was believed to have been involved in multiple burglaries all over the city with the specialization on projectors used in schools.

In Iraq, the "hooding" is sometimes done to impose extensive periods of sensory deprivation to disorient and demoralise the prisoners.  It is often done in conjunction with other forms of 'softening up', such as beatings in which the hooded prisoners cannot see where or when the blows are coming from.  Major General Geoffrey Miller has now ended the policy of "hooding", although the prisoners can still be blindfolded.

Here is the pivotal moment in which Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was questioned by Senator Jack Reed on television in a Senate hearing (ABC News):

SEN JACK REED: ... a bag over your head for 72 hours. Is that humane?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Let me come back to what you said the work…

SEN JACK REED: No, no. Answer the question, Secretary. Is that humane?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I don't know whether it means a bag over your head for 72 hours Senator. I don't know.

SEN JACK REED: Mr Secretary, you're dissembling, non-responsive. Anybody would say putting a bag over someone's head for 72 hours, which is sensory deprivation…

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I believe it's not humane. It strikes me as not humane, Senator.

SEN JACK REED: Thank you very much.