1960-1969 | Torture | Yemen

The routine use of torture against detainees in Aden

British troops search suspect insurgents in Aden.
© IWM (ADN 67-172-18)

18 December 1965

On 18 December 1965, medical reports by the Aden Director of Health Services were submitted which corroborated allegations of torture made against the British run interrogation centre at Fort Morbut in Aden.1 A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was eventually authorised to visit the prison to investigate on the understanding that he would not be allowed to see the prisoners and that any report would be kept confidential and shown only to approved officials within the British government. When in July 1966, Salahaddin Rastgeldi, a representative of Amnesty International, arrived in Aden, he was denied any permission to visit. However, he was able to interview family relatives of those detained as well as former prisoners. Their testimonies revealed many shocking but seemingly routine examples of torture including

  1. Giving hungry detainees food and then removing it just as they started to eat.
  2. Forcing them to sit on poles.
  3. Ordering prisoners to undress and then locking them into super-cooled rooms with air conditioners and fans.
  4. Burning their skin with cigarettes.
  5. Forcing them to stand naked during interviews.
  6. Beating and twisting the genital organs of prisoners.
  7. Locking detainees in filthy toilets.
  8. Refusing access to toilets so as to force prisoners to soil their cells.2

The British government was infuriated by the revelations, and struck back by misinforming journalists off-the-record that Rastgeldi, who was of Kurdish origin, was acting for the Egyptians plotting to undermine British rule and the Daily Mirror cited an anonymous official as stating that he had arrived in Aden ‘to take the Cairo line against Britain.’3 The newspaper’s correspondent also reassured readers that ‘I can find no readers here in Aden who believe any part of the allegations that British troops have used torture while questioning captured terrorists,’ and he quoted the high commissioner’s insistence that ‘I am confident there has been no brutality of any nature, and I am the one person directly responsible.’4

The British government was soon further embarrassed when the allegations in Rastgeldi’s report were corroborated by a corporal, G.S. Lennox, who was interviewed in the Sunday Times in October 1966. He testified that the stories he had been told by soldiers at Fort Morbut differed only ‘very slightly, if at all, from the versions given by Amnesty.’ He described the ‘screams of pain and howling of the detainees,’ which were clearly audible when he had been on guard duty. He also confessed that he had once watched through a guard window as ‘three soldiers, standing about 5 yards apart, began in turn to hit (a detainee). The first soldier was using a 5-ft long broom handle and was beating the man about the head and prodding him in his midriff and genitals. He was then passed to the second soldier who hit him with a tin mug. The third used his fists. The Adeni twice fell unconscious and was revived with a fire hose only to be beaten again.’5


  1. Sophia Dingli and Caroline Kennedy, ‘The Aden Pivot: British Counterinsurgency After Aden,’ Civil Wars, Volume 16, 2014, p 90 accessed online at url https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/151161199.pdf
  2. Salahaddin Rastgeldi, Amnesty International Aden Report, Amnesty International, July 1966, p. 10 accessed online at url https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/204000/mde270021966eng.pdf
  3. Ian Cobain, Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture, Portobello Books, 2013, London, p. 105 and ‘Torture Charges Untrue Say the Aden Britons,’ The Daily Mirror, 20 October 1966, p. 13.
  4. ‘Torture Charges Untrue Say the Aden Britons,’ The Daily Mirror, 20 October 1966, p. 13.
  5. G.S. Lennox cited in Ian Cobain, op. cit., p. 108 and also in Sophia Dingli and Caroline Kennedy, op. cit., pp. 91-92.

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