The English Method: UK taught modern torture to Brazil's dictators

Brazil's 21-year military dictatorship was a torturing, brutal regime — among their victims was the current president, Dilma Rousseff. At first, the generals tortured by flogging and shocks, but British officials taught them to torture without leaving marks, helping the regime to rehabilitate its international human rights image. The techniques the UK taught to Brazil's torturers were developed for Malay rebels and perfected on Northern Irish Republicans, and these techniques came to be known as "The English Method."

Other governments — Germany, France, Panama, and, of course, the USA — also trained Brazil's torturers, but the UK methods were the best. British agents travelled to Brazil to train the torturers personally. More details of the British "foreign aid" program are coming to light as the UK government finally succumbs to the rule of law and releases files from the National Archives at Kew, a move that has been steadfastly refused for obvious reasons.

One document that's come to light is a letter from then-British Ambassador, David Hunt, called "Torture in Brazil," which praises the Brazilian regime for cleaning up its appearance of brutality by "taking a leaf out of the British book."

The UK was apparently seen as having effective practices as it had faced a serious insurgency in Malaya up until 1960 and had latterly honed its techniques in Northern Ireland.

The method, using sensory deprivation coupled with high stress, has come to be known as the "Five Techniques". These were:

standing against a wall for hours


subjection to noise

sleep deprivation

very little food and drink.

Many argue the techniques amounted to torture and they were officially banned by Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1972, after a furore over their use on IRA prisoners.

But in Brazil, these psychological interrogation methods fulfilled the military's need. The regime's dismal human rights record was beginning to attract adverse publicity around the world and the old physical forms of torture were killing too many victims. A method that would leave no marks and was still effective to extract information from prisoners was exactly what the generals wanted. They could combine these techniques with knowledge gleaned elsewhere.

Apparently, not only did army officers go on courses in the UK, but British agents went to Brazil to teach. A former policeman, Claudio Guerra, says they gave courses inside Rio's military police headquarters in how to follow people, how to tap phones and how to use the new isolation cell. He saw these agents when he came to collect the bodies of those who had been tortured to death by interrogators using the old system of physical pressure.

How the UK taught Brazil's dictators interrogation techniques [Emily Buchanan/BBC]