056_Global13_Arena_V5

Global 13

Arena Books Revealing Britain’s darker side that this type of thing goes on. Cobain has merely spelled it out Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture for us scream by scream, confession by confession, death by Ian Cobain, Portobello, London, 2012, 320pp, ISBN: 978184627339 death. The Mau Mau, the Malayan Emergency and Northern Ireland are not stones that have only just been turned over, and we have all read about waterboarding, Guantanamo and extraor- Britain has a reputation for being the isles of fair play, according dinary rendition. We have seen the pictures from Iraq’s notori- to Ian Cobain, speckled with village cricket matches, country ous Abu Ghraib prison, and enough time has lapsed in this post houses, suet pudding, red pillar boxes – and a deeply embedded 9/11 cycle for the issue to have bled from the news headlines to culture of torture. the best-selling thriller charts and Hollywood. Most recently, this trait has included the prising of fi ngernails So when we hear about cases like Faisal Mostafa, what do we from young British Muslims detained in Pakistan in the War on think? Is it that he is collateral damage in a system that, in fact, Terror and the beating to death of prisoners in Iraq. A couple of saves lives and has made our nation more secure? Do we put our generations ago, it included atrocities carried out during Brit- trust in government to make the right judgement calls? Or do ish colonial rule in Kenya, where an assistant commissioner of we shift it to one side, refusing to confront a too diffi cult moral police found conditions in the Mau Mau internment camps “far choice, knowing that the stakes of getting it wrong are too high worse than anything I experienced to contemplate? in my four and half years as prisoner Among the many prominent fi g- of the Japanese”. ures who have endorsed Cruel Bri- From Britain’s war against Nazi tannia, is senior British Member Europe to its quest 60 years later to of Parliament David Davies, who bring democracy to Iraq, Cobain’s twice ran for leadership of the rul- forensic account argues that Brit- ing Conservative Party. Yet even ish values of institution-building Davies concedes that any election and democracy have routinely been ticket that included a pledge to re- accompanied by a well-trodden ally stamp out torture in the security system of human rights abuse and system would not make much head- torture. way. “We have been ready to resort to That said, there is also evidence torture when we have come to be- that torture is used far less now than lieve the country’s situation was in the past. desperate,” writes Cobain, “when The appalling treatment of some an invasion of the south coast of Iraqis by some British soldiers was England was thought to be immi- underlined by the beating to death nent; when one prized colonial pos- of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa in session after another was being lost; 2003. As details emerged, so did the when part of the United Kingdom rule of law and news headlines – a appeared to be on the brink of civil far cry from the killing and abuse of war or when an imperfectly under- Kenyans during the Mau Mau Up- stood terrorist organisation showed rising in the 1950s. When, at that itself capable of mounting simulta- time, General Sir George Erskine neous mass-casualty attacks upon fl ew to Nairobi to restore order, he the country’s most powerful ally.” concluded of the Mau Mau: “They His brief incorporates the Second are not normal human beings.” And World War, the violent transitions in after a police offi cer shot three pris- Kenya, Aden, Cyprus and other colonies, Northern Ireland and oners, covering the jail wall in blood, he was merely told by his 9/11. He backs each insertion with evidence, sparely written, sub-inspector: “Bury them and see the wall is cleared up.” usually without comment, allowing the details simply to speak The likelihood of any security force from any Western de- for themselves. mocracy carrying out such brutality away from the public eye They shock in two ways. The fi rst is the blood-thirstiness. One now is slim. But the re-emergence of torture as an issue has that sticks in my mind is the ordeal of Faisal Mostafa, a chemist done much to lose democratic governments the high ground from Manchester. Having been acquitted of terrorism charges in when lecturing others on how to deal with confl ict. It has, in the UK, he was picked up and detained in Bangladesh. He was short, diluted the morality of Western values. subjected to electric shocks, suspended upside down, beaten Cobain’s work is a persuasive, convincing and invaluable and – fi nally – “a drill was slowly driven into his right shoulder contribution that will force questions to be asked that inevitably and hip”. All the time, asserts Cobain, the Bangladeshis were will bring in a higher level of scrutiny. working closely with British intelligence agents. The second – and this is subjective – is that many of us know Humphrey Hawksley, BBC World Affairs Correspondent 56 lwww.global-briefing.org first quarter 2013global


Global 13
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