Week on week we hear another sordid tale that seems to confirm that Britain colluded in the torture of prisoners. Perhaps we (it was in our name) carried out these wretched acts ourselves or perhaps we pretended that standing by watching, encouraging and aiding others do our dirty work for us absolved us of our sins. These are not the realities of foreign policy, don’t just look away.
As far as I can tell, this stripping away any pretence of an ethical foreign policy was in response to 9/11. It’s the great, sad irony of our times that in fighting this insurgency determined to rid us of our rights and freedoms, we voluntary stripped them away to get revenge. And this only made things worse.
Today the Independent published a photograph on its front page, which the Armed Forces have held since 2004, that is claimed to show British soldiers in breach of the Geneva Convention. The Americans certainly were¹, and given that we hung on their every command, it’s most likely we did too – whether this photo and the evidence lawyers for the men photographed have shows that or not.
This photo has been around since 2004, yet only today is Bob Ainsworth announcing an investigation into the abuses of Iraqi civilians. It’s worth asking why, even though we can guess. It was probably deemed that the realities of war meant that we’d have endangered our troops’ lives if we’d have uncovered this whilst still fighting in Iraq. Yet once again, this shows that in our pursuit of this insurgency – which wasn’t really in Iraq – we threw away what it was that we had and they didn’t: basic human rights.
The photo published today shows men with their faces covered and their hands bound behind their backs – which is a breach of the Geneva Convention. If we sign up to these rules, and expect to be treated according to them, we should follow them to the hilt. This photo may well be false, as when the Mirror published shots back in 2004, but the more evidence we piece together of our foreign policy over the last eight years, the worse it looks – be it the actions of our troops or our spooks.
These are not the realities of war but for some reason, it’s argued that we should look away. Certainly there’s no clamour for something to be done. As the Chilcot inquiry begins its investigations into our invasion of Iraq, we should hold a concurrent inquiry into our actions in the “war on terror”, although more and more it appears to have been just as much a war of terror.
Only an inquiry will bring the facts to light, it’s our actions in the first place not the publication of them that puts our national security at risk. Hey, it may even, in time, become attractive to our allies to know that they can work with a country that follows the international laws and values it signs up for.
¹ The New York Review of Books have been publishing some excellent pieces on this, especially those by Mark Danner.