the Disillusioned kid
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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

In Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis details the history of British imperialism (although I don't think he uses that term) since the Second World War. He details a long list of brutality including the repression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the expulsion of the Ilois of Diego Garcia, military intervention in Oman and support for the US and repressive governments around the world. He argues that this is concealed in part by the propagandist assertion that Britain's role in the world is fundamentally benevolent. The UK might make mistakes and/or occasionally be misled, but its intentions are good. This flies in the face of the reality he documents, but is a powerful and important propaganda tool.

This can be seen in much of the coverage of the British role in Iraq. Stories about beret-wearing British soldiers befriending the Basra locals while their US counterparts cower within their bases, limiting their interaction with the Iraqi populace to violent exchanges, have been common currency in the mainstream media in this country for well-over a year. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is, of course, not true.

The photos published in the Daily Mirror have been dismissed as fakes. This has been used to insinuate that British soldiers do not and have not been engaging in torture. However Kamil Mahdi notes that
apparently genuine photographs have been in the hands of police and the Ministry of Defence's special investigation branch since at least May 2003. At that time, an 18-year-old member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, Gary Bartlam, was detained by Warwickshire police when the film he took to be developed revealed images of British soldiers engaged in torture that is remarkably similar to that practised by US troops and mercenaries at Abu Ghraib.
This is only one report among many. Despite this there has been "no report equivalent to that of General Taguba of the US has been made available, and investigations are conducted in secrecy, if at all. There have been no hearings in which parliamentary or other committees question publicly and government and military officials." A strange form of benevolence and humanitarianism.

The refusal to face up to Britain's role in atrocities in Iraq is obvious not only among those who supported the invasion, but even among sections of the anti-war movement. It is easy to criticise George Bush and his henchmen, facing up to the crimes of your own government and fellow citizens is more difficult. As Jonathan Freedland noted a few weeks ago at the height of the torture scandal,
It is no defence to say we were only following George Bush's orders. We are in Iraq by the choice of our own democratic government. We have to face that fact - and face ourselves.
I referred to the same quote in a post a while back and commented that to do anything else would be moral cowardice. That still seems to me to be an essentially accurate assessment.

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