Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Torture: for or against?

If Nick Clegg wants to do another ‘Leveson’ and distinguish the Liberal Democrats from the Conservative side of the coalition, he could do a lot worse than distance his party from successive British governments’ complicity in torture.

A new book Cruel Britannia (reviewed here) reveals an appalling record since the Second World War. The widespread use of torture during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s is only now being exposed in the High Court. Despite much high-minded posturing, the British have routinely used torture in every conflict in which they have been involved, right up to Afghanistan.

The government is responding to growing accusations and revelations not by cleaning up its act but by trying to maintain a cover up. The Justice and Security Bill, currently making its way through parliament, is (amongst other things) a desperate attempt to conceal all UK complicity in torture and rendition. September’s Liberal Democrat conference voted overwhelmingly to support a motion that opposed Part II of this Bill, a move that united all wings of the party.

So Nick Clegg should declare his complete opposition, both to the offending parts of the Bill and to the policy of covering up torture and punishing the whistleblowers. Not only would this distance the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives, it would also distinguish the party from Labour, in particular its authoritarian wing in the person of former foreign secretaries Jack Straw and David Miliband. And it would force divisions in other parties by winning the support of civil liberties-minded politicians such as Tory MP David Davis.

Such a principled stand might not fit with the ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ strategy but it is the right thing to do.

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