ModernityBlog

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Her Majesty’s Government And Torture.

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British newspapers were rightly critical when the US government used rendition and carted people off to faraway countries to be tortured, but Britain’s own use of torture is often forgotten.

A new court case concerning HMG’s activities in 1950-60s Kenya should reveal more.

Dave Osler has details:

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office – which denies all liability – will tell the judge that the case should be thrown out, because legal responsibility for any abuses were transferred to the Kenyan government upon independence in 1963.

Mr Justice McCombe will listen to both sides over the next week or so and come to a decision in line with the applicable laws. Not being a lawyer myself, I have no worthwhile opinion on the strict legal aspects of this matter.

Yet the ethical issues surrounding this case seem to be absolutely clear. True, there were atrocities on both sides, to use the classic formula, and the exact death toll is a matter of debate between specialist historians.

But it is firmly established that the bulk of the atrocities were perpetrated by the colonialists, who of course had no business being in the country in the first place.

The lowest credible estimate of the number of Kenyans killed is around 11,500, although the claims go as high 70,000. The Mau Mau were responsible for around 2,000 of these deaths. The courts authorised 1,090 executions, and the use of torture and mass detention was widespread.

It must of course be established whether the plaintiffs were indeed the recipients of such treatment. But if this is demonstrably so, they have a moral right to recompense.

Of course, if Britain were to be held retrospectively liable for the slave trade, the Irish and Indian famines, the decimation of Australia’s indigenous population, the concentration camps of the Boer war, the Amritsar massacre and all too many other occurrences throughout its imperialist history, this country would be skint.

There is an argument to be had as to what cut off point – if any – should apply. But the suppression of what was known at the time as ‘the Kenya emergency’, with the first word pronounced ‘keen-yer’, was the work of my father’s generation.

The PA has more:

“The test case claimants, Ndiku Mutua, Paulo Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara, who are in their 70s and 80s, have flown 4,000 miles from their rural homes for the trial, which will also consider whether the claim was brought outside the legal time limit.

The judge heard that Mr Mutua and Mr Nzili had been castrated, Mr Nyingi was beaten unconscious in an incident in which 11 men were clubbed to death, and Mrs Mara had been subjected to appalling sexual abuse.


Update 1: After some pressure from the Courts the FCO found masses of documentation relation to the period:

“Hundreds of boxes of documents detailing methods used to try to defeat Kenya’s Mau Mau insurgency against British colonial rule in the 1950s have come to light, the London-based Times reported.

The discovery of the documents, which were removed from Kenya in 1963, days before the African country’s declaration of independence, resulted from a legal case against the Foreign and Commonwealth Office brought by four elderly Kenyans who allege that they were tortured during the uprising, the newspaper said. “

And at the Beeb:

“London law firm Leigh Day & Co lodged a claim in mid-2009 on behalf of five elderly Kenyans.

It will be heard on Thursday when four will be present in court. One Kenyan has died since the case was lodged.

Lawyer Dan Leader said about 300 of the 2,000 boxes related to Kenya, and about 30 of those were relevant to the Mau Mau case.

They had been examining them, with historians, since the Foreign Office provided them about a month ago, he said.”

Update 2: The Australian quotes the Times:

“The case, which opens in the High Court tomorrow, has led to the discovery of 300 boxes of documents filling 33m of shelving. The files were removed from Kenya in 1963 and brought to Britain days before Kenya’s declaration of independence. Officials deliberately removed evidence that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government”. The missing material was thought to have been destroyed or lost, but after the High Court judge ordered the government to produce all relevant evidence, the documents were found in the Foreign Office archives: about 1500 files.

The “vast majority” of the files relate to the Mau Mau, including the detention and punishment of suspected rebels, according to material released to the National Archives.”

Update 3: The legal team, Leigh Day & Co released in 2009 notes on the claim and it makes interesting reading, a Word document.

Update 4: Channel 4 News has a very good article on this subject.

Update 5: They knew. The British cabinet was aware of the atrocities committed in the name of HMG and did nothing but cover it up, the Indie explains:

“One of the documents he has seen was a telegram sent on 17 January 1955 by the Governor of Kenya, Evelyn Baring, to the Secretary of State for Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd, containing the horrific detail that prisoners had been burned alive.

In others, he found ample evidence that officialdom covered up for British officers and their African subalterns who used “coercive force” against the Mau Mau. In February 1956 a provincial commissioner in Kenya, “Monkey” Johnson, wrote to the Attorney General, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, urging him to block any enquiry into the methods used against the Mau Mau, because “it would now appear that each and every one of us, from the Governor downwards, may be in danger of removal from public service by a commission of enquiry as a result of enquiries made by the CID.

Another file showed Governor Baring discussing with Mr Lennox-Boyd the “political difficulties” that could arise from the use of torture. In another, Mr Baring, a member of the banking family, asked his staff to update him on the number of suspects “beaten” in Mwea camp.

Tom Askwith, who was as an Olympic rower in the 1930s, before taking up a career in the colonies, was one of the few Kenyan officials to speak out against the abuses; he was sacked as a result. On a visit to Mwea, he witnessed “food denial with starvation for up to three days, sleep deprivation through water being thrown over detainees, and regular brutal beatings.” “

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  1. [...] British Government has done it again, tried to hide its crimes and murders: “The documents, released by Malaysian sources ahead of [...]

  2. [...] covered this months ago, finally and thankfully the case went the way of the Kenyans, as BBC News reports with typical [...]


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