The UN condemnation of Britain for involvement in torture is unlikely to faze Gordon Brown’s Government.
Likewise for its instigation of illegal war. Mr Brown, Mr Woodward and the rest have shown over the past few days that they are well able to wax eloquent about their horror of violence and the need for civilised standards when it suits them. But they are quite capable, too, of condoning the thumb-screw and cheering on the killing of innocents when that better serves their political purpose.
The abyss of hypocrisy may have been plumbed in the Guardian, where Jonathan Powell (below) pontificated at length on the criminality of the killers of Cengiz Azimkar and Mark Quinsey at the gates of Massereene Barracks last Saturday night. In Northern Ireland, he insisted, “There is no justification whatsoever for the use of physical violence”.
Quite so. But if the Real IRA had the luxury of the like of Mr Powell to head up their propaganda department, they’d produce justification in double-quick time. If needs be, they’d just make it up.
Powell was a prominent member of the clique around Tony Blair which concocted the lies used to lure the British people into support for the war on Iraq in which as many as a million people were to perish.
We now know from papers leaked to the Sunday Times that eight months before the invasion, on July 23, 2002, a meeting at Downing Street decided to change and misrepresent an intelligence summary so as to produce a better excuse for the bloodshed which they were determined to unleash. “One crucial alteration,” it was reported, “was to cut the observation that Saddam Hussein was more likely to use chemical and biological weapons defensively than offensively — a change was made after Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff, said the passage could pose ‘a problem’ that could be seized on by anti-war critics.”
The truth would give a boost to the argument against war, so let’s lie. Naturally, New Labour is fighting tooth and nail to prevent publication of the minutes of the cabinet meetings at which the proposed invasion was discussed. What they are likely uneasy about is that fact that there were no such discussions. It wasn’t the Government, but Blair and his cronies, most of them, like Powell, unelected, who, with no legal basis or any moral justification, made the decision to go to war.
Two years ago, Powell offered as retrospective justification for the war and for staying on in Iraq that “Al Qaeda would use Iraq as a base to bid for world domination if we quit”, forgetting to mention that there was no al Qaeda in Iraq until the disastrous occupation.
Meanwhile, the lives of 150 British servicemen and women have been among the hundreds of thousands lost in New Labour’s other futile war, in Afghanistan. The latest have been Rifleman Jamie Gunn (21), from Monmouth, Lance Corporal Paul Upton (31), from Looe in Cornwall, and Corporal Tom Gaden (24), from Taunton, Somerset, killed by a roadside bomb on February 25 in Helmand province. As for torture ... yesterday saw publication of a UN report which condemned Britain for involvement in the kidnap and torture of a number of men suspected — but not charged with or convicted — of involvement in Islamic terrorism. Actions of the British Government, said the report, “can be reasonably understood as implicitly condoning” torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The report identifies Britain among countries which have provided “intelligence or have conducted the initial seizure of an individual before he was transferred to (mostly unacknowledged) detention centres (in a number of countries) or to one of the CIA covert detention centres often referred to as ‘black sites’”.
Taken together with the evidence of vicious and disgusting treatment of British resident Binyam Mohammed — the man released last week after five years in Guantanamo — there is no longer any doubt that agencies under the control of the British Government have been up to their oxters in kidnap and torture for years. There is no sign that any member of Brown’s Government has any more qualms about being involved in this stomach-churning brutality than they have about ordering wars in which it is certain vast numbers of decent, innocent people will die.
None of this subtracts from the case against the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, whose violent actions last Saturday and again on Monday, whose violence generally, is utterly futile and morally indefensible and should stop now. They should seek a different way of remedying whatever grievances, real or imagined, lie behind their campaigns.
Even so, the high moral tone of some of those most stridently denouncing gratuitous violence for dubious ends is hard to stomach.