Thursday, December 06, 2012

Secret British files of torture exposed

Governments claim the sole right to exercise violence and they also can excuse or dissimulate or expunge the exercise of violence -- at least most do.  When information about the abuse of human beings by a government comes to light it's important.  Now we learn of a treasure trove of files about the abuse of people by British officials during the colonial era.  That's news.  Strangely, not much seems to have been made of it.

This is what is known:  That a British judge has allowed three Kenyans who were tortured by British officials during the Mau Mau uprising to sue the British government.  Apparently what made their claim plausible to the judge was the revelation that files exist that document British torture during that period.    [From an article by Simon Hooper in AlJazeera, 11/30/12:] 
The government conceded that the trio, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, had suffered brutal abuse, including castration, sexual assault and beatings as a result of their detentions during one of the bloodiest and most enduring rebellions of the British empire's final days. But it argued that the distance from the events over which it was accused meant a fair trial was impossible.
That argument came unstuck when the foreign office was forced last year to reveal the existence of almost 9,000 hidden files brought to Britain from 37 former colonies. The files had been concealed as a consequence of a government policy that any "embarrassing" documents should not be left in the hands of the territories' successor governments.
Among them were several thousand papers relating to the British authorities' handling of the Mau Mau crisis, including details of how senior officials had colluded in the mistreatment of detainees by changing the law to provide legal cover for what they deemed "acceptable punishment", even knowing that what they were condoning equated to torture by international standards.
"If we are going to sin, then we must sin quietly," wrote Eric Griffiths-Joyce, the Kenyan attorney general, in a memo to Sir Evelyn Baring, the colonial governor, in 1957.
Torture, done quietly, is still "sin."  No wonder the files were stashed away to be forgotten.  

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