“Cruel Britannia: a secret history of torture” review

“Cruel Britannia: a secret history of torture” review

Cruel Britannia

by Ian Cobain
Portobello Books, 2012

Lesley Docksey

Cruel indeed.

Some years ago I started to record the number of times government ministers claimed, in statements to parliament, to the press and on air, that for instance; ‘the Government’s clear policy is not to participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment for any purpose’. I knew they were lying but never by how much.
Guardian journalist Ian Cobain has done a superb job of tracing the very dirty game of interrogation by torture played by the UK from WW2 to the present day, and a terrible story it is. It doesn’t do much for one’s national pride either, but it does make clear that some people in politics, the military and secret services perceive the world as being perpetually at war; a world full of threats, spies and nameless enemies where a little diplomacy might find allies and partners.

The UK has ratified Conventions on torture, human rights and much else; successive governments have publicly banned the use of the ‘5 techniques’ (hooding,sleep and food deprivation, noise and stress positions) more than once, but still it goes on. After all the fuss about the US use of water-boarding, it may come as a surprise to learn that Britain used it in Cyprus; that British interrogators in postwar Germany were using shin screws they had purloined from the SS.

It is depressing to read how some people not only find it easy to inflict terrible pain in the name of their country, but take pride in their work and justify their actions as being ‘necessary’. And they go to great lengths to hide what they do from the public. But this is what happens when people believe that we are ‘at war’. For them, war throws all humanity, including the rule book, out of the window. Read this book and you will be even more convinced that war in all its forms must be abolished.