31 January 2006

Criminality and the British Army

Daily Ireland

Daily Ireland Editorial
Editor: Colin O’Carroll

When asked what he thought of western civilisation, Gandhi is reported to have said that he reckoned it would be a good idea. That retort comes to mind as fair-minded MPs in the British House of Commons pledge to make the British Army criminal-free.
The initiative led by SDLP leader Mark Durkan and backed by the Pat Finucane Centre is a worthy one indeed and it’s to be hoped that the early day motion is carried.
However, the motion can’t be allowed to succeed because without soldiers willing to break every law in Christendom in order to impose the dictates of Parliament, the British Army couldn’t function.
In fact, the British enjoy the dubious honour of having perpetrated more brutality and torture on their colonial subjects than any other western power. While for some the word Empire may conjure up images of lords in ermine and knights in garter, in the developing world the word is synonomous with rapine and slaughter. All carried out by soldiers of the Crown.
In her just-published, devastating account of Britain’s colonial misdeeds in Kenya 50 years ago, “Britain’s Gulag”, author Caroline Elkins spells out in sickening detail the lengths to which the British Army went in order to supress the Mau Mau uprising. British Army-led forces were responsible for countless massacres
In the Kandara outrage, “the British security forces just went crazy”. “They stripped the local people naked and started beating them. Some were led off and shot; others were executed right there.”
The ‘UDR’ of the era, the Home Guard, were well schooled in British Army tactics.
“The Home Guard posts were the epicentres of torture,” writes Elkins. “If a woman was suspected of harbouring Mau Mau sympathies she could be sent to the Home Guard post. After a thorough beating outside of her hut, a woman was taken to the ndaki. The ndaki was about four foot deep, halfway filled with water...forcing those inside to fumble their way around in the darkness...there were generally a dozen or more captives inside. They often huddled together for warmth and for protection against the vermin and snakes that infested the cell....Sometimes the Home Guards took the initiative, squeezing and mutilating women’s breasts with pliers, pushing vermin and rifles into their vaginas, and forcing them to run naked while carrying buckets of excrement on their heads. The women were also raped, oftentimes repeatedly by several men. Resistance could lead to summary execution.”
Post-conflict, there was to be no public accounting in Britain, adds Elkins, for the “torture, murder and starvation of men, women and children. Indeed there was a great deal of sympathy, if not admiration for the professional soldiers”.
Criminals in the British Army? Perish the thought.

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