16 Dec 2014

Time to un-redact the mother of parliaments

Every waking day brings a new reminder of the Iraq war. The war that begat Isis together with the effective demolition of Iraq as a recognisable nation state. Every waking day brings a further reminder of the war in Afghanistan.


The Senate report into the torture activities of the CIA and others lingers in the air. Every waking day brings the reminder that the “mother of democracy” has been failed by its democratic institutions in getting to the root of the decision making that ever took us to two of the longest wars the United Kingdom has waged in modern times.

The Chilcot inquiry has been reduced to a charade – a dance of so many veils that no one knows if or when it will ever be published. Chilcot’s report has been so long in delivery that one member of the inquiry has already retired due to ill health – the others are ageing.

Now the call goes up for a “judge–led” inquiry to investigate the redacted sections of the Senate report and to determine to what extent Britain and British functionaries were involved in torture. The call has been led by none other than one of the members of the very parliamentary committee that is supposed to protect the electorate from its own security services. In other words, an elected MP has lost faith in his own capacity to hold parliament to account on the matter.

We are in a bad place on war. Now there are perhaps even questions relating to our compliance with international treaties to which we are party – the UN torture treaty and the Geneva Convention not the least. A number of MPs, not a few of them Labour, have spoken against the idea of a judge-led investigation.

Both Labour and the Conservatives voted for war in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. But it was Labour in power at the time we went to war. Those decisions still inform many in Britain as to how they vote. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Jack Straw, John Reid, and later David Miliband were some of the “big beasts” who were on deck during the crescendo of war. Beyond the public hearings held by Chilcot so long ago, there has been no reckoning.

My own reporting, particularly in Scotland, but in many other places idn Britain too, leads me to believe that part of the vast alienation from parliament that many people feel is in part informed by their horror and misgiving of what has been done in their name in the Middle East and beyond.

A vast, if distant, endeavour has been undertaken in our name, and upon our behalf, with some appalling outcomes. Much of what has happened has been US-led and American-dominated. Now we have the Senate report. That report is about us, we were in “coalition”, we were allies. No wonder some of those who voted for war, indeed some of those who executed the war, now want to keep what is redacted, redacted.

We are in the midst of political failure. How did we allow the United States to arrive at a place of inquiry into the war which still finds the UK suppressing its own inquiry and still wrangling about how to investigate our own role in torture and war crimes?

Perhaps we in the media are to blame too. Perhaps the moment is come when media and willing politicians toil together to achieve what our own democracy has manifestly failed to do – investigate our own misdeeds that flowed from our often misguided response to 9/11. The cry is up – if you have  a conscience, if you care about your country’s integrity and decency, you guys, start leaking!

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