Revelations that the British state is complicit in torture destroy the lie that Britain is more “civilised” or progressive than other countries.
Two reports last week said that British intelligence agencies MI6 and MI5 have been involved in hundreds of torture cases.
They also had a hand in dozens of rendition cases, where suspects are removed to other countries to be tortured.
The mainstream media quickly moved on from the scandal.
Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw ridiculed anyone who raised it while he was in office.
“Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, there is simply no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition,” he said.
But Britain has been involved in torture and rendition. And the officials do lie.
Straw was referring to the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi. The two leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were rendered to Tripoli in 2004, with the assistance of British security services, to be tortured.
Theresa May was this year forced to apologise to Belhaj and his wife, who was also kidnapped.
The cases uncovered last week and in other official reports are the tip of the iceberg. The British state has long used torture against those who challenge its power.
It is sanctioned at the highest levels of the military and political establishment.
The aim isn’t to get information from “dangerous” people, or to keep us safe. It’s to protect the power of those at the top.
An official British investigation in 1971 found that the British army’s torture techniques “played an important part in counter-insurgency operations in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and the British Cameroons (1960-1), Brunei (1963), British Guiana (1964), Aden (1964-7), Borneo/Malaysia (1965-6), the Persian Gulf (1970-1) and in Northern Ireland (1971).”
British forces used beatings, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, hooding and white noise in order to repress people and stamp out resistance. They have continued ever since.
In September 2003 British soldiers arrested ten hotel workers in Iraq and spent days systematically torturing them. One worker, Baha Mousa, later died from his injuries.
A public inquiry into Baha’s death found that British soldiers inflicted “violent and cowardly” assaults on Iraqis.
Torture is a necessary tool of imperialism, a system driven by competition between the major powers. It comes from the need to repress resistance with force and fear.
Politicians may spend a day wringing their hands whenever some of it is exposed. But the only way to end torture is to get rid of the system that relies on it.