The British army's old familiar feeling

As the shocking reports of widespread prisoner abuse and torture continue coming from Iraq, one can not but help draw parallels with the British army’s conduct in Ireland, particularly their systemic physical and mental abuse and torture of republican detainees in places like Place Barracks from the early 70s onwards.

Whilst abuse and torture of prisoners were widely documented in the north, they were largely ignored by the media who felt more comfortable reporting the spin dished out from the Northern Ireland Office and British intelligence.

The same media have largely failed to grasp the contradiction and double standards that the British army applies to the conduct of its soldiers. The chief of the general staff of the British Army, General Mike Jackson, has stated that any soldier who subjects Iraqi prisoners to ill–treatment or torture is not fit to wear the Queen’s uniform.

Yet this same general sat on the Army board that allowed the two guardsmen, Fisher and Wright, who were convicted of the murder of Belfast teenager Peter McBride, remain in the British army. The fact that the army and government continue to stand by this decision surely has significant implications for their colleagues in Iraq, who must have felt, at least ‘til now, that they could carry out violent and obscene acts against civilians in occupied territories with impunity.

While commentators in Britain are rightly appalled by the evidence of systematic torture by American soldiers, the same revulsion towards British troops is withheld. The 'evidence' has predictably been called into question, and suddenly the focus has switched to the medium (i.e. the Mirror newspaper) rather than the message.

However, while it now appears that the photographs published by the Mirror were indeed a hoax, there can be few with any knowledge of the British army's counter insurgency strategies who will be convinced that similar genuine abuse has not taken place.

Among the British establishment, only one voice of reason has addressed the idea that British army torture is not just possible, but probable.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph (try to remember where you are as you read this: it may be the first and last time that publication is commended in these pages), one retired lieutenant colonel commented:

“Britain and other European nations have imperial traditions. As a result, British troops have been incalculated with the ethos and tradition of colonial policing, where small numbers of men would have close contact on a daily basis with local populations.”

The people of Ireland are only too aware of what this ‘close contact’ means.

Throughout the Iraq conflict, we have consistently been told that the British army, with its experience in Northern Ireland, would be much better suited to the occupation of Iraq, much better able to deal with, and pacify, a hostile community. Those familiar with the army’s modus operandi in the north will be fearful of just how horribly true that is.

<< | Up | >>

This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-05-26 21:56:04.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2004 Connolly Publications Ltd