While the role of former US President George W Bush and his cabinet of half-crazed neocons in Washington in the catastrophe visited on the Iraqi people was egregious in the extreme, the decisive part played by the UK government, led at the time by Tony Blair, leaves an even bigger stench. For though the big playground bully may be feared the little cheerleader who stands behind him goading him on in order to win his approval and friendship is disdained.
And yet where the UK is concerned, complicity in Washington's flagrant disregard of international law reached further than its role in Iraq in the post-9/11 period. Because not content with participating in the Bush administration's war in Iraq, the UK, under Blair, was also complicit in the torture of detainees upon their abduction and rendition to detention facilities controlled by the US military in various parts of the world, and also to so-called ‘black sites', secret detention facilities run by the CIA in cooperation with third-party states.
The ISC report is the culmination of an exhaustive inquiry — covering the years 2001-2010 — and is based on 50 hours of oral evidence, the review of 30,000 original documents, and 30,000 staff hours. Among the witnesses who provided testimony were former detainees, former members of staff at the facilities at which detainees were held, and senior civil servants.
From the report's Executive Summary:
We reached the point in our Inquiry where we had covered the breadth of the issues but needed to examine certain matters in detail, which could only be done by taking evidence from those who had been on the ground at the time. We have been denied that access. Restrictions were imposed by the Prime Minister on grounds of seniority and involvement in proceedings which reduced our list of potential witnesses to just four. Furthermore, even those individuals would not be allowed to give evidence on specific cases.
The aforementioned passage brings Theresa May's government into clear disrepute, exposing its role in what is tantamount to the obstruction of justice. Or at least, if not, it most definitely should.
Yet in the context of the period concerned — the post 9/11 wars — such flagrant abuse of power and the obstruction of justice has been the norm rather than any departure from it. The findings of the Iraq Inquiry, for example, led by Sir John Chilcot — whose report was made public in 2016 — came as close as any establishment inquiry possibly could in indicting former Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes and for misleading Parliament in the run-up to war in 2003.
And yet, unconscionably, apart from a brief flurry of damning column inches in the wake of the release of the Chilcot Report in the days following, Mr. Blair continues to enjoy a post-political career that has seen him amass the fortune of a latter-day Crassus, proving that the wages of sin are lucrative indeed.
Indeed not only has Blair been able to avoid being held accountable for the crucial and decisive part he played in committing UK military forces to a war that not only resulted in catastrophic consequences for the Iraq people, but which presaged the eruption of extremism and terrorism throughout the region and the West in the years following, he has to all intents been rehabilitated by the country's liberal media establishment — featured regularly to air his views on Brexit, terrorism, peace in the Middle East, and other sundry matters.
If this is justice I'm a banana.
Returning to the ISC report, former UK ambassador Craig Murray, who also provided evidence to the Committee, is in no doubt when it comes to UK government and intelligence complicity in the torture of detainees.
My own evidence to the Committee focused on the over-arching policy framework, and specifically the fact that Jack Straw [while foreign secretary] and Richard Dearlove [while head of MI6] had agreed a deliberate and considered policy of obtaining intelligence through torture. The report includes disappointingly little of my evidence, as the Committee has taken a very narrow view of its remit to oversee the intelligence services.
So, taking everything together, the pattern by now is abundantly clear. In response to the demonstrable high crimes of UK ministers, intelligence officers and the like, we get very expensive and laborious inquiries, resulting in detailed and scathing reports some years after the event, followed by a day or two, perhaps even three, of condemnatory opinion pieces and media commentary, before the caravan moves on.
It's a pattern that conforms not to justice but its simulacrum, to the appearance of justice without the substance — a piece of establishment theatre designed to satisfy the need to believe that we, in the UK, are citizens of a country in which the law does not discriminate between those who have wealth and power and those who do not.
It simply isn't good enough.