The legacy of British torture; from Kenya to Bahrain

It has of course taken far too long but the decision of the High Court in London to allow three Kenyans to proceed with a civil claim against the UK Government for torture is very welcome news. Sadly many of the victims that the UK now admits were tortured have not lived long enough to see this significant step towards accountability. The UK Government should now abandon their shameful attempts to deny liability and accept their responsibility.

It is important also to pay tribute to the dignity, courage and tenacity of Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara who with a small team of lawyers and supporters have achieved this breakthrough in the face of significant odds. Sadly they have faced opposition from many in Kenya as well as the long drawn out resistance of the UK Government.

We should also remember that the legacy of torture and repression has an ongoing resonance. One of the key people responsible for the systematic torture of prisoners in Kenya was Ian Henderson who went on to play a similar role in Bahrain which is documented in an excellent blog for the BBC by Adam Curtis. He explains:

A little while ago a Scottish journalist called Neil Mackay uncovered secret Foreign Office documents that show that the senior British diplomat in Bahrain in 1966 - Antony Parsons - worked on the ruling Sheikh Khalifa to persuade him to appoint Henderson as head of what was called the Special Branch - and to give Henderson a free hand to reorganise it into an efficient, modern covert surveillance "anti terrorist" organisation.

One of the most depressing aspects of the Adam Curtis blog is that it links to a 1996 BBC news report on the repression of protests that could be re-broadcast today with minimal editing. And there is a further echo of the past in the current role in Bahrain of the discredited British policeman John Yates. The UK Government denies any involvement in the appointment of the former Metropolitan police assistant commissioner as “advisor” to the Bahraini police, but the perception amongst human rights defenders documenting the ongoing brutal repression of protesters is that the UK remains a close ally of the regime.