In the face of Phil Hammond’s lame attempts at deflection, the revelation that up to 90 Afghans have been held in a secret, apparently extrajudicial prison in Camp Bastion, some of them for up to 14 months, tells us a number of things.
For a start it counters a theory which was once commonly held in UK military circles. At the start of the War on Terror, when it became clear that Tony Blair was determined to follow George W. Bush into disaster, there existed a secondary hope that the British military, with its experience in, for example, Northern Ireland, would act as a brake on American excesses.
This was a pipedream. Firstly, because it does not account for the enduring, inglorious and rather practised British capacity for imperial excess and secondly because the US military is a vastly bigger beast than our own and was always bound to pull our intentions and procedures out of shape.
In truth, the UK military, which exists in a constant state of exchange and interface with Uncle Sam, even piloting US drone missions, became an extension of American military practice and foreign policy decades ago and, if recent UK governments are anything to go by, quite willingly so. But keeping up with the adventurists has a price.
In Camp Bastion’s prison, which Hammond claims was not a secret despite the fact that nobody knew that it existed, we may have happened upon a very British Guantanamo.
Anyone wrong-footed by claims that these are men (and perhaps women?) are simply too dangerous to be allowed out to re-join the ‘insurgency’ might do well to recall the claims by the Bush administration that those in Guantanamo were the very “worst of the worst”, when in fact the vast majority interred there were (and are) entirely innocent of any crime. Some were merely children who found themselves in an unenviable place at the wrong time.
We might also consider that only a small section of the resistance in Afghanistan is ideologically Islamist. Logically, an insurgency on the scale we have seen in the South cannot survive without broad local support, which must raise questions about exactly who these 80-90 people are.
There is much evidence that local people in Afghanistan rather routinely lend their firepower to ambushes and actions against coalition troops. In his book The Accidental Guerrilla, counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen, by no means an anti-war lefty, theorizes this is an ‘antibody’ response to foreign occupation.
Naturally, access to more details on the case hinges on a further disclosure which will likely be resisted by the government, but it is perfectly possible that these apparently untried prisoners are irate locals resisting the unwanted coalition presence, rather than being the leading lights of global terror.
On a related note – and a personal, as well as a very current political, one - the ways in which the Afghan occupation has been conducted, as well as the reasons for its prosecution, are a cause of all kinds of grievances – most obviously by local people and a community of concerned co-religionists around the world, but also by the military personnel doing the occupying and the hard pressed taxpayers at home who, in these times of bitter ideological austerity, are surely not inclined to see their cash frittered away on secret, desert gulags. Today we learnt that the war in Afghanistan will likely have cost every British household £2,000 by the time our forces withdraw.
For me, my opposition led to a refusal to serve another tour and an attempt to exercise my right to conscientious objection which was, rather inexplicably, denied.
For others, a foreign policy which has normalised internment and detention, house raids, drone strikes, the bombing of civilians and denial of basic human rights can inform violent acts at home which, while unjustifiable, are relatively easy to explain.
In short, included in the cost of medieval foreign policies like these we can count the life of, among others, Drummer Lee Rigby who was tragically murdered last week in Woolwich.
Since being exposed by the prisoners’ UK lawyers, the British government has (all of a sudden) suggested that they had intended to transfer the prisoners anyway, accompanied by an argument that the legal action which has exposed the detention is holding up their transfer to Afghan custody.
We would do well to recall the promises made by Barack Obama in his election campaign, that he would close Guantanamo Bay. Talking is one thing, action quite another.
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