Sarah Sands: Knickers to those who say Simon Mann deserves it

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The Independent Online

A delight of the London Fashion catwalk was Vivienne Westwood's Guantanamo orange knickers, bearing the cheeky slogan "Fair Trial, My Arse". George Bush's clumsy non sequitur that mild torture might prevent London bombings holds no water here.

Meanwhile, the pleas last week of a British woman whose husband was abducted from a Zimbabwe jail on the orders of an African dictator, who promised personally to sodomise his prisoner and then skin him alive, went unheeded.

Simon Mann is a former British Army officer who served during the Gulf War and whose son fought for this country in Iraq. Mann, like Tony Blair, believes in interventionism, although he is called a buccaneer and not a peace envoy. Blair likes to cite stability in Sierra Leone as one of his political and military triumphs. At the time, Mann ignored a UN arms ban to help the legitimate Sierra Leone government against rebel forces.

Mann is a mercenary, another name for a professional soldier. Yet he has always fought on the right side. His alleged failed coup against the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo, would have been welcomed. The President is an Idi Amin figure. His dearest friend is Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, which is why Mann was extradited from jail after serving a full sentence, untried, following the 2004 plot.

None of this carries weight in Britain. Whenever I raise Simon Mann with my liberal friends they reply sharply that he deserves everything he gets. He is an old Etonian and an associate of Mark Thatcher (who plea bargained his way out of his connection with the plot). Furthermore, Mann recklessly attempted to destabilise an African nation for his own financial gain. If he is shackled at the notorious Black Beach prison, if the soles of his feet are beaten and burned, if he dies without any medical treatment, as did his fellow conspirator Gerhard Eugen Nershz, then so be it. Our indignation over human rights is selective.

I am reading Tim Butcher's superb book Blood River, an account of his journey across the Congo in the steps of Stanley. He undertook the trek at about the same time that Mann was raising money for weapons for his Equatorial Guinea adventure. Butcher is scathing about the havoc Western buccaneers have caused in places such as Congo. They strip resources, manipulate local authority and leave behind chaos. Yet, Butcher also encountered a strange quirk of history. Grandparents could describe progress to children who had never seen cars, roads, or spoken on telephones.

Colonialism, even in its most hazardous freelance form, brought prosperity and order. When Mann's plane was grounded in Harare, he claimed that he and the 60 or so dogs of war with him were destined for Congo to provide security for a diamond mine. Whatever his real intention, this was no UN peace mission. For a start, it had a greater chance of success.

The same liberal friends of mine who refuse to protest about Simon Mann's treatment are in a great state about the Beijing Olympics and Darfur. How cynical of us all and especially China to negotiate with the Sudanese government. Must we stand by and watch another massacre like Rwanda? Of course we must, because governments cannot rush in to overturn other governments. Much better to leave this freelance activity to men such as Simon Mann. Like the fictional Jack Bauer, he takes the risk probably encouraged by Western intelligence organisations, if not governments. But if the operation goes wrong, he is on his own. Fair trial, my arse.