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Archive for british colonial rule

US Senate backs quicker withdrawal from Afghanistan


An Afghan boy looks at a US soldier of B Troop, 1st squadron of 4th US Cavalry Regiment as they patrol the town of Sar Howza in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, Oct 30, 2012. — Photo by Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: Reflecting a war-weary nation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday for an accelerated withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting.

The strong bipartisan vote of 62-33 sends a clear message to President Barack Obama and the military as they engage in high-stakes talks about the pace of drawing down the 66,000 US troops there, with a White House announcement expected within weeks.

Although the vote was on a nonbinding amendment to a defence policy bill, its significance could not be discounted amid the current discussions.

Thirteen Republicans, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, backed the measure.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., its chief sponsor, argued that Al Qaeda was stronger in other parts of the world and that nation-building in Afghanistan had gone off track. His measure endorsed Obama’s timetable to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014 but pressed for a quicker pace, without specifying how that would be achieved.

“It is time to end this war, end the longest war in United States history,” Merkley said during Senate debate.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday the US would need to keep troops in Afghanistan even after the combat mission ends in 2014 because Al Qaeda was still present in the country and was trying to strengthen its influence.

He would not say how many American troops he thought will be needed to conduct that mission, nor did he mention a time period.

“The goal here is an enduring presence therefore that will direct itself toward three important missions. One is obviously counterterrorism to insure that we continue to go after whatever Al Qaeda targets remain in Afghanistan,” Panetta told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

He added that the United States also would have to train and assist the Afghan forces while providing support.

The overall defence bill authorises $631 billion for weapons, ships, aircraft and a 1.7 per cent pay raise for military personnel. The White House threatened to veto the legislation in its current form, citing limits on the president’s authority in handling detainees at the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and restrictions on cuts to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

The Senate hopes to wrap up its version of the bill by week’s end. It then would have to be reconciled with the legislation the House passed in May. The House bill calls for Obama to maintain a force of at least 68,000 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2014.

Late Thursday, the Senate revived last year’s debate over how to handle terror suspects and whether restrictions interfere with the president’s powers as commander in chief.

Lawmakers approved an amendment that would prevent the transfer of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to prisons in the United States. The vote was 54-41, with several Democrats vulnerable in the 2014 elections voting with Republicans.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., argued that the 166 terror suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-styled mastermind of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, should remain at the US naval facility and not be transferred to any facility on American soil.

Responding to Ayotte, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the United States not only could but had handled terrorist suspects, with 180 now languishing in super maximum prisons. Feinstein complained that the measure would erase the president’s flexibility.

“I don’t think the right thing to do is to tie anyone’s hands,” she said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., who had pushed for several of the provisions on terror suspects in last year’s defence bill, said Ayotte’s measure was “unwise in terms of our national security.” He also warned that the provision was certain to draw a presidential veto.

In fact, the administration, in threatening to veto the bill, strongly objected to a provision restricting the president’s authority to transfer terror suspects from Guantanamo to foreign countries. The provision is in current law.

The White House said the provisions were “misguided when they were enacted and should not be renewed.”

Current law denies suspected terrorists, including US citizens seized within the nation’s borders, the right to trial and subjects them to the possibility they would be held indefinitely. It reaffirms the post-Sept 11 authorisation for the use of military force that allows indefinite detention of enemy combatants.

An unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans backed an amendment by Feinstein that said the government may not detain a US citizen or legal resident indefinitely without charge or trial even with the authorisation to use military force or declaration of war.

Feinstein recalled the dark days of World War II when the United States forcibly removed thousands of Japanese-Americans and placed them in permanent internment camps amid unfounded fears that they were spies and a national security threat.

Civil rights groups said the measure did not go far enough, but it was approved on a 67-29 vote with the backing of conservative Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

The Senate eliminated one provision from the bill that had attracted White House objections. In a strong bipartisan vote Wednesday, senators voted to allow Pentagon investment in alternative fuels.

Source: Dawn News


Archive sheds light on dark British past

Thousands of recently released files reveal rampant use of torture by Britain against subjects during colonial era.

Three Kenyans won the right to sue the UK government for torture under British colonial rule using the files [AP]


London, UK – For historians, it represents a treasure trove of boundless rewards and an opportunity to revisit some of the most enduring myths about Britain’s colonial past.

But for some of those still living with the physical and psychological scars, the release of thousands of previously secret government-held documents offers fresh hope of finally gaining a measure of justice for their suffering under British rule.

Last month, a judge in London’s high court ruled that three elderly Kenyans could sue the UK government for torture they endured at the hands of the colonial authorities during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising.

The government conceded that the trio, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, had suffered brutal abuse, including castration, sexual assault and beatings as a result of their detentions during one of the bloodiest and most enduring rebellions of the British empire’s final days. But it argued that the distance from the events over which it was accused meant a fair trial was impossible.

That argument came unstuck when the foreign office was forced last year to reveal the existence of almost 9,000 hidden files brought to Britain from 37 former colonies. The files had been concealed as a consequence of a government policy that any “embarrassing” documents should not be left in the hands of the territories’ successor governments.

Among them were several thousand papers relating to the British authorities’ handling of the Mau Mau crisis, including details of how senior officials had colluded in the mistreatment of detainees by changing the law to provide legal cover for what they deemed “acceptable punishment”, even knowing that what they were condoning equated to torture by international standards.

“If we are going to sin, then we must sin quietly,” wrote Eric Griffiths-Joyce, the Kenyan attorney general, in a memo to Sir Evelyn Baring, the colonial governor, in 1957.

Seeking justice

David Anderson, the historian whose painstaking paper trail tracing the documents’ transfer from Nairobi finally led to their re-discovery at the government’s Hanslope Park archive, said that their contents had been “absolutely critical” to the success of the Kenyans’ legal case.

“Although we had a very good general idea of what had gone on in Kenya, we didn’t have some of the detail that you would need to make a legal argument,” he told Al Jazeera. “But these documents show they discussed it. We now know who was in the room at the time, we know what was said, so we have it, as it were, chapter and verse.”

Now the Kenyans’ success and the gradual trickling into the public domain of the Hanslope Park documents has encouraged others tortured by British hands to ask whether they too could take action against the UK government.

Last week, a group of Cypriot veterans of the 1950s Eoka uprising said they were working with lawyers to build a case based on their own violent experiences in custody.

The British nature is to document things, even torture and abuse.”– Martyn Day, Lawyer representing the Kenyan plaintiffs

Others draw parallels with imperial hotspots such as Malaya, where British abuses during the late 1940s and early 1950s are well documented, and Aden, where an official inquiry at the time found that the torture of detainees was routine prior to the end of British rule in 1967.

Martyn Day, the lawyer representing the Kenyan plaintiffs, said the likeliest beneficiaries of the judgment in their case would be other survivors who suffered similar abuse during the Mau Mau uprising. He estimated they could number anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people.

He added that new material from Hanslope Park could also be useful in substantiating claims brought by torture victims elsewhere in the former empire.

“The British nature is to document things, even torture and abuse,” Day told Al Jazeera. “We need to be in a position where there is a significant amount of documentary evidence, and Hanslope Park is quite useful in having a reasonable amount of material about places such as Cyprus and Malaya.”

But he said others seeking to build cases beyond Kenya faced an uphill struggle in getting their cases heard, based on the advanced age of many of those involved and daunting logistical and legal hurdles.

Culture of cover-up

And the biggest frustration for those seeking to shine a light into the darkest corners of the UK’s imperial past may still come down to black holes in the paperwork amid suspicions of a continuing culture of cover-up at the heart of government.

While the Hanslope Park archive has offered an unprecedented insight into the bureaucratic processes that accompanied the retreat from empire, it has also confirmed that far more material, including that assumed to be the most incriminating, was simply destroyed or disposed of at the time, or now appears to be missing.

After the foreign office finally admitted the existence of the secret files, William Hague, the foreign secretary, appointed Tony Badger, an eminent Cambridge historian, to oversee the transfer of the documents into the public domain.

Since then, tranches have been handed over to the National Archives in London every few months.

In response to an email, Badger said the UK’s track record of releasing previously secret documents was “pretty good” and said he was confident that he would at least be able to fully audit what had been destroyed and to discover the fate of 170 hitherto unlocated files.

“We have the certificates of destruction basically for what was destroyed in the run-up to independence. In terms of what we ‘know’ is missing, I think the chances of them being found is pretty remote but the search will go on. I have more confidence that we may find evidence that they were destroyed at some point 20 years ago,” wrote Badger.

But other historians remain unconvinced by the process by which the files have been made public.

“I think there is a myth in Britain that we are moving towards a more transparent government and we are opening up and we are letting our records be seen,” said David Anderson. “It has always been the case that some very powerful stuff has been destroyed. It’s far too easy to bury bad news. We can only guess at what might have been.”

Source: AlJazeera