Culture of Institutionalized Impunity

In Lands Nurturing Future Edward Saids

BY NEIL BERRY

AS AFGHAN people elect a new president, the British military deployment in Afghanistan, which began in 2001, is winding down fast. Most of the remaining 5,200 UK military personnel are expected to have exited the country by the end of this year.

Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the British army’s Afghan campaign as ‘mission accomplished’. The veteran British defence correspondent, Robert Fox, is not convinced and calls for a public inquiry to address the troubling questions thrown up by the 13 year campaign. How, he asks, can Cameron deem the British effort a success when the signs are that the heroin trade in Helmand Province, which the army was tasked to expunge in 2006, is flourishing anew? And what of allegations of shamingly inadequate military equipment and of embezzled aid money that ended up in the hands of Taliban insurgents?
Certainly it would be anomalous if there were to be no inquiry into the Afghan war when there have been five inquiries into the British intervention in Iraq in 2003, the latest of which, the Chilcot Inquiry, has yet to report. True, there were specific reasons for inquiring into the latter, source that it was of furious controversy even before suspicions grew that the ostensible reason for fighting it – the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that menaced the UK – had been trumped up by the government in order to justify British participation in an American military enterprise.
Much of the pressure for the five Iraq inquiries sprang from public outrage that Britain’s then prime minister, Tony Blair, lied about the reasons for fighting the war. The prevailing view of Blair is of a duplicitous politician who, instead of being arraigned for malfeasance, has been at liberty to embrace a vastly lucrative new career as a globe-trotting consultant. By all accounts, the Chilcot report has been delayed because it contains revelations confirming what has long been commonly accepted: that, in 2003, British MPs debated the case for going into Iraq when Blair had already privately pledged US President George W. Bush full UK military support.
One might wonder if Britain will ever achieve ‘closure’ over Iraq. Not that Robert Fox is wrong to call for an inquiry into the ‘purpose and execution’ of the UK’s Afghan campaign. There is a palpable need to understand why an intervention originally aimed at extirpating Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States became a spectacular instance of ‘mission creep’. Not least is there a need for a frank appraisal of how far UK politicians were ever justified in making the national security case that British troops in Afghanistan were pre-empting the threat of terrorism on British streets.
Nevertheless, few will share Fox’s faith in the value of any such an inquiry. For in common with other British institutions, the ‘public inquiry’ is suffering a chronic crisis of credibility. In a country where public cynicism and distrust have been hugely exacerbated by wars fought on specious pretexts, it is doubtful if many regard it as much more than a pantomime designed to prop up Britain’s image as an open and democratic society. The fact is that whenever an inquiry threatens to be damaging to occupants of high office, it either – like the Chilcot Inquiry – endlessly fails to report, or – like the Gibson Inquiry into alleged British complicity in torture of detainees – gets quietly shelved.
The early 20th century Viennese satirist, Karl Kraus, observed that psychoanalysis was the ‘disease of which it purported to be the cure’. It is tempting to say that public inquiries bear an analogous relationship to Britain’s decrepit, pseudo-transparent, democratic system. Adopting earnest expressions as they announce yet another major inquiry, British prime ministers are apt to intone that ‘lessons must be learned’. But perhaps the lesson that most needs to be learned is why they are forever presiding over inquiries that more often than not prove to be interminably drawn-out, stupendously costly fudges.
What, in short, is long overdue is a major inquiry into British public inquiries. There is little chance that its findings would be flattering. But then, they would probably never be disclosed.
-the writer is based in London
-courtesy: Khaleej Times