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REVIEW: Cruel Britannia: a secret history of torture

By IAN COBAIN (London, Portobello Books, 2012) - Reviewed by Saleh Mamon In Race & Class Volume 55 No 1, July 2013. This is a shameful indictment of the British state, which has long prided itself on its rule of law and fair play. Prompted by increasing revelations of the UK’s sup- port for the US rendition programme, Cobain set out to answer two questions: whether the British government had a secret torture policy; and, if so, whether the responsibility for it went right to the top.

He begins his story at the onset of the second world war. When facing a possible German invasion, the British intelligence services mobilised resources to set up two secret interrogation cells – the London Cage (at Kensington Gardens) and Camp020 (near Ham Common, southwest London). To his credit, in spite of the suppression of evidence, Cobain builds a credible picture of the men who commanded these centres and pioneered the torture techniques of sleep deprivation, sensory isolation and starvation, amongst others. These were used initially against suspected British Nazi sympathisers and were subsequently ratcheted up against German POWs to extract intelligence information and to recruit double agents. The voices of Germans who complained were silenced and any evidence destroyed.


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