Monday, April 30, 2012

The Other Document Dump

An unfolding story that's not making headlines here, but should be of interest to our Loyal Readers is the public disclosure by the British National Archives of thousands of "lost" colonial-era documents. This document dump got 'live-blog' coverage by the Guardian and produced a spate of news articles and opinion pieces on various findings and their implications.

Among the disclosed files is one noting that the State Department had told British officials in 1959 that they were concerned Kenyan students in the US, including Barrack Obama's father, had a reputation for "falling into the wrong hands". In another example from 1957 relating to the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya,
Eric Griffiths-Jones, the attorney general of the British administration in Kenya, wrote to the governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, detailing the way the regime of abuse at the colony's detention camps was being subtly altered.
From now on, Griffiths-Jones wrote, for the abuse to remain legal, Mau Mau suspects must be beaten mainly on their upper body, "vulnerable parts of the body should not be struck, particularly the spleen, liver or kidneys", and it was important that "those who administer violence … should remain collected, balanced and dispassionate".
Almost as an after-thought, the attorney general reminded the governor of the need for complete secrecy. "If we are going to sin," he wrote, "we must sin quietly."
This document dump was sparked by the pending lawsuit of a group of Kenyans who want to hold the British government responsible for brutality they experienced during the Mau Mau uprising.
They allege brutal treatment in detention camps, including castration and sexual assaults at the hands of British colonial officials and soldiers. Other detainees interned during the Mau Mau uprising, it is alleged, were murdered, forced into labour, starved and subjected to violence from guards. Among those allegedly abused was Barack Obama's grandfather.
We became familiar with this story when we read Caroline Elkin's award-winning book Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. Elkins is serving as an expert witness for the case and in this piece for the Guardian she expresses skepticism that the Foreign Office has been completely forth-coming even with the latest revelations. This will definitely be a story to watch as more documents are made public and the trial moves forward.

If this story feels remote or lacking in relevance, I recommend this sensitive essay pointing out some similarities between the Mau Mau plaintiffs battle with the British government and the United States government, Wikileaks revelations, and the plight of Guantanamo detainees.
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