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Armed Forces Day - Remember Kenya

Army checkpoint in Kenya

Armed Forces Day falls on Saturday 29 June. It has been celebrated every year since 2009, when Veterans' Day - celebrated since 2006 - was renamed as Armed Forces Day in an effort to raise the day's profile. The spin offensive seems to have been successful - the Facebook page for Armed Forces Day has over 1.1 million 'likes'.

Veterans' Day/Armed Forces Day was set up to try to repair the damage done to the armed forces' reputation by the disastrous war in Iraq, and to reverse the successful efforts of anti-war campaigners to discourage military recruitment.

Today, the main task of Britain's armed forces is still to destabilise foreign countries in the interests of a wealthy elite in our own country. No one should be fooled into joining Britain's armed forces.

In the run-up to Armed Forces Day, it's worth remembering some of the episodes that illustrate the way that the British Army goes about its business.

Torture in Kenya

Earlier this month, the British Government agreed to pay compensation to 5000 Kenyans who were tortured during the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s. The out-of-court settlement ended a high court action brought by the torture victims. But the Government continues to describe the torture as an action of the "colonial administration" in Kenya and, despite the settlement, denies liability for the actions of the colonial administration.

Atrocities against Kenyan rebels were widespread and included the most savage and extreme forms of torture. The perpetrators included police, organised death squads, the 'Home Guard' Kenyan militia and British settlers acting more or less on their own initiative. The colonial administration and the British Government knew what was happening. One of the pieces of evidence from the 1950s relied on by the victims in their recent court case was a memo from the Attorney General of Kenya agreeing to beatings provided that they were carried out in secret.

Though you would hardly know it from press coverage of the court case, the suppression of the uprising was spearheaded by the British Army, without whom the British settlers could not have won. The army introduced internment on a massive scale. 27,000 people from Nairobi were interned - nearly half the city's Kikuyu population. Over a million Kikuyu were driven from their homes in the countryside and re-settled in guarded villages.

A freedom of information request revealed in 2005 that General George Erskine - the man in charge of the British army in Kenya during the uprising - had acknowledged in a letter to the War Office that prisoners were "beaten to extract information" and that "torture was a feature of many police posts"

The torture victims got their compensation this year because historians working on the case had obtained access to a huge and previously undisclosed archive - the 'Hanslope Disclosure' - held by the Foreign Office. The documents established that the British Government, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill, knew about the abuse. For example, the Cabinet had approved detention camp officers putting their boots on people's jugulars as a method of control.

One voluminous file on abuse, for example, contains a telegram from Governor Baring to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated 17 January 1955, detailing 'brutal allegations' against 8 British district officers regarding the murder of detainees under 'screening' (ie interrogation). This included the burning alive of detainees.
- David M Anderson, Mau Mau in the High Court and the 'Lost' British Empire Archive: Colonial Conspiracy or Bureaucratic Bungle, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History

The out-of-court settlement is good news for the torture victims. But it means we still don't know the exact nature of the involvement of the British Army in a system of torture that included rape, castration, burning, whipping and other horrors.

Photo: Imperial War Museum
Suspected Mau Mau "terrorists being" searched by security forces in Kenya.

Know anyone who is attracted by the army?

If you know anyone who is thinking of joining the army, just ask them to have a look at the speech by former SAS soldier Ben Griffin and ask them to read former soldier Joe Glenton's book "Soldier Box: Why I Won't Return to the War on Terror".