A gentleman’s word is quite sufficient

Quoting an anonymous UK government source, as reported in the Financial Times, Norman Geras briefly discusses the revelation that the British foreign intelligence service had until recently a most cordial and cosy relationship with the Gaddafi regime in Libya. That friendship was sealed with delicious and succulent fruits, no doubt delivered in diplomatic carrier bags.

If documents unearthed by Human Rights Watch are to be believed, MI6 and the CIA were complicit in the rendition and torture of an Islamist guerrilla turned head of Libya’s revolutionary armed forces. The mild-mannered and thoroughly respectable general Abdelhakim Belhadj (aka Abu Abdallah Assadaq) seeks an apology from his allies in the fight against Gaddafi.

Assuming that this is not a case of Taqiyya dissimulation, Belhaj would certainly seem to deserve an apology from the British state, even if the offences were committed during the time of the Blair administration. Or should that be “Blair regime”? I get terribly confused when it comes to the correct use of modern political terminology.

Said the UK government source…

"The process that the service had then and has now in dealing with regimes of that type is legalistic and burdensome. We would have sought assurances that he was being properly interrogated. If we had not sought those assurances, we would have been criminally liable."

Due process and moral principles are indeed burdensome, if not downright bothersome, so one might be a touch sympathetic when it comes to the difficulties faced by Her Majesty’s Government in its efforts to protect British citizens.

Still, I wonder about the words used by the official quoted above. Is one absolved of the moral consequences of one’s actions through the seeking of assurances from governments which “…don’t share our standards.”? As it happens, that has long been the British way, and the distinction between gentleman and cad has always been something of a moveable feast.

This is all a bit too Arabist, orientalist and Lawrence in the desert for my liking. And entirely characteristic of upper class English racism. I suppose that one should give credit to the prime minister in calling for an independent inquiry, but, whatever the outcome of such an investigation, no-one in the British ruling class will come out smelling of roses, NATO military support for the Libyan revolution notwithstanding.