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“Complicity”: the haters’ favourite word

John Rentoul

Steve Bell cartoon 004 300x225 Complicity: the haters favourite wordI know little about the Belhaj case, in which one of the leaders of post-Gaddafi Libya claims that British spies helped the Americans kidnap him in Thailand and ship him to Gaddafi’s Libya, where he says he was tortured.

But knowing little about it fails to discourage the Blair-haters from assembling their favourite big words: complicity, rendition, extraordinary rendition, British moral reputation dragged through the mire, complicity … (contd. p94).

And when Tony Blair said yesterday, “About the Belhaj case, I don’t have any recollection of it at all,” this is taken by the isolationists of right and left as conclusive proof that he is guilty of everything ever insinuated against him. Steve Bell in The Guardian today (picture) captures the prevailing sneer-storm brilliantly.

Even knowing as little as I do, however, I know that no one has alleged that British ministers knew about or approved Belhaj’s alleged kidnap.* The most that the Daily Hater can say is that Sir Mark Allen “boasted” to the Gaddafi regime of British intelligence’s help in apprehending Belhaj — in letters that I think have been around for some time since Gaddafi’s fall. That seems neither surprising nor evidence of British complicity in torture.

But who knows what papers might have crossed Blair’s desk, or Jack Straw’s, or even that of David Miliband, who became Foreign Secretary three years after the alleged events and who has nevertheless been drawn into the stigma-fest, as David Cameron and William Hague no doubt soon will be too? Who knows how such papers might have phrased intelligence co-operation with Gaddafi, which was part of the policy of engagement in return for disarmament — a policy that was sensible if not wholly successful? Hence Blair’s careful answer yesterday.

The foreign policy advocated by the Daily Mail and The Guardian is essentially Have Nothing To Do With Any Foreigners From Anywhere. It wouldn’t be in the national interest, but at least we wouldn’t be “complicit” in anything.

*Update: I knew even less than I thought. Kiran Stacey of the FT points out that Peter Taylor, a serious BBC journalist, did say that he “understands Mr Belhaj’s rendition was given ministerial approval”. However, the BBC goes on to say: “It is not clear at what level of government the decision was authorised.”

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  • JohnJustice

    Socrates said ” I know that I know nothing”. So JR is in good company.

  • stonedwolf

    True… except Socrates was of course famous for his laconic, ironic wit. With JR it’s more a mea culpa.


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