An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, Mr Miliband


11:01 am - September 23rd 2010

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contribution by Ivo Petkovski

24 hours before voting closed for Labour leadership, David Milliband returned to the Home office to study files relating to Brits tortured abroad under his watch as Foreign secretary.

His conclusion? That there was no evidence that any ministers had ever asked for any of the men in question to be detained, so any allegations of his own collusion in torture were unfounded.

The statements coming from Miliband and his team are pure legalese, but the overall meaning is clear: ‘David would never sanction torture‘. D-Mili has been at pains to distance himself from the torture allegations, easily the most toxic part of his career to date.

Last month, he wheeled out the following truism: “The alternative to an ethical foreign policy is an unethical foreign policy, and I don’t believe in an unethical foreign policy.”

What does he mean by that non-statement? Even if he is right, and British ministers and operatives never colluded in torture, he has himself never overtly condemned the American policies of enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, the establishment of Gitmo, etc. While he was foreign secretary, foreign policy – in the UK possibly, but in the US definitely – completely diverged from ethical considerations. Why did he not stand up for this belief at the time?

There is also the inconvenient truth that David fought hard – and lost – the battle to suppress evidence around the British collusion in the torture of Binyam Mohammed. His loyalty to the party paid dividends in career terms, with all the big New Labour figures and their financial backers lining up behind his leadership bid.

He remains the bookies’ favourite, narrowly ahead of his brother in what has now – predictably – become a two-horse race.

Perhaps David might have gained more favour – with the public, if not his line management – by admitting that the UK veered off the moral course during the war on terror, rather than the suspicious-looking evasion and legal jargon he has opted for.

Obama did it – obviously he was heralding a new administration, but in a sense so is D-Mili, in theory at least. He could have used the issue to put clear water between himself and his former bosses. One of the most frequent allegations made against him is that he’s the New Labour continuity candidate, the centrist who would look right at home in the coalition government.

Such an admission may have helped lessen that perception, and made him appear honest about past mistakes.

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Ivo Petkovski writes the I to the Vizzo blog and Guardian CIF

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Reader comments


‘Perhaps David might have gained more favour – with the public, if not his line management – by admitting that the UK veered off the moral course during the war on terror, rather than the suspicious-looking evasion and legal jargon he has opted for.’

The UK didn’t veer off the moral course DURING the war, it was in STARTING the war in the first place. I’m tired of people downplaying the industrial scale slaughter of civilians by playing moral top trumps over the disgusting, but lesser, crime of the abuse of prisoners. Milliband’s apology would not absolve Labour of it’s responsibility for the greatest crime committed by a British government in living memory. Everything which followed was a direct result of the decision to go to war. War has it’s own inevitable logic: if you supported the war you don’t get to take the moral highground over how it was conducted.

This is like Vince Cable’s ritual denunciation of the fat cats as a distraction from him positioning himself in the right – but on a vaster scale. Those who supported the wars an Iraq and Afghanistan want to denounce those complicity in torture as a distraction from mass murder.

Labour should not be returned to power until those responsible for leading us to war are brought to justice. A few mumbled apologies about the way events unfolded don’t cut it.

Shatterface,

‘The UK didn’t veer off the moral course DURING the war, it was in STARTING the war in the first place. I’m tired of people downplaying the industrial scale slaughter of civilians by playing moral top trumps over the disgusting, but lesser, crime of the abuse of prisoners’

I agree – I have written about this before, here.

But this is specifically about D-Mili, and he wasn’t in power at the start of the war. Also I disagree that there’s a logic leading from war to torture – we have the Geneva convention to prevent exactly that. Plus the fact that we went to war on a platform of a superior moral position – the torture and rendition completely undermined that.

In all fairness, it would be hard for a British foriegn secretary to admit that Britain had veered of course by condoning torture when it is likely that great steps were taken to ensure we were never seen to do that.

I doubt that the public would take particularly kindly, therefore, to Mr Milliband saying ‘I lied to you about torture, please trust me now’.

“I doubt that the public would take particularly kindly, therefore, to Mr Milliband saying ‘I lied to you about torture, please trust me now’.”

Well no, I wouldn’t suggest he comes out with anything as blunt as that. But Obama made some generalised comments about staying true to American values, and the meaning was clear – D-Mili could have emulated that.

Well no, I wouldn’t suggest he comes out with anything as blunt as that. But Obama made some generalised comments about staying true to American values, and the meaning was clear – D-Mili could have emulated that.

And then went on to cover it up and, it’s alleged, carry it on! If a repentant mugger was admitting to his crimes we wouldn’t tolerate obscurantism lest it threaten his career. Miliband wouldn’t look good if he admitted to the lies. That shouldn’t stop him, though.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, Mr Miliband http://bit.ly/dzG05s

  2. Dale Cox

    RT @libcon: An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, Mr Miliband http://bit.ly/dzG05s

  3. Philip M

    RT @libcon: An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, Mr Miliband http://bit.ly/dzG05s

  4. Little Metamorphic O

    RT @libcon: An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, Mr Miliband http://bit.ly/dzG05s

  5. Andy Sutherland

    RT @libcon: An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, Mr Miliband http://bit.ly/dzG05s

  6. Ivo Petkovski

    RT @libcon: An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, Mr Miliband http://bit.ly/dzG05s

  7. Gareth Winchester

    RT @libcon: An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, @DMiliband | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/uVZjtBp

  8. earwicga

    An ethical foreign policy? At least admit past mistakes, Mr Miliband | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/WtXCPyR via @libcon





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