Thursday, 23 September 2010

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

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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