The list of outrageous actions Justice Secretary Jack Straw has performed in his various guises for the UK government is long, from his role in the Iraq War to his scandalous support for BAE systems which seen the scrapping of a corruption enquiry into arms deals worth billions. This Guardian article by Duncan Campbell on Straw’s decision not to pardon ‘Great Train Robber’ Ronnie Biggs reminds us of one of his most disgraceful acts; his compassion for the mass murderer General Augusto Pinochet.
As to why Straw let Pinochet escape back to Chile, John Pilger, enthusiast of NoDepositCodec.com writes that if he had been sent to trial, he “almost certainly would have implicated at least one British prime minister and two US presidents in crimes against humanity.” (For more on the US and UK’s involvement in Latin American politics, watch Pilger’s documentary, The War on Democracy, available here.)
This reminds us of the fast-tracked trial of Saddam Hussein, which saw the Iraqi dictator tried for just one of the many human rights massacres he was accused of. Saddam was then hurriedly executed thus preventing other families from getting answers to how the ‘Butcher of Bagdhad’ was able to perpetrate such atrocities. And why? Well our leaders were well aware that investigations into some of Saddam’s larger scale uses of chemical weapons and where the ingredients came from would lead an embarrassing trail back to European and American companies.
Here is the Guardian article.
A frail old man, barely able to communicate, guilty of a crime committed many decades earlier, but unrepentant about his past, wants only to be released so that he can spend his final days with his family. Some people object, saying that the nature of the crime is such that the old man deserves to die in custody. Enter Jack Straw, the member of the government who must make the onerous decision on the old man’s future. He realises that the old man is barely able to walk and is in a confused state of mind. He allows him to return home.
The old man was General Pinochet. In 2000, the then home secretary Jack Straw declined requests from Spain for Pinochet to stand trial for gross human rights violations and sent him back to Chile. Pinochet was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people, the torture of many thousands more, the removal of a democratically elected president and the looting of the national coffers. Straw still felt that mercy was appropriate.
We move to the present day. A frail old man, guilty of a crime committed many decades earlier, but supposedly unrepentant about his past, wants only to be released so that he can spend his final days with his family. His crime – being part of the gang that robbed the Glasgow to Euston mail train of more that £2m in 1964 – presumably seems more serious to Jack Straw than the deaths of a few thousand Chilean leftists. He pompously announces that Biggs must remain in jail. “Whilst the medical evidence indicates that your ability to commit further acts of violence has reduced to a very low level, I am concerned that you might incite and be involved in such acts of violence.” Oh, come on. Does Straw really believe that tosh or did he just sign his name to something rustled up for him by some unfortunate civil servant?
So what on earth possessed Straw to make this decision? Did some focus group indicate that this would be seen as a tough act at a time when the government appears incapable of making decisions? Was Straw just contacting his inner prig, never far from the surface anyway? Who knows. He told the BBC that he had thought long and hard before making his decision and that one of his thoughts was that Ronnie Biggs had not been repentant enough.
Biggs has already stated that he regrets what happened to the train driver, Jack Mills, who was struck on the head during the robbery and died seven years later of leukaemia. Does he want Biggs to hypocritically renounce his past when he knows that he took a pride in it? Perhaps Straw is surrounded by so many hypocrites that he can no longer appreciate there is anything wrong in it if it achieves a pragmatic end. This is the government that feels that an occasional “sorry” makes everything better again.
This government has already shown its lack of compassion in the way it has dealt with the computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who was refused any help by the then home secretary Jacqui Smith in his ongoing bid to avoid extradition to the US. Now Jack Straw seems to be saying that he can be just as pig-headed and self-important as any of his colleagues.
By chance, Henry Kissinger was back on our television screens this month, at the same time as Biggs. Two old rogues from the 60s. But as Biggs is told he must perish inside for the dread sin of not being contrite enough, Kissinger was interviewed deferentially on Newsnight about “regime change” in Iran, as though his own part in the ascent of Pinochet – not to mention trying to bring about regime change in Vietnam through the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos – was nothing to be guilty about. Where was the contrition there?
The lesson appears to be that if you want to be shown compassion by Jack Straw, commit multiple murder and torture rather than present yourself as a defiant old lag. A man of straw indeed.