A history of state sponsored terrorism, torture, extra judicial murder, imprisonment without trial, eviction of British citizens from their homeland; just some of the crimes of the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher
Iran-Iraq War (1980 – 1988):
Throughout the 1980’s, during the war with Iran and even after the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja, Britain lavished all manner of favours on Saddam Hussain’s Iraq; the decade saw the UK provide £3.5 billion in trade credits to Baghdad, freeing up resources for the Iraqi military. Britain also sold Iraq £2.3 billions worth of machinery and transport equipment between 1981 and 1990. If one remembers at the time, farm machinery was a rather badly kept secret euphemism for military equipment. In fact British firms were part of a pan-european criminal network secretly supplying weapons and ammunition to both sides of the conflict.
The total value of UK arms contracts with the Iranians was worth over £1 billion. Like the current crisis in Syria, most European nations had imposed an embargo on arms shipments to Iran but for US and UK governments, and the elites behind them, there was a useful objective: to sustain the war and ensure neither side won. Without a ounce of compassion for the casualties of war tacit government approval was given to these arms deals, in other words Thatcher and Reagan were playing both sides of the conflict to guarantee profits for the military industrial complex. It should be remembered that during this time Thatcher was systematically dismantling the domestic industrial / manufacturing base whilst simultaneously gifting massive governments subsidies to ‘our’ weapons manufactures and exporters. This deadly trade continued throughout the 1980’s even when Iraq was ordering the destruction of 3,000 Kurdish villages in a gruesome terror campaign.
Less than six months after the poison gas atrocity of Halabja, Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe wrote a secret report to Thatcher claiming ‘opportunities for sales of defence equipment to Iran and Iraq will be considerable’. As one Foreign Office official noted at the time, ‘it would look very cynical if, so soon after expressing outrage about the treatment of the Kurds [at Halabja], we adopt a more flexible approach to arms sales’ so vital secrecy was maintained.
According to David Leigh and John Hooper writing for the Guardian in 2003, a chemical plant, a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal was secretly built by Britain in 1985. Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14 million plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production.
Senior officials recorded in writing that Saddam Hussein was actively gassing his opponents and that there was a “strong possibility” that the chlorine plant was intended by the Iraqis to make mustard gas. At the time, Saddam was known to be gassing Iranian troops in their thousands in the Iran-Iraq war.
But ministers in the then Thatcher government none the less secretly gave financial backing to the British company involved, Uhde Ltd, through insurance guarantees. Paul Channon, then trade minister, concealed the existence of the chlorine plant contract from the US administration, which was pressing for controls on such exports.
He also instructed the export credit guarantee department (ECGD) to keep details of the deal secret from the public. The papers show that Mr Channon rejected a strong plea from a Foreign Office minister, Richard Luce, that the deal would ruin Britain’s image in the world if news got out: “I consider it essential everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale and to deny the company concerned ECGD cover”.
The Ministry of Defence also weighed in, warning that it could be used to make chemical weapons. But Mr Channon, in line with Mrs Thatcher’s policy of propping up the dictator, said: “A ban would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good”.
The secrecy, it must be understood, is to ensure the public, you and I, are always kept in the dark. While there is no public scrutiny, meaning no democratic accountability, those in power will continue with such policies leading to huge suffering around the world. You see, a well-informed public is the real threat to elite interests. Thatcher’s press spokesman, Bernard Ingham, exposed this policy of secrecy when he told American journalists in an off-the-record briefing:
There is no freedom of information in this country; there’s no public right to know. There’s a commonsense idea of how to run a country and Britain is full of commonsense people … Bugger the public’s right to know. The game is the security of the state – not the public’s right to know.
‘Stealing a Nation’:
One of the most disgraceful episodes in British foreign policy, of which Thatcher was a co-conspirator, was the forced eviction of some 2,000 Illois people from their homeland, the beautiful Chagos island group (formerly part of the Territory of Mauritius) in the Indian ocean.
In blatant violation of UN Resolution 2066XX, which reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of the Territory of Mauritius to freedom and independence in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), Britain created a new colony in the 1960’s – the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Mark Curtis explains in his outstanding book, Web of Deceit, which uses declassified government papers to piece together the buried truth:
This included the Chagos island group which was detached from Mauritius, and other islands detached from the Seychelles. Mauritius had been granted independence by Britain in 1965 on the barely concealed condition that London be allowed to buy the Chagos island group from it – Britain gave Mauritius £3 million.
In December 1966 the Wilson government signed a military agreement with the US leasing the BIOT to it for military purposes for fifty years with the option of a further twenty years. Britain thus ignored UN Resolution 2066XV passed by the General Assembly in December 1965 which called on the UK ‘to take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity’.
Beginning in 1968, consecutive British governments have denied the truth of this gross violation of human rights; consecutive British governments have abandoned their own citizens and watched their desperate situation grow worse by the year; consecutive British governments have conspired to misinform the UK public and deny the right of the people of Diego Garcia to ever return home. The Chagosians were described by a Foreign Office official in a secret file: ‘unfortunately along with birds go some few Tarzans or man Fridays whose origins are obscure’. The deceit continued decade after decade. In 1990 the Iron Lady herself deliberately lied when she told the house of commons that:
Those concerned worked on the former copra plantations in the Chagos archipelago. After the plantations closed between 1971 and 1973 they and their families were resettled in Mauritius and given considerable financial assistance. Their future now lies in Mauritius.
It’s clear to most of us that a different set of principles apply here when compared to the Falklanders. The removal of the Chagosians violated articles 9 and 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which stated that ‘no one should be subjected to arbitrary exile’ and ‘everybody has the right to return to his country’, among others. As Mark Curtis astutely observes, high principles are defended only where violations occur against us. They rarely apply (or are even mentioned) in cases where the British government commits them. This hypocracy is examined in detail in David Cromwell’s book Why Are We The God Guys:
One of the unspoken assumptions of the Western world is that ‘we’ are great defenders of human rights, a free press and the benefits of market economics. Mistakes might be made along the way, perhaps even tragic errors of judgement such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the prevailing view is that ‘the West’ is essentially a force for good in the wider world. Why Are We The Good Guys? is a provocative challenge to this false ideology. The book digs beneath standard accounts of crucial issues such as foreign policy, climate change and the constant struggle between state-corporate power and genuine democracy.
And so for the truth one need only read the books of Mark Curtis, Medialens’ Davids Edwards and Cromwell or look to the investigative journalist and documentary film maker John Pilger, in particular his 2004 documentary ‘Stealing a Nation’:
The Special Relationship
The Thatcher government strongly supported US aggression, including death squads responsible for raping and killing countless civilians in Central America. In 1984 she stated that ‘We support the United States’ aim to promote peaceful change, democracy and economic development’. The true US aim of destroying all hope of peaceful change and economic development had become abundantly clear by this time; the CIA’s creation of the contra terrorist army in Nicaragua and the backing of murderous regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala left no doubt.
Other acts of US aggression were supported by Thatcher. In 1986 she allowed the US to use British airbases for the bombing of Libya – an act of state terrorism without any rationale other than to kill Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi. At 2am on April 15th warplanes struck the Gaddafi family residence, wounding several of his family members and killing his 15 month old daughter. The US planes also bombed a civilian apartment complex, miles from any military targets (as if that matters), killing dozens of children as they slept. Unbelievably, Thatcher described this outrageous state terrorism as an act taken ‘in self defence’.
Thatcher’s Britain was the only major state to publicly support the US invasion of Panama in 1989. The 1983 US invasion of Grenada caused minor ripples of concern since Washington had effectively gone to war with a commonwealth country without informing London in advance, but she was careful not to criticise the invasion in public.
Further to the south, in Chile, Thatcher gave totally unwarranted support and protection to General Pinochet when he was arrested while in London. The Spanish were looking to extradite him following his indictment for human rights violations in his native Chile. This was the first time that several European judges applied the principle of universal jurisdiction, declaring themselves competent to judge crimes committed by former heads of state, despite local amnesty laws. Alas Thatcher thwarted their attempts to bring a brutal dictator to justice.
The violent coup which brought Pinochet to power (the other September the 11th) occurred while Thatcher was busy climbing the greasy pole of politics. She would have been fully aware that British supplied jets dropped bombs on the government buildings in Santiago no doubt killing the democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende. As in all western interventions, prior and since, the elites could not allow an example of a successful non-aligned economic model to prosper. They simply cannot have a nation putting people before profit when they have their neoliberal single-ideology totalitarian state to maintain.
Ding Dong The Witch is Dead
Others I’m sure will have much more to say on how her policies affected various groups in British and Irish society. Internment cannot be ignored, the miners struggle cannot be ignored, the workers in the ship yards and the auto industry, the families of all those affected by her deliberate boom and bust – all Maggie’s victims. Their pain and suffering will scarcely be mentioned in tomorrow’s papers, if at all.
It’s incredible to see the corporate media fawn over the news of Thatcher’s demise – in stark contrast to the coverage of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. This was highlighted by the Medialens alert ‘Death of a Bogeyman – The Corporate Media Bury Hugo Chavez’. Can you imagine, for instance, the Guardian printing ‘To the millions who detested her as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.’?
For those intent on looking back with rose tinted spectacles, claiming Thatcher’s policies were relatively benign, we need merely look around us today, for we are, all of us, still living in a Thatcheresque era – forget post Thatcherism!
Thanks to Maggie, so many areas of our national life and public services have become simply investments for someone’s profit. Privatisation programmes kick started in the early eighties have created private monopolies and handed over key economic infrastructure to profit-seeking corporations with minimal or ineffective regulation. Increasing trade liberalisation and international competition is creating a ‘race to the bottom’ in labour rights, resulting in exploitation for many and arguably debt serfdom for most.
Can we ignore the NHS being privatised piece by piece, can we ignore the relentless attacks on the poor and working class, the continued subversion of the trade union movement, the decimation of the welfare state and the media’s stigmatisation of all those forced to make use of what’s left of it? Can we look away as the racist anti-immigration laws are pushed through? Can we fail to see the exoneration and glorification of the priests of high finance and international capitalism, the protection and perpetual financial support of the too-big-to-fail banks and transnational corporations? Dare we ignore the erosion of our civil liberties, the torture, secret trials, extraordinary rendition, state sponsored assassinations and illegal military interventions, the covert war on the global south or the illegal arms trade? This is happening right now and the devastating effects touch all our lives!
A UNICEF study in 2000 notes that the number of children living in poverty rose from 1.4 million at the start of the Thatcher era to more than three million now. According to the OECD, three terms with Thatcher at the helm left Britain with the worst poverty record in the developed world.
I agree with Ken Loach and George Galloway when they suggest:
“Let’s privatise her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. Its what she would have wanted.” – Ken Loach
“Tramp the dirt down” – George Galloway