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Editorial: Will the former Crown Prosecutor round on British paramilitaries?

THE Metropolitan Police has “received a referral concerning war crimes alleged to have been committed by British mercenaries in Sri Lanka during the 1980s.”

This follows concerns raised by the UN working group on mercenaries and a request for information about what criminal measures were being taken by the British authorities to “combat impunity.”

A very long period that has elapsed since a British-trained paramilitary unit killed 85 people in a 1987 massacre at a prawn farm in Kokkadicholai, eastern Sri Lanka.

A private British firm also hired British pilots who flew helicopter gunships on combat missions, including an alleged raid on the village of Piramanthanaru, northern Sri Lanka, in which 16 people died in 1985.

We can speculate on the reasons for the long delay and the tardy response by the British authorities, but suspicions naturally are raised by accounts of the involvement of former SAS and British special forces personnel.

There is an absolutely iron rule employed by states when it comes to the deployment of armed bodies of men.

The state reserves for itself a complete monopoly of the use of force. In a sense this is the defining characteristic of the modern state and where this monopoly is contested — for example where guerilla movements control territory, or in the case of the US presently, where armed force is distributed among contending centres of authority — a political crisis inevitably arises.

In the absence of such a crisis, or a political contest over the exercise of armed force, we can be assured that the state, at some level, sanctions the activities of these armed bodies of men. Thus the US contracts out its operations in various Middle Eastern territories to private corporations. So does the British government, most usually in areas where it was the former colonial power and where today British capital has powerful interests.

It will interesting to see if the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service presently leading the opposition in Parliament might deploy his famously forensic skills to unveil whatever truths are buried in this affair.

It is the mid-point in August and soon we will experience what French trade unionists call the “rentree sociale” — the renewal of political life and the more open clash of classes.

The new general secretary of the Labour Party has laid down the limits to the revival of party life with the advice that as constituency parties and branches are now able to meet online there should be no discussion of the settlement reached recently with seven former members of staff who appeared on Panorama and with the journalist who hosted that programme.

Motions relating to these settlements are “not competent business for discussion by local parties.”

Local party officers are warned of the potential liabilities to them should the allegations that have now been withdrawn by the national party be repeated.

Local parties are informed that the party has confidentially received the EHRC draft report into allegations of anti-semitism in the party and that speculation on its contents are not “competent business for CLPs to discuss.”

In addition, motions that seek to “repudiate” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-semitism are “not competent business for CLPs or branches.” Also prohibited is any discussion about ongoing disciplinary cases.

These issues go to the heart of Labour’s politics. It is idiotic to ban discussion of them.

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