A Very British Massacre

David Anderson, Huw Bennett and Daniel Branch believe that the Freedom of Information Act is being used to protect the perpetrators of a war crime that took place in Kenya fifty years ago.

With members of a US Marine unit facing courts martial following the deaths of twenty-four Iraqi civilians at Al-Haditha, accusations of an attempted ‘cover-up’ have become as significant as the atrocity itself. Concealment implies complicity, and if American military commanders are shown to have knowingly concealed the truth about the massacre, then the political damage within Iraq could be irreparable.

The US commanders in Iraq are not the first to be confronted with the dilemma of whether to face up to a military atrocity, or bury the story along with the bodies. Fifty years ago, when Britain was fighting colonial wars in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus, concealment was altogether easier. This article tells the story of an atrocity committed by British military forces in colonial Kenya, a tale that has echoes of Al-Haditha. But whereas the perpetrators of the Iraqi massacre are to face trial, the story of the shooting of twenty Kenyan civilians at Chuka in June 1953 has been hidden behind a veil of official secrecy.  

Evidence on these events should have been released into the Public Record Office in 1984. The file was withheld by the Ministry of Defence and marked for closure until 2038. Requests under the Freedom of Information Act secured its release in January 2006, and we can now re­con­struct the disturbing story of the Chuka massacre. But not everything on this file has been revealed: and that raises tough questions about the culpability of the British Army in colonial war crimes, official secrecy, and the inadequacies of Freedom of Information legislation. 

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