In the kabuki theatre of British parliamentary politics, great crimes do not happen and criminals go free. It is theatre after all; the pirouettes matter, not actions taken at remove in distance and culture from their consequences. It is a secure arrangement guarded by cast and critics alike. The farewell speech of one of the most artful, Tony Blair, had “a sense of moral conviction running through it”, effused the television presenter Jon Snow, as if Blair’s appeal to Kabuki devotees was mystical. That he was a war criminal was irrelevant.
The suppression of Blair’s criminality and that of his administrations is described in Gareth Peirce’s Dispatches from the Dark Side: on torture and the death of justice, published in paperback this month by Verso. Peirce is Britain’s most distinguished human rights lawyer; her pursuit of infamous miscarriages of justice and justice for the victims of state crimes, such as torture and rendition, is unsurpassed. What is unusual about this accounting of what she calls the “moral and legal pandemonium” in the wake of 9/11 is that, in drawing on the memoirs of Blair and Alistair Campbell, Cabinet minutes and MI6 files, she applies the rule of law to them.