25 JUNE

BRITAIN APPROVES THE ‘DILUTION TECHNIQUE’ OF TORTURE IN KENYA

Sir Evelyn Baring, inspects troops of the King’s African Rifles in 1957.
© IWM (MAU 240).

[ 25 June 1957 ]

On 25 June 1957, Kenya’s governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, wrote to Alan Lennox-Boyd, the Colonial Secretary, seeking his approval for the ‘dilution technique’ – a method of subjecting detainees to gruesome physical torture without leaving long lasting marks or causing permanent injury.  Baring explained he felt the use of such torture methods essential if Kenya’s anti-colonial Mau Mau insurgency was to be crushed.

The colony’s Attorney General, Eric Griffith-Jones, who had drafted the original proposals, stressed that it was vital that they remain secret.  ‘If we are going to sin,’ he urged Baring, ‘we must sin quietly.’ There was good reason for his concern. Three months earlier, Kenya’s War Council, deliberating on the implications of the proposed techniques, noted that officials involved in its implementation ‘may well be in danger of prosecution as a result of incidents occurring during the process.’ It was obvious therefore that any public disclosure would invite legal action.1 The ‘dilution technique’ proscribed a method of inflicting abuse and beatings with care. Vulnerable body parts such as the spleen, liver and kidneys were not to be targeted and the torturer was at all times to remain ‘collected, balanced and dispassionate.’  Rather Griffith-Jones suggested that if someone protested he would have ‘a foot placed on his throat and mud stuffed in his mouth… (and) in the last resort knocked unconscious.’2

Lennox-Boyd voiced no objection to the proposals which therefore obtained full legal sanction shortly afterwards.  The borderline of what was deemed ‘safe’ torture was subject to different interpretations.  The following month one official reported that  ‘I myself saw one man lifted up by an officer to shoulder height and thrown down on the ground on his back three times. I should have thought that this was potentially dangerous.’  Kenya’s Commissioner of Prisons was also concerned. He stressed the serious legal risks for the torturers and urged that all officers involved should receive legal immunity since ‘there might easily be a fatal accident.’3

Within months, his fears were justified as evidence surfaced of a number of deaths from beatings by officials supposedly trained in administering the ‘dilution technique.’  A typical example is that of Sam Githu, who was found guilty of killing  Abugi Njuma at Aguthi detention camp and who received a two year prison sentence. A key witness commented in mitigation that Guthu had been deliberately chosen for the job because he possessed a ‘certain degree of ruthlessness.’  European settlers felt that even the two year prison sentence was excessively harsh, commenting that ‘any rough stuff which occurred at Aguthi was mild compared to the reception treatment given to detainees at the Mwea and Government authority (detention camps).’ 4

FOOTNOTES

  1. Witness Statement of Caroline Macy Elkins in the High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division, Ndiku, Mitua and 4 Other and Foreign and Commonwealth Office    p. 34-35 https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Prof-Elkins-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf and Ian Cobain, The History Thieves: Secret, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation, Portobello, London, 2017, pp. 110-111.
  2. Cited in Ian Cobain, Ibid., p. 110
  3. Witness Statement of Caroline Macy Elkins in the High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division, Ndiku, Mitua and 4 Other and Foreign and Commonwealth Office    p. 35 https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Prof-Elkins-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf
  4. Witness Statement of Caroline Macy Elkins in the High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division, Ndiku, Mitua and 4 Other and Foreign and Commonwealth Office    pp. 36-37  https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Prof-Elkins-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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