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Kenyan Death-Squads: A Legacy of the War on Terror

17/12/2014 00:51 GMT | Updated 15/02/2015 10:59 GMT

It came as little surprise that the official inquiry into the circumstances that led to the Woolwich attack paid scant attention to the role UK intelligence played in the abuse of Michael Adebolajo in Kenya. In his court appearance last December Michael Adebolajo himself did not mention whether or not the incident had an impact on his own thinking in the run-up to Woolwich.

With Adebolajo silent on the issue, the security services typically tight-lipped, and the Intelligence and Security Committee once again failing to do its job properly - which is to hold the security services to account - we know little about what actually took place in the port-town of Lamu in 2012 except for what CAGE and a friend of Adebolajo, Abu Nusaybah said at the time.

A new documentary by AlJazeera Investigations, Inside Kenya's Death Squads, doesn't help us answer the lingering questions over Adebolajo. But it gives us reason to believe that his alleged abuse was most probably on the lighter side of what Kenyan authorities are prepared to do in the name of the War on Terror.

'If the law cannot work, there is another option', says a member of the notorious General Service Unit, a paramilitary wing of the Kenyan army. Targets are 'eliminated in front of their families.'

Given Obama's efforts to recast the War on Terror in a shroud of secrecy, having five of these men talk openly and candidly about their experiences of conducting extra-judicial killing adds real value. It's also funny at times.

The reporter Simon Boazman confronts a police spokesperson about the allegations, and we get something we might otherwise find in a Jeremy Paxman greatest moments YouTube video. In a reversal of fortunes for the police, the dithering, vacillating spokesperson pleads the right to remain silent but is denied several times. 'Allow me not to go into that' he begs. Boazman retorts, 'With all due respect I cannot allow you to not go into that.'

And refuse him he must, for these are serious allegations. One death squad member even boasts 'we don't arrest' suggesting that his unit does not even detain and torture, it just kills.

The film devotes a whole section to how Kenya fits into the global intelligence cobweb. This is timely given the release of a major report into the CIA's torture and rendition programme, which Kenya played a part in. We are told that Britain gives part of its $30 million overseas counter-terrorism budget to Kenya, and trains in surveillance techniques elite Kenyan units for up to three months. By training 'in advanced ways of getting information' Kenyan security forces who have no regard for due process or basic rights, the British are helping the Kenyans to pinpoint targets who will then be 'eliminated' by their merciless forces.

Though the Foreign Office has tried to distance itself from all this by repeating the mantra that it takes the allegations against Kenya 'seriously', the British relationship with Kenya has been dogged by allegations of torture and complicity throughout the War on Terror. The ISC report into Woolwich goes as far as to admit that British authorities have 'a close relationship' with the Kenyan Anti-terrorism Police Unit or ATPU.

The Americans also offer support, as do the Israelis. In fact, Israel has done such a good job at exposing unwanted MI6 and CIA activity in the country that the Kenyans have struck up a 'special relationship' with them.

After all, they face similar 'threats'. Kenya's stems from their western-backed invasion of Somalia in 2006 where they attempted to remove the popular Islamic Courts Union. The abuses suffered by Somali's paved the way for the rise of Al-Shabab who Kenya still fight today. Somalis, particularly outspoken ones living in Kenya soon became the subject of increased discrimination, forced disappearances and killing by Kenyan authorities - further leading to al-Shabab claiming responsibility for attacks on Kenyan soil and a spiral of violence that still continues. (Stories of western-backed regimes trying to oust popular Islamic movements from power are not, of course, limited to the horn of Africa.)

The extra-judicial killing of outspoken figures has become so common-place in Kenya that one imam said he knew he would be killed as part of a 'cleansing'. Abu Bakr Shariff Ahmed also known as Makaburi said that 'any sheikh that speaks about Islam - including jihad - is killed.' That he was never convicted of terrorism, despite several attempts by the authorities, was not enough to prevent his assassination earlier on this year.

The film ends with a sense of foreboding: Makaburi's son boasts about how successful he has been at recruiting young people for mosque activities.

A death squad member who has been shown this clip then replies: 'That boy is on the spot. He'll be killed in a way that he just disappears. He will be eaten and forgotten'. There's every reason to believe Makaburi's son won't last for long either.