Ian Cobain

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Ian Cobain (born 1960) is a British journalist, best known for his investigation into torture perpetrated by agents of the United Kingdom government, and for his reporting on the culture of secrecy[1][2] surrounding the British state, past[3] and present.[4]


Ian Cobain was born in Liverpool.[citation needed]


A journalist since the early 1980s, Cobain was the senior investigative reporter for The Guardian until August 2018.

He has reported on six wars,[5] including the 1991 Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan[6] and Iraq.[7] In September 2005, he revealed that the UK was supporting the CIA’s rendition programme[8] and in 2006, when he joined the BNP as part of an undercover investigation, he ended up being appointed central London organiser for the party, a position he swiftly resigned.[9]

Cobain's 2012 book Cruel Britannia documents a remarkable continuity of British involvement in torture over the last six decades: in Palestine, during and after World War II, in Cyprus, Kenya, Northern Ireland and in extraordinary rendition in the War on Terror.[10] Sir David Hare described it as "one of the most shocking and persuasive books of the year", Peter Oborne in the Spectator said, "Carefully researched and well-written… [Cobain] should be congratulated for addressing a subject which much of the rest of Fleet Street has been determined to ignore",[11] and the Sunday Times identified it as a "must-read" and declared it, "a fine study of the role Britain has played in the business of torture". The book won the Paddy Power/Total Politics Debut Political Book of the Year award.[12] His research into state secrecy has resulted in a second book, The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation, published by Portobello Books in late 2016.[citation needed]

As of 2019, Cobain was a journalist at Middle East Eye.[13]


Cobain was rejected from attending the 2019 DSEI international arms sales fair in London Docklands, on the grounds that he tweeted messages unfavourable to the arms trade and DSEI, and because it was "[suspected that] he [would] not write anything positive about DSEI".[13]


Cobain has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Journalism and won the Martha Gellhorn Prize and the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism, as well as two Amnesty International journalism awards,[14] and, with fellow Guardian journalist, Richard Norton-Taylor, a Human Rights Campaign of the Year Award from Liberty, for their "investigation into Britain's complicity in the use of torture".[15]


  • Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture, Portobello Books, 2012. ISBN 184627334X
  • The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation, Portobello Books, 2016. ISBN 1846275830


  1. ^ The Guardian, Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes
  2. ^ The Guardian,Ministry of Defence holds 66,000 files in breach of 30-year rule
  3. ^ The Guardian, Foreign Office hoarding 1m historic files in secret archive
  4. ^ The Guardian, Why is the crux of the Incedal case a secret? You're not allowed to know
  5. ^ National Council for the Training of Journalists, Alumni biographies: Ian Cobain
  6. ^ The Times, America will take no prisoners
  7. ^ Guardian, Who in Whitehall approved 'gloves-off' interrogation after 9/11?
  8. ^ Guardian, Destination Cairo: human rights fears over CIA flights
  9. ^ Guardian, Exclusive: inside the secret and sinister world of the BNP
  10. ^ Reviews: John Kampfner, Revelations of Britain's true record on torture make absorbing but depressing reading, Observer, 4 November 2012; Heather Brooke, The closed circle: Britain's culture of secrecy, New Statesman, 31 January 2013; Clive Stafford Smith, A history of Britain's involvement with torture is essential reading, Guardian, 23 November 2012; Stephen Howe, This admirable investigation into torture in the fraying empire will overturn myths, The Independent, 24 November 2012.
  11. ^ Spectator, Shameful home truths
  12. ^ Total Politics, Paddy Power & Total Politics Political Book Awards
  13. ^ a b Akkad, Dania (7 November 2019). "'See if he chases': Why Ian Cobain was actually banned from covering UK arms fair". Middle East Eye. Archived from the original on 9 November 2019. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  14. ^ "Sivia Casale, Ian Cobain and Malcolm Evans". Archived from the original on 20 June 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  15. ^ Liberty, List of previous winners

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