- Craig Murray is a very undiplomatic diplomat. Former
ambassadors are supposed to be tending their flowers in Home Counties gardens,
but this one is not. He is, instead, making extraordinary allegations,
the most damaging of which is that Britain is using information obtained
from torture to imprison people indefinitely. So convinced is he of the
truth of this and other claims that he plans to stand against his former
employer, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, at the general election.
- Not for this man the emollient, languorous language normally
associated with his profession. Our former ambassador in Uzbekistan is
nothing if not forthright. "Unreliable information, obtained under
torture in countries where it is routine, can be used against people in
Britain," he told The Independent on Sunday in his first interview
since leaving the Foreign Office last week with a £315,000 payoff.
"On the basis of such information, they can be detained in Belmarsh
prison or in future be put under house arrest for life. It impacts here
in the UK."
- The departure of Mr Murray, 46, from the diplomatic service
is the culmination of an extraordinary two-year battle with his masters.
His public denunciations of the Uzbek regime, and private complaints at
American and British support for it, led to a confrontation in which he
was accused of drunkenness and trading visas for sex with local women,
and told to "resign or be sacked". The charges were leaked; when
his marriage broke up over his relationship with a 23-year-old Uzbek hairdresser,
Nadira Alieva, who now lives with him, that got out too. Now he plans to
expose Britain's "hypocrisy" in the "war on terror".
- "We have abandoned the notion of a foreign policy
based on the rule of international law, in favour of one which says might
is right, that there is one superpower and we'll be its best friend,"
he says. "I want to put these issues in front of the voters."
- The ex-envoy's stand is almost the only sign of dissent
in official circles over Britain's role as America's closest partner in
the "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq. Not only has the
Government departed from European human rights law to detain foreign terror
suspects without trial, it is implicated in what critics call a "web
of illegality" spun by the Bush administration. The abuses at Abu
Ghraib prison near Baghdad created a scandal, but evidence continues to
emerge that this was simply the worst example of a pattern of mistreatment
that extends from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to Bagram in Afghanistan and other
facilities around the world, some undisclosed, in which hundreds of suspects
are held in legal limbo.
- The latest revelations concern the practice of "extraordinary
rendition". Using unmarked planes, the CIA is delivering prisoners
to regimes which practise torture and then making use of the information
produced. "There is increasing evidence that America is shipping people
round the world to be tortured," Mr Murray says. "I saw it in
Uzbekistan because I happened to be there, but it's also happening in countries
like Egypt and Saudi Arabia."
- Britain is unapologetic about making use of such information.
The Foreign Office line is that while it totally condemns torture, it cannot
rule out using any reliable intelligence, wherever it comes from, if it
will save lives. But it is the reliability of the information that Mr Murray
questions. In a scathing final memo to the Foreign Office, he wrote: "We
receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence
services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured
dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government
wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same
war against terror ... we are selling our souls for dross."
- Eight months later, he says: "What really seems
to have angered them is that I was disputing the quality of the intelligence
they were receiving. I began saying this at the time Britain was putting
forward its dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They were keen
on intelligence that exaggerated the threat." He adds that he has
"a good deal of experience" in intelligence analysis. "During
the first Gulf war, I worked full-time on analysing Iraq and its WMD."
- Mr Murray was Britain's youngest ambassador when he was
appointed to Tashkent in mid-2002, and it did not take him long to realise
the nature of the regime. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the
old Communist Party boss, Islam Karimov, remains in charge of a Stalinist
dictatorship which treats all devout Muslims as potential subversives,
and has been known to boil prisoners alive. A couple of weeks after he
arrived, the new ambassador attended a political trial, at which he met
an old man. "Two of his children had been tortured in front of him
until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden,"
he told the Foreign Office. "Tears were streaming down his face. I
have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do."
- After three months he said publicly that Uzbekistan was
"not a functioning democracy". The major political parties were
banned, and there were between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious
prisoners. The Americans - who were pouring money, warplanes and military
personnel into Uzbekistan, valuing its position near central Asia's huge
reserves of oil and gas - were upset, but in public the Foreign Office
- Behind the scenes, however, he was getting into a worsening
dispute with his employers over the question of torture. In October or
November 2002, he says, he saw intelligence about an Uzbek dissident, his
cell and its connections with Bin Laden. "I could see from the codes
that it had gone from Uzbek intelligence to the CIA, and was then issued
by MI6 as part of intelligence sharing. I remembered the old man, and a
light went on." He sent his deputy to check with the CIA head of station
in Tashkent whether the agency had any safeguards against receiving information
obtained under torture. "He told her, yes, it probably is obtained
under torture, but the CIA doesn't see that as a problem."
- Mr Murray says he was probably naive. "I honestly
thought that it was only a matter of pointing out to London how this material
was sourced, and they wouldn't have any truck with it." But he heard
nothing from the Government, which was preoccupied with the rush to war
in Iraq. After several more complaints, he was summoned to London for a
meeting at the Foreign Office in March 2003. He was told the information
was useful and not illegal to obtain, although it could not be used in
a court of law. His line manager later told him he was "unpatriotic".
- He continued to speak out about human rights in Uzbekistan
until the Foreign Office accusations against him - later withdrawn - and
the subsequent breakdown of his health, which kept him in London for most
of the second half of 2003. When he returned to Tashkent, he says, he was
determined to "keep my head down". But after the Abu Ghraib revelations
last year, which led the Foreign Office to remind its diplomats that they
should report torture by allies, he discovered that a meeting in London,
which he had not been told about or asked to attend, had decided to continue
receiving Uzbek intelligence material.
- "This is morally, legally and practically wrong,"
he wrote in his final memo. "It exposes as hypocritical our post-Abu
Ghraib pronouncements and undermines our moral standing. It obviates my
efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture [if] they are fully
aware our intelligence community laps up the results." When this memo
was leaked to the press, the Foreign Office argued that he could no longer
stay in Tashkent.
- Now he is free to pursue the issue as a private citizen,
Mr Murray says: "We argue that we don't carry out or instigate torture
ourselves, but if information from it comes our way, we won't refuse it.
But in criminal law, when a known thief asks you to buy a stolen TV for
£10, it is no defence to say that I didn't ask him to steal it and
I wasn't there when he stole it - I just bought the stolen goods."
- ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.