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Brit envoy says UK lied on torture

By United Press International   |   Dec. 30, 2005 at 3:21 PM
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LONDON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- The British government was accused Friday of lying over its connivance at the use of torture by one of its own ambassadors.

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, has posted on his personal website a series of documents that the British government sought to suppress and that appear to buttress his charges.

They include a document signed by the legal adviser to Britain's Foreign Office, Sir Michael Wood, which denies that it is "an offence under the U.N. Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture."

The documents also include a formal memo to his superiors at the Foreign Office in which Murray states the reason why the British continued to accept intelligence from Uzbekistan that had been acquired as a result of torturing detainees.

"On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror," says Murray's memo.

"I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong," Murray's memo continues. "It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture. They are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results. We should cease all cooperation with the Uzbek Security Services. They are beyond the pale."

Murray decided to publish the material on his website because the Foreign Office was withholding permission to cite them in a book he has written.

Murray also cites his political superior, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, telling his constituents in the northern city of Blackburn during this year's British general election campaign: "The British government does not support torture in any circumstances. Full stop. We do not support the obtaining of intelligence by torture, or its use."

The case of the whistle-blowing ambassador made a stir in Britain when it began over two years ago, with Murray sending back highly critical reports of the Uzbek government's use of torture as both wrong and politically foolish. Murray claimed it was fueling the very Islamist militancy the government repression was supposed to suppress.

"In March 2003 I was summoned back to London from Tashkent specifically for a meeting at which I was told to stop protesting," Murray writes. "I was told specifically that it was perfectly legal for us to obtain and to use intelligence from the Uzbek torture chambers."

"After this meeting Sir Michael Wood, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's legal adviser, wrote to confirm this position. This minute from Michael Wood is perhaps the most important document that has become public about extraordinary rendition. It is irrefutable evidence of the government's use of torture material, and that I was attempting to stop it. It is no wonder that the government is trying to suppress this," Murray adds.

Murray also posts on his website some of his confidential reports to the Foreign Office and the British Cabinet Office in London from his embassy in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. One of them, dated Sept. 16, 2002, and marked 'Confidential' says:

"Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water."

Murray's decision to publish the documents also implicates the United States, Britain's closest ally. In another confidential report to London, dated 18 March 2003, Murray wrote: "As seen from Tashkent, U.S. policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan, the United States pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth."

"Last year the United States gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail (President Islam) Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom."

"Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the U.S. agenda here," Murray goes on. "While the U.S. makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov's vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He - and they - are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West? "

"I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva," Murray adds. "I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened."

Murray has also published the full text of the memo from the legal adviser, Sir Michael Wood, dated 13 March 2003, and headed "UZBEKISTAN: INTELLIGENCE POSSIBLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE."

It reads, in full:

"1. Your record of our meeting with Her Majesty's Ambassador (in) Tashkent recorded that Craig (Murray) had said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.

2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing is article 15 which provides:

"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."

3. This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.

[signed]

M C Wood

Legal Adviser."

Murray later comments: "I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in an organization where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture."

Murray was ordered home from his post in October 2004, shortly after a press report quoted him as claiming that British intelligence used intelligence gained by the Uzbek authorities by torture. The Foreign Office said that was not the cause of his removal and Murray had been brought back to Britain for "operational" reasons, adding that he had lost the confidence of senior officials and colleagues.

Murray then went public, telling the media that he was a "victim of conscience." The Foreign Office then accused him of "gross misconduct" for criticizing it in public. Murray finally resigned from the Foreign Office in February of this year, and stood for Parliament against Foreign Secretary Straw in April, receiving just 5 percent of the vote, but embarrassing Straw before the Foreign Secretary's many Muslim constituents.

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