The Guardian – Former envoy drags Straw into torture row

The Guardian – Former envoy drags Straw into torture row (by Nick Paton Walsh)

The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has accused the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, of personally agreeing to the use of intelligence from the Uzbek government that had been obtained under torture.

Mr Murray claimed last night that Mr Straw had considered a complaint made by him in March 2003 about the Foreign Office’s use of intelligence from the Uzbek government that had been obtained through torture.

Mr Murray said: “I was called back [from Tashkent to London] to a meeting to discuss [the complaint] in March 2003 and I was told that Jack Straw had considered the issue … specifically and had decided it [the use of the information] should continue.”

Mr Murray was dismissed as Britain’s ambassador in Tashkent on Wednesday night after a 15-month dispute. He has vowed to take legal action.

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the claims raised “substantive issues, namely the use of material obtained under torture”. He said Mr Straw should give an explanation to the Commons.

Mr Murray, who says his opposition to the Foreign Office’s acceptance of such information led to his dismissal, has made a series of formal complaints to the Foreign Office since March 2003.

The latest, written in July, was leaked this week to the Financial Times. He wrote: “Tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe – that they and we are fighting the same war against terror … This is morally, legally and practically wrong.”

He told the Guardian: “No one [at the Foreign Office] has made a serious denial to me that information received from the Uzbeks was probably obtained under torture.”

He added that senior officials “have put it to me that even if information was obtained under torture it was legitimate in the context of the war on terrorism”.

“What worries me most about what has happened is that it sends a signal within the Foreign Office that you cannot argue from a liberal or human rights viewpoint on the war on terror without severe damage to your career.”

Mr Murray’s security clearance was withdrawn this week. Yet on Thursday he said he attended a meeting with his security vetting officer in which he and a union official were shown a report on his clearance which “carried a clear and unequivocal recommendation that my vetting be continued. There aren’t any issues around my security clearance. That was just a ruse to keep me in the country.”

The bitter battle with the Foreign Office began in July last year when Mr Murray was told to resign over 18 disciplinary charges. These ranged from being drunk at work to issuing visas to local women in exchange for sex. The charges were later dismissed.

Mr Murray has since had a nervous breakdown and says doctors have told him the stress partly caused him to have a near-fatal pulmonary embolism. This has led to the serious medical condition of pulmonary hypertension.

He said: “I have no doubt the extraordinary experience of the last year when the Foreign Office confronted me with these false charges, demanded I did not speak to anyone about it and demanded my resignation, has both damaged my health now and will shorten my life expectancy.”

He said he would sue for damage to his health and declined to put a figure on the damages, but said the loss of 15 years’ more earnings alone would come to ?750,000.

He continued his attack on the foreign secretary, saying that Foreign Office documents he had obtained under the Data Protection Act showed that Mr Straw was “regularly briefed on the progress of … the disciplinary charges against me and the demand that I resign my post”.

The Foreign Office declined to comment specifically on the allegations against Mr Straw and said it could not comment on other issues because of the prospect of legal proceedings.

Craig Murray

? Born in 1958

? After grammar school he attended the University of Dundee where he met his wife, Fiona

? He took the Foreign Office entrance exams in 1984 after a period as a student union leader. He passed the exams easily and served initially in the Foreign Office’s African department in 1985

? His first posting the following year was as second secretary to the Nigerian embassy before moving back to London in 1990

? In 1994 he was appointed first secretary in Warsaw where he spent three years. In 1998 he was made deputy head of the African department (equatorial)

? The following year he moved as deputy high commissioner in Accra, Ghana, where he spent three years. During this tenure he helped negotiate a peace deal in Sierra Leone for which he claims to have been offered – but turned down – an honour.

? In August 2002 he moved to Tashkent as ambassador to Uzbekistan. Since February he has been separated from his wife and in a relationship with a 23-year-old Uzbek woman

? He has two children and his personal interests include eccentric ties, single malt whisky and reading. His favourite band is Status Quo