Foreign Office mandarins may well be irritated by the undiplomatic behaviour of Craig Murray, who has been formally removed as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. But he has raised a vital issue that lies at the heart of the “war on terror” and this country’s role in it. Mr Murray’s complaint, unrelated to questions about his professional performance, private life and health, is that MI6 has been using bogus intelligence obtained under torture by a government with a dire human rights record. His objections, raised in an internal FCO memo and amplified in media interviews yesterday, is that this practice should be eschewed on moral, legal and practical grounds.
Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic of 26 million people, has found its strategic importance greatly enhanced by the way the world has changed since 9/11. President Islam Karimov now plays host to a US base that is crucial to military operations in neighbouring Afghanistan. But violence has also come to his own backyard, with bomb blasts and shoot-outs in Tashkent and near the Silk Road city of Bukhara. Uzbek officials insist they are fighting militants linked to al-Qaida. Foreigners point to poverty and the imprisonment of dissident Muslims angered by a crackdown on those who worship outside state-run mosques. Every year about 200 people are executed in Uzbekistan, with the killings carried out in secret and families denied a last meeting with convicted relatives. Amnesty International receives regular and credible allegations of unfair trials, ill-treatment and torture – described as “endemic” by a UN envoy – often to extract confessions. The information – “dross,” says this renegade diplomat- is passed to the US, and thence to UK intelligence and security bodies.
Mr Murray’s complaint fits into a broader and worrying pattern that is visible both at home and abroad. The Guant?namo Bay and Abu Ghreib prison scandals have done much to tarnish the legitimate effort to prevent terrorist atrocities. The law lords are due to rule shortly on the highly controversial question of whether British courts may use evidence extracted under torture as long as British agents are not complicit in the abuse. It is only three weeks since Sir Ivor Roberts, the British ambassador to Italy, described George Bush as al-Qaida’s best recruiting sergeant, though his remarks were made in private. The more junior Mr Murray has been bolder in speaking out publicly. His career prospects – and an eventual knighthood – are now looking distinctly uncertain. But he has performed a valuable public service by following the dictates of his conscience.