Sunday Herald – Ex-ambassador slams Straw over torture

BBC Sunday Herald – Ex-ambassador slams Straw over torture (by Alan Crawford)

FOREIGN Secretary Jack Straw has abandoned all pretence of an ethical foreign policy, and the government’s condemnation of torture “doesn’t mean anything”, a former British ambassador has told the Sunday Herald.

Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan who last week announced he would stand against Jack Straw in the general election, was speaking after receiving ?315,000 in red undancy pay from the Foreign and Commonwealth Off ice. He insists the pay-off means he has been exonerated of misbehaviour in speaking out about human rights abuses in the former Soviet republic and accusing the UK government of using intelligence obtained by torture.

“The UN has said torture is widespread and systematic in Uzbekistan. But the Uzbeks know fine that their security services are passing on to the CIA and MI6 the results of the torture, and they’re lapping them up,” Murray said.

“So even though the Foreign Office will tell you, ‘Oh, we have condemned torture in Uzbekistan’, it doesn’t mean anything, because by accepting the intelligence you are tipping them the wink to carry on.”

He added: “I think Jack Straw has chucked any notion of an ethical foreign policy completely out of the window.”

Murray, 46, a Scot and graduate of Dundee University, also criticised the Home Office decision to place suspects under house arrest without trial on the basis of intelligence reports, saying that the reliability of evidence obtained under torture was “questionable”.

“One thing that’s so horrible about this whole thing is that this kind of evidence obtained under torture is the kind of material that’s being used to keep these poor people locked up for three years without trial and without charge on the basis on intelligence reports,” he said.

“What they don’t tell you is that that was probably some poor bugger in prison in Egypt with electrodes on his testicles, screaming in agony, who named a name to try and stop the torture.”

Murray has been a controversial figure since late 2002, when, just a few months after taking up his posting, he publicised his fears that “brutality” was rife in Uzbek jails and highlighted a case where two men had been boiled to death.

In March 2003 he was summoned to the Foreign Office, where, he says, he was told that “yes, [intelligence] may be obtained under torture, but provided we didn’t specifically ask for the individual to be tortured or do the torturing ourselves, that’s not illegal. And that Jack Straw had personally considered the matter and the security services decided this was useful material, so we should keep getting it and I should shut up.”

He did not, and later faced a disciplinary hearing on unrelated allegations of financial corruption, being drunk on duty and having sex with Uzbek women in return for UK visas. He was subsequently exonerated, but not before he suffered a nervous breakdown .

The only explanation for the allegations, he claims, was that the Foreign Office “simply invented them to scare me into resigning”.

Murray, who is to speak to students at Dundee University tomorrow, is to contest the Foreign Secretary’s Blackburn seat at the general election .

“I’ll be standing as an independent under the slogan ‘No to George Bush’,” he said. “If people want to send a strong message of disquiet about the government’s foreign policy, there’s no better way to do that than to unseat Jack Straw.”

Murray is hard on Straw, but harder still on the US. He accuses the US campaign to spread democracy worldwide of “total hypocrisy” in supporting client states which practise torture, such as Uzbekistan .

Islam Karimov, the Uzbek president, was largely ignored by the West until after 9/11, since when he has been supported by Washington.

” The Uzbek regime is very substantially propped up by the Americans,” Murray said. “It receives hundreds of millions of dollars a year in American aid, including military aid and aid to its security services. It has several thousand US troops in the country. ”

Murray said the US risked creating a fundamentalist Isla mic state by supporting Karimov. “People don’t see any means of opposition except for the underground Islamic movement. I think by our stupid support for the dictatorship we are going to create a radical Islamic movement where there wasn’t much of one before,” he said.

“Iran under the Shah is a good example, where the West was backing the Shah despite the fact he was ultra-unpopular, and an Islamic movement grew up which was terribly anti-Western. I fear the same will happen in Uzbekistan . ”