Monthly archives: April 2005


Tell Jack Straw To Hit The Road! National Demonstration Against Our Torture-Tainted Foreign Secretary – Blackburn – 2.30pm Saturday 30th April

Assemble at Bangor Street Community Centre, Whalley Range, Blackburn BB1 6NZ for a march on Jack’s Home Turf.

There will be speeches by Independent antiwar candidate Craig Murray and local community leaders.

Contact the Craig Murray Campaign on 01254 695 919 to find out more!

LATEST NEWS – FREE coach travel from Keighley, Bradford, Leeds and surrounding areas. BRADFORD – meet 10.30am outside Grove Library, Bradford College. KEIGHLEY – meet 12pm outside Medina Mosque, LEEDS – Call 07815 107351. Coaches are being provided from other major cities and towns ‘ If you are interested please e-mail [email protected] for more information.

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Muslims to march over terror laws

BBC Online– Muslims to march over terror laws: Thousands of Muslims are set to march through London and Blackburn in protest at anti-terror legislation… The demonstrations have been organised by a number of organisations including Stop Political Terror and Islamic Human Rights Commission… Protesters up in Blackburn meanwhile will set off from Bangor Street at 1430 BST before moving into the city centre for a major demonstration against the area’s MP, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

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Rory Bremner backs Keys and Murray

Writing in today’s Daily Mail, Rory Bremner said:

“If people still feel comfortable enough to vote Labour, but do not want Tony Blair, the voters of Sedgefield hold the key. If all Conservative, Lib Dem and disillusioned Labour voters in Sedgefield vote for [Reg] Keys, it could be enough to overturn Blair’s 17,000 majority. It’s possible.

Incidentally, the same strategy could apply to voters in Blackburn, who could rid themselves of the egregious Jack Straw by voting for Craig Murray, the former diplomat who exposed the government of Uzbekistan for boiling dissidents alive.”

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Craig’s campaign diary from today’s Guardian

***Call the Craig Murray Campaign on 07979 691085, or drop by our Blackburn office on 15 Railway Road to find out how you can help us Sack Jack!***

The Guardian– Our man in Blackburn: St George’s Day is a big thing in Blackburn. England flags sprout from all the shops, and there is a small fair in the town centre, with knights on horseback and a rather cuddly dragon getting slain. Red roses are distributed from a brewer’s dray. The Labour party in Blackburn is a rather more fearsome adversary. I noted with some amusement that the main road into town is the A666 – the number of the Beast. Let’s hope St George is a good omen.

Politics is banned in the town centre, which on balance is probably OK as it avoids the danger of a BNP takeover of this Englandfest. But it does disappoint a crowd of media people which has gathered in anticipation of Jack Straw and I on rival soapboxes. Maybe next Saturday.

Jack sets up his stall by the rotunda on the other side of the shopping centre. Some of my supporters get the Green Goddess into the multi-storey car park just above his head and start blasting out “Hit the Road Jack Straw”. I am down by Jack, doing a Channel 4 interview and, by an acoustic fluke, the sound seems to come from the ground all around us. Great consternation ensues; Labour party hacks bark into mobile phones, and two policemen come running.

The shopping centre security staff eventually find the Green Goddess, climb in and start ripping out the speaker equipment. Some argy-bargy with my team ensues, but eventually it all dusts down quietly.

I have mixed feelings about this kind of thing. A little bit is a good joke, but I don’t really approve of trying to drown someone out. On Sunday many of my team go off again to picket a Straw meeting at Jan’s conference centre. They enjoy the yelling and venting of fury. I tend to the view that Jack is entitled to run his campaign, but most of my people think he’s a war criminal and not entitled to anything but a small cell.

The media circus is getting overwhelming. I have done 11 interviews this morning. But we seem to be blacked by the BBC. On Monday the Ten O’Clock news carried a constituency profile on Blackburn which interviewed the three major party candidates but ignored me. The last mention I had on the BBC was Newsnight a fortnight ago, when Jeremy Paxman read out a highly tendentious statement from the FCO “correcting” a report on the circumstances in which I left my post – something I had not commented on in the first place.

Two days ago someone from Radio 2 called and rather tersely cancelled a Simon Mayo interview. Then Radio 5 Live called about a candidates’ debate from Blackburn tomorrow. I was now not to participate in the one-hour debate, but was offered an interview of up to five minutes beforehand. I declined.

The Newsnight “correction” had come from FCO civil servants. Clearly, the BBC has been under some pressure. I sent an email to Helen Boaden, head of BBC News and Current Affairs, and asked whether there had been a central decision to downgrade coverage of our campaign, or if these were all programme-producer decisions. I received a reply referring me to the public complaints department.

Meanwhile the campaign goes on. We have now delivered more than 60,000 leaflets to homes in Blackburn. I now feel strongly on one issue: I would support a refusal by postmen to deliver mail to postboxes two inches off the ground. Who on earth came up with that idea?

One further infringement of our liberties under New Labour, and a serious threat to free speech. Every candidate has the right to have an electoral communication delivered free of charge. These have to be pre-vetted by the Post Office for, inter alia, libel. Since when has the Post Office, as opposed to a court of law, been qualified to decide what a candidate may or may not say? I feel rather insulted it found nothing wrong with my electoral communication. I am obviously not being radical enough.

The signs continue to look good. We held a meeting on Monday at the 120-capacity Daisyfields community centre. Three hundred people turned up, and we had to have speakers in a garden for the overflow. We had a webcast audience of more than 500, and two satellite channels were filming. I had so many lapel mic transmitters clipped to my belt that as I spoke my trousers kept falling down. I kept leaning with my hands in my pockets, hoping I looked casual as I struggled to get them back up. I got rapturous applause, so I might try to replicate the effect next time.

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Blair, Straw Lose Support From UK’s Growing Muslim Population

***Call the Craig Murray Campaign on 07979 691085, or drop by our Blackburn office on 15 Railway Road to find out how you can help us Sack Jack!***

Bloomberg – Blair, Straw Lose Support From U.K.’s Growing Muslim Population: Craig Murray, an independent candidate, has based his campaign on the war in Iraq. He decided to run in December after Straw fired him as ambassador to Uzbekistan for publicly criticizing Britain’s use of intelligence that he said the government knew Uzbeki security forces had obtained by torture. Murray, 46, says the Muslims of Blackburn — where many men have beards, gowns and cotton prayer caps, and women are veiled to the eyes — can have their say in Middle East affairs by getting rid of Straw. ”If Straw loses, it will be felt all the way to the White House,” he says, standing outside the Tawheed ul Islam mosque in a three-piece, navy pinstriped suit. He’s using his 315,000 pounds ($600,000) in early severance pay to fund his campaign, including a green fire engine named the ”Green Goddess,” which rolls around town blaring out a song called ”Hit the Road, Jack Straw.”

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Jack Straw “simply not up to the job”, says Labour MP

Independent – Outspoken ex-envoy takes aim at Straw:Tony Blair’s lies over the war on Iraq, and his careless destruction of liberty have left me disgusted with the party I joined in 1968… Blair showed his contempt for the law by appointing an unholy trinity of home secretaries who have been deeply flawed: Jack Straw was simply not up to the job. David Blunkett saw himself as some sort of deified demi-god, issuing new commandments on a daily basis for the six o’clock news. And then there’s poor Charlie Clarke, a bit of a chump preaching the politics of fear who was dealt a cruel hand by Blunkett over the Terrorism Act…

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Outspoken ex-envoy takes aim at Straw

BLACKBURN (Reuters) – Outspoken ex-envoy takes aim at Straw: “SACK JACK” is the simple message emblazoned on luminous green posters adorning an old army fire engine in the town square. “Hit the road Jack Straw. Don’t you come back no more,” blares an accompanying tune as shoppers wander by in the former mill town of Blackburn. The dated “Green Goddess” fire engine has been commandeered as a campaign bus by an outspoken former ambassador who left the diplomatic service in a row over torture in Uzbekistan and is now battling his old boss, Foreign Secretary Straw, in his own constituency in the May 5 election… “My campaign is about the lack of ethics in foreign policy and the abandonment of international law just to please George Bush,” Murray told Reuters. “Blackburn can send a powerful message of discontent,” he added… Murray’s 21-year diplomatic career came to an abrupt end late last year after he was withdrawn from Uzbekistan. He had accused the West of tacitly endorsing torture by accepting bogus information extracted by duress from prisoners in the authoritarian Central Asian state that has become a key ally of Washington…

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Overview of the antiwar Independents

The Independent – The independent charge: A record number of independent candidates are standing at this general election, aiming to capitalise on growing disillusionment with party politics… Britain’s former ambassador in Uzbekistan is standing against Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, in the Blackburn constituency. Mr Murray was removed from his post after he accused the British Government of turning a blind eye to torture in Uzbekistan. The Foreign Office retaliated by accusing him of drunkenness and trading visas for sex with local women. Despite being cleared, the 45-year-old Scot was condemned for speaking out publicly. He is campaigning on Britain’s foreign policy, especially the war in Iraq and MI6’s alleged acceptance of intelligence obtained under torture.

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Fraud “endemic” in Labour’s rotten borough

The Scotsman – The mandarin who is out to ‘sack Jack’: Corruption. The word is everywhere in Blackburn politics: like many small towns where one party dominates, it’s a handy jibe for opponents to make. But here, there may be a little more substance to the slur. Earlier this year, Mohammed Hussain, a Labour councillor, was jailed for three years after a court found that at least 200 of the votes for him in the Bastwell ward were fraudulent. What gives Hussain’s case such deadly resonance is that the 200 votes were postal ballots. In the general election next month, at least 16,000 people will vote by post, up from around 4,000 in 2001. In a total electorate of 73,000, that has set nerves jangling. “We’re scared to death of vote-rigging, and postal votes are the biggest worry,” says Tony Melia, a local businessman fighting the seat for the Liberal Democrats. In Blackburn’s Asian community, rumours of fraud abound, tales of local shopkeepers collecting blank postal ballots and handing them to Labour members; family patriarchs and mosque elders simply confiscating voting forms and filling them in en masse for Labour… Lancashire Police haven’t ruled out sending officers to accompany postmen delivering ballot papers. Phil Watson, the town’s returning officer, said earlier this week: “I can’t guarantee it will be fraud-free.”

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Secret memos, allegations, a sacking and a resignation – Timeline of Craig Murray’s posting to Uzbekistan

August 2002: Craig Murray is appointed British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, a US ally in the “war on terror”.

October 2002: In a speech to “Freedom House”, Craig Murray details grave concerns over the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.

November 2002: In a secret telegram to London, Craig Murray first criticises the receipt by the CIA and MI6 of intelligence extracted through torture.

November 2002 – March 2003: Craig Murray continues to speak out about human rights abuse in Uzbekistan, and support local human rights activists.

8th March 2003: Craig Murray is summoned to London and told formally of Jack Straw’s decision that intelligence material obtained under torture is both legal and useful.

March 2003 – August 2003: Craig Murray continues to speak out about human rights abuse in Uzbekistan.

August 2003: The Foreign Office presents Craig Murray with 18 disciplinary charges, including an allegation that he gave out British visas to Uzbek girls in exchange for sex. He is suspended and given a week to resign. He denounces the charges, and refuses to resign. The charges are not made public.

October 2003: The Guardian newspaper discovers that Craig Murray has been suspended, and reports details of the charges against him. A senior unnamed Foreign Office source talks of a “campaign of systematic undermining” against Craig Murray to pressure him to stop criticising the Uzbek government. The source suggests that the pressure was partly “exercised on the orders of No 10”. The Foreign Office refuses to make any official comment.

January 2004: All 18 disciplinary charges are disproved, and Craig Murray returns to his post – though he is disciplined for speaking to colleagues about the charges.

January 2004 – July 2004: Craig Murray continues to speak out about human rights abuse in Uzbekistan, and support local human rights activists.

July 2004: In a strongly-worded secret memo, Craig Murray criticises the British and US policy of accepting information extracted through torture by the Uzbek government. “We are selling our souls for dross”, he says.

October 11th 2004: Craig Murray’s secret memo is published in the Financial Times, following a leak by an unknown official.

October 15th 2004: Craig Murray is sacked from his Ambassadorial post “for operational reasons”, but remains on the Foreign Office payroll.

October 16th 2004: In a Radio 4 interview, Craig Murray speaks out against his sacking, claiming that he is a “victim of conscience”. He goes on to give other media interviews, in which he is critical of the Foreign Office.

October 21st 2004: Craig Murray is charged with “gross misconduct” for criticising the Foreign Office publicly.

February 2005: Craig Murray resigns from the Foreign Office, and announces his intention to stand as an Independent candidate against Jack Straw in Blackburn.

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Was Craig Murray sacked or did he resign?

Q: Was Craig Murray sacked or did he resign?

A: Both. Craig Murray was sacked from his post as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan in October 2004, but remained on the Foreign Office Payroll. He resigned from the Foreign Office in February 2005.

Q: Why was Craig Murray sacked from his post as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan in October 2004?

A: According to the Foreign Office, Craig was removed from his post for “operational reasons”. This followed the leak of a secret memo Craig had written, in which he raised serious doubts about the wisdom of US and British policy in Uzbekistan. When these doubts became public, it was deemed that Craig could no longer work effectively in his post, and he was removed.

Q: Was Craig behind the leak which led to his sacking?

A: No. We do not know who was behind the leak, or what their motivation was.

Q: Is it true that Craig Murray was under investigation for gross misconduct at the time of his sacking?

A: No. Craig was sacked from his post in Uzbekistan on October 15th 2004 for “operational reasons”, although he remained on the Foreign Office payroll. Shortly afterwards, he gave a number of interviews to the media, speaking out about human rights abuse in Uzbekistan and criticising the decision to withdraw him. The Foreign Office then charged him with gross misconduct on October 21st 2004 because of what he had said to the media. Ten months earlier, the Foreign Office had been forced to withdraw 18 other bogus disciplinary disciplinary charges (see our timeline for more details of these).

Q: Why did Craig resign from the Foreign Office?

A: Craig resigned from the Foreign Office over Western support for the brutal dictatorship in Uzbekistan.

Click here for a full timeline of Craig Murray’s posting to Uzbekistan

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‘Craig Murray. Middle-class hippy. Almost a gay icon’ – Craig’s campaign diary from today’s Guardian

The Guardian – Murray. Middle class hippy. Almost a gay icon’: I could actually win this election. The realisation came as something of a shock. It was not really part of the original game plan. Two months ago I arrived here alone, standing forlornly with my rucksack on Blackburn railway station, in the midnight snow. I wanted to make a stand on principle against illegal war, and against Jack Straw’s decision that we should use intelligence obtained under torture. I wanted to get some national publicity for these issues during the campaign, to counter Tony Blair’s mantra: “Let’s move on” from the war.

(Am I the only one to find this mantra insulting? I think I’ll rob a bank to get some campaign funds. When the police come to take me away, I’ll say, “Hey, let’s move on. OK, so I robbed a bank. Whatever the rights and wrongs, that phase is over. What is important is that we all come together now and get behind the really great things I’m going to do with the money.”)

Today, however, the campaign HQ is buzzing. Sixty-two local people have so far delivered leaflets for us, in many cases just to their own street. Last night nine volunteers from London were on spare beds and sofas, and 11 more are coming at the weekend. Last weekend, the flood of volunteers included Poles, Ghanaians, Swedes, Canadians and Kiwis.

The Green Goddess is about to go out on yet another mission with a leafleting crew. It is a great campaigning vehicle – a huge free mobile billboard with a big crew cab. It blasts out our campaign song, Hit the Road, Jack Straw by The Rub. The lyrics are really funky: “Yeah, shout out to Blackburn from the rest from the rest of the country/We’re hopin’ the people in that fine constituency/Can see the new world order ain’t no good for humanity./ So hit the road, Jack Straw, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more … ”

The campaign is not popular with everyone. One irate voter called me a middle-class hippy. I was pretty chuffed, having aspired to membership of both for years. I also had an argument with yet another council flunky. This one told me I couldn’t park the Goddess outside the town hall to campaign around the shopping centre. I pointed out that Jack Straw regularly does just that. The notion of democracy still seems difficult for some of the authorities here to grasp.

I did some canvassing around the gay bars which are centred, wonderfully, on Mincing Lane. An enthusiastic young man called Geoff told me I was “almost a gay icon, which is really impressive, seeing how you’re ugly”. Put that on my stone when I go: “Craig Murray. Middle-class hippy. Almost a gay icon.”

Robin Cook came to Blackburn to support Jack Straw this week, presumably in a desperate effort to get a place in Gordon Brown’s eventual cabinet. Deeply sad. Cook spoke to a strictly limited audience of around 60. The BBC were not admitted, but the Guardian were, up for the day alongside the Murdoch press for a piece on Jack. They accompanied him on a tour that featured carefully staged spontaneity. The everyday activity stumbled across included interracial street football. One local Asian, Vaz, told me he had not seen this in 30 years.

Massoud had let his Labour party membership lapse because of the war. The local party plainly didn’t notice, because he was rung and told to be shopping in Asda during Straw’s hack-accompanied walkabout. Perhaps that was what Labour offered Asda as an incentive to let them do it – extra shoppers on a Monday morning.

Next week we are anticipating an even stranger source of support for Jack. Local rumour has it that the Saudi ambassador, representative of that fine democracy with a great human rights record, is coming to Blackburn. He and Straw, it seems, will address a meeting of Muslims hosted by the Lancashire Council of Mosques, chairman one Ibrahim Masters, a major Labour party fixer in Blackburn. Announcements are expected of Saudi largesse for the community. Election interference? Perish the thought.

The man who called me a middle-class hippy gave me a note saying, “Don’t forget our dead troops.” I can’t. Much more poignantly, neither can Reg Keays or Rose Gentle. That’s why we are standing.

‘ Craig Murray is standing against Jack Straw in the general election for the Blackburn seat. This column will appear in G2 every Thursday until the election.

click here to listen to Craig’s campaign song, “Hit The Road Jack Straw”

Click here to find out how you can help Craig beat Jack in Blackburn

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Labour complacent as Blackburn acquires “totemic significance”

The Financial Times – War Blair faces Muslim backlash over Iraq war: The Blackburn constituency of Jack Straw has taken on a totemic significance for an antiwar protest campaign, although local Labour strategists believe the foreign secretary will hold on to his near 10,000 majority, helped by Lord Ahmed, the Labour peer, leading Muslim supporters on his behalf.

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Jack Straw in battle for survival

The Guardian – War pitches Straw into survival battle: “He has done nothing good for Muslims,” says Abu Musa, who shoos Mr Straw away from his door. “He’s siphoned the vote off us for many years. As home secretary he introduced anti-terrorism laws which totally discriminated against Muslims and now as foreign secretary he is going around the world subjugating Muslim countries. “All he has done is abuse the power the Muslim community has given him.”

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Teeing off in Tashkent

Author: Sam Webber writing in ConcreteOnline

The former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, visited UEA at the end of last term. Having risen quickly through the ranks within the Diplomatic Service, it was a shock when he was suspended from the post in November 2004, before finally being laid off in February of this year. He is now standing as an Independent candidate in the seat of Blackburn at the general election to try and get rid of the sitting MP there – Foreign Secretary Jack Straw – but more of that later.

Murray spoke at a packed meeting on campus, before going to Livewire to be interviewed, and then talking to Concrete’s Political Editor. He gave an incredible insight into the little known country of Uzbekistan, and highlighted the human rights violations taking place within it.

He joined the Diplomatic Service in 1984, after graduating with an MA in Modern History from Dundee University. Journalists have described his career within the Foreign Office as a “model of upward progress”, and one brief glance at his CV would show how successful his career had been up until his recent dismissal. Having briefly worked on the South Africa desk at the Foreign Office in Whitehall, he then went to Lagos in Nigeria, and later to Ghana and Poland. His appointment as an Ambassador, whilst still only in his early 40s, clearly marked the start of even bigger opportunities.

Upon arrival in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, he quickly discovered that very little was expected of him in this new and exciting post.

He states, quite seriously that, “If I’d done absolutely bugger all except play golf, the Foreign Office would have had no difficulties with me at all”. The powers that be clearly picked the wrong man to while away his years on the golf course, because Craig Murray immediately wanted to get to know Uzbekistan and the apparent problems there.

He quickly discovered that the then government comprised of exactly the same people as the government of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan, pre 1989. President Islam Karimov came to power in 1989, and he remains head of state today. Murray learnt that the major industry in Uzbekistan is cotton production, with almost all of the citizens helping out for three months of the year when the cotton is harvested. They are paid roughly $2 per month and have to work 12 hours a day. The numerous cotton farms have never been privatised, so therefore are state owned, with the product being sold for only about 3% of what it actually should be. In neighbouring Kazakhstan where the cotton industry is largely privatised, this is not a problem at all.

Murray spoke movingly about how schools and universities are shut during the cotton harvest; “All staff and students are forced to pick cotton for three months. It’s worse than Dickensian”. He went on to explain that a police stamp or exit visa is required to leave the cotton farm, so consequently many children born on the farms are unlikely to leave them. He added, “Kids as young as seven are out there picking cotton. 80 kilos a day of raw cotton each or you simply don’t get fed”. There is no pay at all to those under age, so child labour is basically insisted upon by the state.

Murray insists that much of the cotton in our clothes would be Uzbek cotton, but adds that it is not written on a clothes label where the cotton is from, consequently the consumer cannot boycott a particular brand if there is no way of telling the origin of the cotton. Apparently all cotton purchases must go through the Liverpool cotton exchange, so the former Ambassador hints that pressure could be exerted through this channel in the future.

Gold mining is briefly mentioned as the other main industry within Uzbekistan, although Murray stresses that President Karimov, “takes about 10% of gold sales revenue for himself, as his main source of personal income”. Karimov’s daughter, who works in government assisting the privatisation of state owned industries, has also managed to acquire a decent living from simply stealing large chunks of these companies. She now owns the Coca Cola bottling plant in Tashkent, as well as a half of a mobile telephone company. It appears from our far off perspective that corruption is rife within Uzbekistan. Indeed, in their annual Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International ranked Uzbekistan as the 114th most corrupt country in the world along with the likes of Honduras and Zimbabwe.

Due to Uzbekistan’s proximity to Afghanistan, the United States set up an air base there in 2001, as the war on terror commenced shortly after 9/11. Prior to the establishment of the air base, the US donated about $30 million each year to Uzbekistan in foreign aid. The annual donation now exceeds $500 million per year. Murray highlighted that this amount of aid is more than the US gives to the entire region of West Africa. Whether that amount is justified or excessive is a matter of opinion.

As word spread throughout the country of Craig Murray’s genuine concern for the plight of the Uzbeks, he learnt about several horrific cases, many of which he is putting into a book to be published later this year. One such case involved a 69-year-old man who had been boiled alive and had his finger nails removed as a punishment. His wife had taken several photographs of his dead body, which Murray had analysed. The wife was later given a sentence of 7 years hard labour for talking out. He later negotiated with the authorities and had her sentence reduced to a fine that the British Embassy paid.

Murray’s willingness to speak out about the horrific conditions in Uzbekistan did not impress his bosses in Whitehall. He immediately telegrammed the Foreign Office once he discovered that the CIA and MI5 were using intelligence which had been obtained under torture, which proved connections Uzbeks might have had with Osama Bin-Laden. Murray insisted that this was obtained under threats of death, but was told by his bosses that the intelligence was not illegal and indeed, that it was very valuable to the war on terror.

Murray’s Scottish determination never deserted him, and he continued to remind the Foreign Office about this intelligence, until they started to brief against him to the British press. Clearly by the summer of 2004 everybody in the Foreign Office from the Foreign Secretary down wanted Craig Murray out. When a telegram from Murray was ‘mysteriously’ leaked to the Financial Times in October 2004, Jack Straw had the perfect reason to suspend him from his duties.

Murray does not appear bitter about his predicament, as he sips his coffee in the Blend, immaculately fitted out in a three-piece suit. He is however hoping, perhaps forlornly, to oust Jack Straw from his parliamentary seat of Blackburn. Murray explains his candidacy further,

“It is really just to highlight that Jack Straw took the decision that we should use intelligence material which is obtained through torture. He took that decision.” When asked whom this message is being pitched at, Murray clarifies- “I’m pitching my message at Labour voters who are sick of this government’s foreign policy. These people may have been Labour all their lives, but they don’t like following George Bush”

Murray is highly unlikely to become the next Member of Parliament for Blackburn, but he is keen to raise awareness about the plight of the Uzbek people he tried to help whilst he was Ambassador. “Central Asia is a blank one for British people and there are fewer than 100 Uzbeks living in Britain.” Explaining the horrific situation within this far off country is certainly going to be a challenging task.

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Legal expert slams Straw’s position on torture

The Guardian – We must keep the last taboo: The events of September 11 2001 have sparked a series of counter-terrorist campaigns around the world that are described by the US administration as amounting to a global war on terror. It is easy to laugh at such overinflated language but we should recognise the ambition that lies behind the claim. It involves nothing less than a reworking of our natural responses to cruel behaviour by state authorities from countries of which we approve, replacing what has (at least since the second world war) been our critical, human-rights-oriented response to such behaviour with an excusatory or even justificatory one, rooted in a new and overriding emphasis on national security and the need to respond to the threat of the outsider Other… The foreign secretary’s is the kind of duplicitous moral position that the law lords will have the opportunity to expose and destroy. They should certainly do so, stressing not only the moral repugnancy of torture but also its ineffectiveness. Torture evidence is utterly to be rejected here not only because of its iniquity but also because of its manifest unreliability. Do we seriously think overseas torturers are better or more efficient than ours?

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Fears grow over election fraud in Blackburn

Lancashire Evening Telegraph – Keeping it clean: FOR returning officers across East Lancashire, one of the primary goals of next month’s national and county council elections is to restore faith in a process blighted by scandal in recent years. Chief Reporter DAVID HIGGERSON reports.

WILLIAM Gladstone’s statue stands just yards from the entrance to King George’s Hall, Blackburn.

The tribute to the 19th Century Prime Minister — who ensured everyone got a secret vote — overlooked the venue where ballots from a rigged council election were counted in 2001.

The irony is not lost on some of the candidates in next month’s polls.

Thanks to postal voting, some parties claim the transparency of Britain’s proud system is being corrupted.

Former Labour councillor Mohammed Hussain is now in prison for three years and seven months for the part he played in an election fraud in Blackburn in 2002.

He won Bastwell by a 600-plus majority but a police probe — triggered by complaints by the local Conservative Association — found more than 200 votes delivered to people in the post had been filled in on behalf of Hussain.

Such abuse has only been made possible since the Government relaxed rules on postal voting in 2001, allowing anyone to use the method instead of visiting a polling station. Previously, people had to have a legitimate reason, such as working abroad.

The Government’s postal voting experiments continued last year in the local and European elections, doing away with the ballot box entirely in East Lancashire for the first time.

“The thing to remember in 2004 is that everyone had a postal vote for two elections, we did checks and no problems were reported,” said Blackburn returning officer, Phil Watson. “In 2002, just a small percentage opted for the postal vote and while what happened was unacceptable, there is no proof it is rife in the system.”

Mr Watson, like returning officers across East Lancashire, is working to safeguard the system and is reluctant to discuss whether police will again accompany postmen once postal votes start to be sent out a week on Monday.

When a postal vote is delivered, it comes with a declaration form which must be signed by the voter and countersigned by a friend or relative. The completed ballot paper is then mailed back in a numbered envelope placed in another envelope.

When it arrives at the council, the ballot and declaration number is checked to ensure they match and are then split — protecting the secrecy of the ballot until polling day.

Declarations are checked for irregularities, such as large numbers countersigned by one person, with around 1,000 looked over in Blackburn at the last election.

Mr Watson said: “I am confident we will spot anything amiss but I can’t guarantee it will be fraud-free. There is a need for this election to be seen as watertight, though.”

In 2002, Hussain’s case was described as an ‘isolated one’ — but a probe is now under way over similar claims in Burnley and high court judge, Richard Mawrey, last week quashed the results of two elections in Birmingham after deciding there had been large-scale vote rigging.

Sitting in a special election court, he slammed the current system, pointing out that postal votes are easy to steal as they are sent in striking envelopes.

He said: “Short of writing ‘Steal me’ on the envelopes, it is hard to see what more could be done to ensure their coming into the wrong hands.”

And there is now a real danger of the postal voting row becoming political, too, with the Tories and Lib Dems pointing the finger at Labour.

But all three parties have been urged by the Association of Electoral Administrators and Electoral Reform Society to ensure members stay out of the postal voting system, putting an end to candidates offering to deliver completed votes for people.

Paul Browne, a Lib Dem from Darwen, said: “On polling day, I might drive people to vote at a polling station but I’ll have no idea how they voted.”

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has defended the system, as had Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford. And a spokesman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said: “The voting system works, and works well.”

But Jack Straw disagreed: “What has been exposed is serious weaknesses in the system, which will have to be dealt with. If the electoral process is corrupted, everybody suffers.”

And Craig Murray, his independent Parliamentary rival, said: “People have come to me to say they are under pressure to get postal votes and hand them over. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

“And the fact it is taking place in a town where people thought so much of Gladstone, the man who ensured a secret vote, to buy a statue of him just shows how corrupt the Government has allowed the system to become.”

Click here for more news about election fraud in Blackburn.

To find out how you can help Craig Murray’s campaign follow this link.

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Overview of the challenge from smaller parties

Financial Times – Rising support unlikely to free fringe players from sidelines: Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, faces a challenge from Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, suspended for speaking out about human rights abuses, who is standing for Respect in Blackburn.

NB – Craig is standing as an Independent candidate, and is not affiliated with any political party, although he welcomes the support he has had from Respect.

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US complicity wth torture in Uzbekistan

Village Voice – The CIA’s Kidnapping Ring: Actually, there is much that U.S. interrogators can learn from their counterparts in Uzbekistan on how to break down prisoners. One of the CIA’s jet planes used to render purported terrorists to other countries’where information is extracted by any means necessary’made 10 trips to Uzbekistan. In a segment of CBS’s 60 Minutes on these CIA torture missions (March 5), former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told of the range of advanced techniques used by Uzbek interrogators: “drowning and suffocation, rape was used . . . and also immersion of limbs in boiling liquid.” Two nights later on ABC’s World News Tonight, Craig Murray told of photos he received of an Uzbek interrogation that ended with the prisoner actually being boiled to death! Murray, appalled, had protested to the British Foreign Office in a confidential memorandum leaked to and printed in the Financial Times on October 11 of last year: “Uzbek officials are torturing prisoners to extract information [about reported terrorist operations], which is supplied to the U.S. and passed through its Central Intelligence Agency to the U.K., says Mr. Murray.” (Emphasis added.) Prime Minister Tony Blair quickly reacted to this undiplomatic whistle-blowing. Craig Murray was removed as ambassador to Uzbekistan.

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