Monthly Archives: May 2005

Straw criticises Uzbek ally as former envoy demands sanctions

The Independent – Straw criticises Uzbek ally as former envoy demands sanctions: Mr Murray, who left the Foreign Office after accusing the British Government of using intelligence gained through torture by Uzbek authorities, said: “Jack Straw may say the situation is serious, but talk is cheap. And other than talk, Britain has done nothing. How much money has the Government spent supporting democratic movements in Uzbekistan? The answer is virtually bugger all.

“I was always told to refer to Uzbekistan as ‘our ally’. Is Jack Straw saying that Uzbekistan is no longer our ally?”

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Anger grows as US government supports Karimov

Anger as US backs brutal regime

Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow and Paul Harris in New York

Sunday May 15, 2005, The Observer

Heated criticism was growing last night over ‘double standards’ by Washington over human rights, democracy and ‘freedom’ as fresh evidence emerged of just how brutally Uzbekistan, a US ally in the ‘war on terror’, put down Friday’s unrest in the east of the country. Outrage among human rights groups followed claims by the White House on Friday that appeared designed to justify the violence of the regime of President Islam Karimov, claiming – as Karimov has – that ‘terrorist groups’ may have been involved in the uprising.

Critics said the US was prepared to support pro-democracy unrest in some states, but condemn it in others where such policies were inconvenient.

Witnesses and analysts familiar with the region said most protesters were complaining about government corruption and poverty, not espousing Islamic extremism.

The US comments were seized on by Karimov, who said yesterday that the protests were organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group often accused by Tashkent of seditious extremism. Yet Washington, which has expressed concern over the group’s often hardline message, has yet to designate it a terrorist group.

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, tried to deflect accusations of the contradictory stance when he said it was clear the ‘people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government. But that should come through peaceful means, not through violence.’

Washington has often been accused of being involved in a conspiracy of silence over Uzbekistan’s human rights record since that country was declared an ally in the ‘war on terror’ in 2001.

Uzbekistan is believed to be one of the destination countries for the highly secretive ‘renditions programme’, whereby the CIA ships terrorist suspects to third-party countries where torture is used that cannot be employed in the US. Newspaper reports in America say dozens of suspects have been transferred to Uzbek jails.

The CIA has never officially commented on the programme. But flight logs obtained by the New York Times earlier this month show CIA-linked planes landing in Tashkent with the same serial numbers as jets used to transfer prisoners around the world. The logs show at least seven flights from 2002 to late 2003, originating from destinations in the Middle East and Europe.

Other countries used in the programme include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Morocco. A handful of prisoners’ accounts – including that of Canadian Maher Arar – that emerged after release show they were tortured and abused in custody.

Critics say the US double standards are evident on the State Department website, which accuses Uzbek police and security services of using ‘torture as a routine investigation technique’ while giving the same law enforcement services $79 million in aid in 2002. The department says officers who receive training are vetted to ensure they have not tortured anyone.

The aid paradox was highlighted by the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who criticised coalition support for Uzbekistan when they were planning invading Iraq, using similar abuses as justification.

Murray said yesterday: ‘The US will claim that they are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation techniques, but that is basically not true. They help fund the budget of the Uzbek security services and give tens of millions of dollars in military support. It is a sweetener in the agreement over which they get their air base.’

Murray said that during a series of suicide bombings in Tashkent in March 2004, before he was sacked as UK ambassador, he was shown transcripts of telephone intercepts in which known al-Qaeda representatives were asking each other ‘what the hell was going on. But then Colin Powell came out and said that al-Qaeda were behind the blasts. I don’t think the US even believe their own propaganda.’

The support continues, seen by many as a ‘pay-off’ for the Khanabad base. The US Embassy website says Uzbekistan got $10m for ‘security and law enforcement support’ in 2004.

Last year Human Rights Watch released a 319-page report detailing the use of torture by Uzbekistan’s security services. It said the government was carrying out a campaign of torture and intimidation against Muslims that had seen 7,000 people imprisoned, and documented at least 10 deaths, including Muzafar Avozov, who was boiled to death in 2002.

‘Torture is rampant,’ the reported concluded. Human Rights Watch called for the US and its allies to condemn Uzbekistan’s tactics.

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Craig Murray denounces western support for brutal Uzbek regime

The Mail on Sunday – Surely Blair can’t go on backing this monster who boils his enemies alive: Today the World looks on in horror as scores, perhaps hundreds, of pro-democracy demonstrators in Andizhan pay with their lives the price of Western support for the evil Uzbek dictator, Islam Karimov. George Bush and Tony Blair are culpable in these deaths. They have supported Karimov and obstructed the growth of democratic opposition in the country.

The Uzbek regime has attempted to portray the dissidents as Islamic militants. The White House has been keen to parrot this, saying the demonstrators include ‘Islamic terrorists’. This is how they justify continued support to their favourite dictator, and a regime which has literally been known to boil opponents alive. But the charge is simply a lie. Those demonstrating are not Islamic militants. They simply want freedom, democracy and above all a chance to make a living away from the continued Soviet economic system of Uzbekistan.

I know this because I know them. A year ago I travelled to Andizhan as British Ambassador, to attend a meeting of an organisation called the ‘Democratic Forum’. This was an attempt to set up an umbrella grouping of supporters of democratic change, with the aim of contesting parliamentary elections held in Uzbekistan last December. At least two of the people at that meeting were among the 23 ‘Islamic militants’ whose imprisonment sparked the current uprising. In fact they were businessmen who wanted capitalism and democracy to come to Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek government tried hard to stop me getting to Andizhan that day. We were stopped at repeated police road blocks, one of which I physically overturned to get past, to the consternation of the Uzbek security services, who couldn’t shoot Her Majesty’s Ambassador.

We had been followed for miles by a car containing four leather jacketed men. When we stopped for tea they stopped too and sat at the next table. At the last police check point they overtook us. As we entered Andizhan City they emerged at speed from a side street and tried to ram us. Only the brilliance of our Embassy driver, Sasha, saved us from this unfortunate ‘Accident’.

I kept up relationships with the Andizhan opposition after my visit. They came to my office several times. Andizhan had been a comparatively wealthy town and its middle class had been particularly hit by government anti-enterprise measures taken from November 2002. Alarmed that slight economic liberalisation was leading to the start of an independently minded middle class, the Uzbek government had clamped down on the private sector. Borders were physically closed to private trade, and in the Ferghana Valley near Andizhan cross-border bridges were dynamited. Bazaars were closed by the security forces. Laws were passed ending cash trading and forcing all business transactions to go through state-owned and controlled banks. The economic effects were catastrophic, especially in a dynamic trading town like Andizhan.

There was no outlet for the resulting discontent. There is absolutely no media freedom in Uzbekistan. The Democratic Forum got nowhere. The opposition were banned from the parliamentary elections, which were farcically contested between five government ‘parties’ all supporting the President. We are Back in the USSR.

Yet President Karimov, the great oppressor of liberty and capitalism, has the strong support of George Bush. He is a welcome guest for tea in the White House. Donald Rumsveld, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell have all been to Tashkent and lavished praise upon their host. Tony Blair and Jack Straw were all too willing to sack me for speaking out against Karimov’s habit of arresting, very often torturing and sometimes killing political opponents.

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Outrage grows over US support for Uzbek government

The Observer – Anger as US backs brutal regime: Heated criticism was growing last night over ‘double standards’ by Washington over human rights, democracy and ‘freedom’ as fresh evidence emerged of just how brutally Uzbekistan, a US ally in the ‘war on terror’, put down Friday’s unrest in the east of the country.

Outrage among human rights groups followed claims by the White House on Friday that appeared designed to justify the violence of the regime of President Islam Karimov, claiming – as Karimov has – that ‘terrorist groups’ may have been involved in the uprising.

Critics said the US was prepared to support pro-democracy unrest in some states, but condemn it in others where such policies were inconvenient…

The aid paradox was highlighted by the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who criticised coalition support for Uzbekistan when they were planning invading Iraq, using similar abuses as justification.

Murray said yesterday: ‘The US will claim that they are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation techniques, but that is basically not true. They help fund the budget of the Uzbek security services and give tens of millions of dollars in military support. It is a sweetener in the agreement over which they get their air base.’

Murray said that during a series of suicide bombings in Tashkent in March 2004, before he was sacked as UK ambassador, he was shown transcripts of telephone intercepts in which known al-Qaeda representatives were asking each other ‘what the hell was going on. But then Colin Powell came out and said that al-Qaeda were behind the blasts. I don’t think the US even believe their own propaganda…

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Uzbek forces open fire on protesters

Transcript of an interview from AM – a radio programme by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Reporter: Rafael Epstein

ELIZABETH JACKSON: There’s been a new wave of popular discontent, violence and repression in Uzbekistan, one of Washington’s key allies in Central Asia.

Government forces in the country have opened fire on thousands of people demonstrating in the city of Andijan.

The trouble began when a group of armed men stormed the city’s prison and freed hundreds of inmates.

Our Europe Correspondent Rafael Epstein reports.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Thousands of people were on the streets of Andijan in Uzbekistan’s east. Though it’s hard for anyone outside the country to really know what’s going on.

But it does seem soldiers spent several hours firing on a crowd of at least 2,000. As many as a dozen people were reported killed.

The troops sealed off the city after thousands of prisoners, including 23 men accused of Islamic extremism, were freed from the town’s jail, along with up to 4,000 other prisoners.

The Uzbek President Islam Karimov was said to be heading to the city, but he hasn’t appeared there.

For the President’s critics it’s a popular uprising.

For the President, they’re dangerous radicals fuelled by Islamic fundamentalism.

That’s a claim dismissed by the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray.

CRAIG MURRAY: That’s complete nonsense. The Uzbek Government routinely accuses any of its opponents of being Muslim extremists in order to discredit them. Andijan has long been a centre of democratic opposition to the Uzbek Government.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Craig Murray left the British diplomatic service after what he says was his Government’s failure to see Uzbekistan for what it is ? a repressive regime, torturing and killing anyone asking for basic human rights, while allies like the UK and the US turn a blind eye because hundreds of American soldiers use an Uzbek airbase with good access to countries like Iran and Afghanistan.

CRAIG MURRAY: I strongly suspect that the Uzbek Government will resort to extreme violence. This is a Government which is by no means concerned at shedding the blood of its citizens.

(sound of Uzbek television)

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: President Karimov watching yet another parade and display of nationalist fervour.

He rules a country accused of accepting subjects for torture on behalf of Western countries. He receives hundreds of millions of dollar in aid from the US, some in the form of military support, to help in the war on terror.

But is that war on terror an excuse for simple and brutal repression?

The UN says the state employs systemic torture on its opponents.

Media control is so tight it’s thought few in the country outside of the city of Andijan would even know there was a clash for hours between protesters and Government troops.

Opposition politician Atanazar Arifov spoke to ABC TV’s a few months ago.

(sound of Atanazar Arifov speaking)

He says the suppression of the secular democratic opposition is one of the conditions which leads to the evolution and spreading of religious extremism.

Craig Murray says the US preaches freedom while supporting a brutal dictatorship.

CRAIG MURRAY: The elections held on the 26th of December from which the opposition were banned, were held the same day as the Ukrainian rerun. We had Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice all over our television screens demanding democracy in the Ukraine. Whereas the United States was remarkably silent on the regime banning the opposition from even competing in the Uzbek elections. And I think now you won’t be hearing any great calls for democracy in Uzbekistan coming from the US.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: This is Rafael Epstein reporting for Saturday AM.

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Vicious crackdown in Uzbekistan

The Guardian – Uzbek regime clamps down as unrest flares: Uzbekistan was in a state of ferment last night after bloody clashes in Andijan in the volatile Ferghana valley.

The government of the central Asian state shut down foreign broadcasts and tightened security at important buildings in an attempt to stop the unrest in the eastern valley from spreading.

Neighbouring Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – which all share part of the restive valley – closed their borders as the tide of popular discontent sweeping through the former Soviet region flared into violence.

Yesterday’s clashes in Andijan were sparked by the arrest of 23 Muslim businessmen, facing what human rights organisations claimed were trumped-up charges of religious extremism.

The defendants, who were freed in a storming of the Andijan jail, were accused of having links to the outlawed Hizb-ut-Tahrir party.

This radical Islamist group, whose purported heartland is in the Ferghana valley, is accused of mounting attacks in Uzbekistan that killed more than 50 people last year, allegations the group denies.

Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian prime minister, told Interfax news agency: “The events in the Ferghana valley pose a great danger to stability in the region. It is critical not to allow a split between the north and the south of Uzbekistan.”

Uzbek authorities have been displaying more signs of nervousness and intolerance. They cracked down on media and dissidents after Georgia’s “rose revolution” in 2003 that ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze. Many foreign non-governmental organisations were banned.

Up to 6,000 political dissidents are in jail, and the government, suspicious of both religious groups and business, has closed down private enterprises.

Allison Gill, Human Rights Watch’s representative in Tashkent, said protests had arisen more often owing to economic issues and government interference than in response to political or religious grievances.

She said the 23 men arrested in Andijan were subscribers to the Akramiya religious ideology. The movement gives Muslims a set of rules for life – including requirements to strive for success and give tithes to the poor.

“Akramism is compromised mostly of successful businessmen – like the 23 in jail,” Ms Gill said, adding that rights monitors were aware of 50 arrests over suspected links to Akramism this year.

Protests about the trial began 10 days ago when the men’s employees gave out leaflets. “It looks like last night the employees whose jobs were threatened went to free the defendants.”

She doubted that much of Uzbekistan would learn of the unrest but said she would not be surprised if it spread to other towns. Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record has received little publicity since the US recruited the country as an ally in its “war on terror” in October 2001 – setting up a military base in the southern town of Khanabad to aid operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of aid flowed in, with critics accusing the US of turning a blind eye to the torture record of the regime of the president, Islam Karimov.

The White House last night urged restraint but added that some of the prisoners who had been freed were from a “terrorist organisation”. They did not elaborate, and the US embassy in Tashent could not say who they were referring to.

“We don’t know who they are talking about,” said Ms Gill. “The use of the word terrorist is unjustified and plays into Uzbek government policy by justifying torture by calling it anti-terrorist measures.”

One leading critic of the abuses, the former British ambassador to Tashkent Craig Murray, highlighted a case in which one prisoner was apparently boiled alive.

Mr Murray believes that his publicising of the abuses eventually cost him his job. He said that the unrest would spread, but it would take time. Of the news blackout, he said: “I have spoken to three people in Tashkent who have no idea about Andijan.”

‘ Russian prosecutors said yesterday that the oil billionaire and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, due to hear a verdict on fraud and tax evasion charges on Monday, would face further charges of money-laundering. A member of his legal team described the charges as “a direct and blatant attempt to exert pressure on the judges”.

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Straw aide linked to ‘voters’ in empty flat

The Independent – Straw aide linked to ‘voters’ in empty flat: JACK STRAW has been urged to investigate how 10 voters in his constituency were registered at a seemingly empty flat above a shop owned by one of his key election campaigners.

Hussain Akhtar, a Blackburn councillor considered to be the foreign secretary’s right-hand man in the town’s Muslim community, would not discuss the matter with The Sunday Times but said the voters were ‘gone’.

The property was boarded up with ‘Vote Labour’ placards during the election campaign. One of the listed tenants was first registered to vote at Akhtar’s property about two years after she says that she left.

The case emerged as concerns grow about the accuracy of the electoral roll and the potential vulnerability of the election system to abuse. The Electoral Commission has called for new laws to improve their administration.

There is no evidence that Akhtar has been involved in wrongdoing, but he is under pressure to explain how the 10 voters ‘ and himself ‘ are registered in a property which appears to be empty.

Tony Melia, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Blackburn who came third in Thursday’s poll, said: ‘I have made a complaint about this matter to Jack Straw.

‘We need to know why these people are registered at this address, who registered them and, most importantly, whether they voted. I am particularly concerned at voters who are registered and moved out some years ago.’

Labour had feared that Straw would lose many votes over the Iraq war. Akhtar was one of the campaigners used to mobilise the Muslim vote.

One of the tenants on the electoral roll at Akhtar’s property in Whalley Range, Blackburn, is Afrin Hussain. Electronic records of the electoral roll indicate that she was first registered there in 2002, although the spelling of her first name was then Afrian.

She said yesterday that she had moved out five years ago and was now listed on the electoral roll at a separate address with her husband. She had voted in the election.

‘We just don’t know how we got registered at Whalley Range. I will go to the council next week and tell them what has happened,’ she said.

Most of the voters at the address are thought to be part of Akhtar’s extended family. ‘Some people have been moved to different addresses and everybody knows it. The people have moved from here, they are gone,’ he said.

In other constituencies some candidates said they believed the lack of checks on the electoral roll and voting process may have resulted in fraud. In Birmingham Ladywood Ayoub Khan, the Liberal Democrat candidate, has called for an inquiry into allegations of ‘personation’ ‘ voting under someone else’s name ‘ and hopes to challenge the result.

In North Lanarkshire, council officials believe that they may have found evidence of two instances of personation and have told the police.

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Help us make history in Blackburn. YOUR vote could tip the balance. Craig Murray’s final campaign diary from today’s Guardian.

The Guardian – Our man in Blackburn: As you read this, the polls will be open. The voters of Blackburn will be streaming out in their happy thousands to vote for me and to consign Jack Straw to political oblivion. Or not, as the case may be.

The campaign continues to produce its lighter moments. A postman told one of my canvassers he was voting for that nice Mr Rigging. We were stumped by this, until we realised that our election communication is headed: “You can beat Labour vote rigging.”

I was delighted to be approached by a whole crowd in the pub last night wanting my autograph. I was overwhelmed by my own popularity and thought I was home and dry. Then I discovered that they thought I was “that bloke that’s shagging Sally on Corrie”. I don’t know who that actor is, but evidently he must be a man of great good looks and charisma. Now that Ian McKellen is on Coronation Street, I console myself that being mistaken for one of the cast is socially acceptable.

One of our slogans has been “British Bulldog, not Bush’s Poodle”, which has the advantage of confusing people entirely about the political direction we are coming from. This at least gets them to open the leaflet and read more. It was devised by Edward, who used to work for Saatchi and Saatchi. He claims it appeals to both left and right. It could, of course, alienate both instead. I suppose we’ll soon know.

My mate Matt was canvassing when he was attacked by the two largest poodles imaginable. The unrepentant owner of these gruesome animals declared herself deeply offended by the jibe at poodles. Happily, the militant poodle front seems outnumbered by the gratified bulldog owners.

Getting a platform has proved difficult. The local council has failed to meet its legal obligation to provide public meeting rooms in schools, community centres, etc. We had Moazzam Begg on Sunday to talk about his detention in Guant’namo, and we had to hire a private ballroom. The council claimed they couldn’t staff a public room over the bank holiday, but community centres were used by Straw for public meetings on the bank holiday Monday.

What’s more, on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend the Returning Officer tracked me down to Puccino’s cafe, where he told me that there had been a complaint that my posters did not meet the legal requirement for a publishing imprint. I pointed out the publishing imprint to him, and he vanished. There seems to be no shortage of energy for stifling democracy, but less for promoting it.

Straw refuses to meet me on a platform. The cathedral organised a so-called hustings on Sunday from which I was barred. The BBC has rubbed salt into the wounds of its refusal to give me election coverage by putting in requests from four different programmes to interview me after the polls are closed. I did eventually get a confirmation that a central BBC decision had been taken not to cover my campaign. Helen Boaden, head of news and current affairs, replied that the BBC could not cover me because its regional political team “was unable to assess if I had significant electoral support”. Why are they unable to assess it? What are they being paid for? So if anyone hopes to see me on election night, you will have to watch on ITV.

It seems to me essential that Straw is punished for the illegal war, for the decision that the intelligence services should regularly use information obtained under torture, for the dossier of lies on Iraqi WMD. At least in Blackburn Labour must pay. The argument that it did well on employment and health, as advanced by Polly Toynbee, is precisely the argument deployed in favour of Hitler and Mussolini. I don’t see how any self-respecting person can vote Labour, no matter which orifice they cover with their fingers.

So how will we do? Well, surprisingly well. There is real anger at the war. People don’t like liars. And Straw is plainly very worried. Unlike previous elections, he has not been out to marginals to support other candidates. Rather Gordon Brown, Robin Cook and even the Iraqi deputy prime minister have been here to bolster him. Neither the Lib Dems nor the Tories see this as winnable; they have not brought in a single big hitter. Of whom is he scared? Me.

Blackburn people have plenty to protest about. I have offered nothing but honesty and hard work. I have no idea if that might prove enough.

Anyone want a Green Goddess, slightly used?

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Straw’s seat is a hot spot of postal vote fraud claims

The Independent – Straw’s seat is a hot-spot of postal vote fraud claims: In the Lancashire constituency of Blackburn, where the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, is defending his 9,249 majority, the vote-rigging allegations have intensified as polling day nears.

“I’ve come from Uzbekistan to Blackburnistan,” says Craig Murray, Britain’s former ambassador to the central Asian republic who is campaigning to unseat the Foreign Secretary. He left the Foreign Office after speaking out against the Government’s use of intelligence obtained by torture.

“This is very much a Labour rotten borough,” he said. “There is a nexus of the police, the authorities and business – if we were in the Soviet Union, you would say mafia.”

The jailing of a Blackburn city councillor – an Asian Muslim representing Labour – for rigging postal votes in the May 2002 local elections has failed to silence the rumour mill. Voters in the Muslim community, which makes up almost a quarter of the electorate, say now they are being strong-armed by mosque leaders and councillors to vote Labour. The number of postal votes registered in Blackburn is 20,000, compared to 7,600 in 2001.

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You CAN beat Labour vote rigging

Blackburn is buzzing as the campaign reaches its climax. Volunteers and well-wishers continue to stream into our campaign office, and there’s every sign that an upset may be on the cards.

Craig Murray’s election address has finally been released by the Post Office, and delivered to every household in the constituency. His message is a simple one: You CAN beat Labour’s postal vote rigging.

An astonishing 16,000 postal votes have been requested in Blackburn alone, and there are widespread fears of fraud.

This isn’t just about the illegal war in Iraq, and the lies that were told to take us there – it’s about democracy itself. If you’d like to join the fight for the last hectic days of the campaign, do drop by our office on 15 Railway Road, Blackburn, or telephone us on 01254 695 919 / 07979 691085.

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Desperate Jack Straw ships Iraq’s Deputy PM to Blackburn to shore up crumbling support

In a desperate and highly controversial bid to avoid defeat in Blackburn, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has enlisted the support of Iraq’s answer to John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.

Salih visited Blackburn last week to address a gathering of Labour activists at the Audley Community Centre. At a hustings meeting shortly afterwards, Jack Straw was asked why, with Iraq in turmoil, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister had been dragged over to Britain to intervene in our election.

The enlistment of Iraq’s Deputy PM for New Labour’s party-political purposes must also raise serious questions about the supposed independence of occupied Iraq.

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Index On Censorship – interview with Craig Murray

Index on Censorship – Craig Murray interviewed:Craig Murray, Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan, has been portrayed in the media as a colourful and dotty rogue with a penchant for bars, girls, Range-Rovers and outrageous breaches of diplomatic protocol. In August 2003, he was confronted with a series of disciplinary charges by the Foreign Office, which he was not permitted to discuss with anyone, and instructed to resign. He refused. The allegations were dropped within a few weeks but not before Murray had had a breakdown and a pulmonary embolism that nearly killed him. He was finally removed from his post in October 2004.

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Leaked documents reveal Straw’s collusion with Blair war lies

Sunday Times– Blair hit by new leak of secret war plan: A SECRET document from the heart of government reveals today that Tony Blair privately committed Britain to war with Iraq and then set out to lure Saddam Hussein into providing the legal justification… The document reveals Blair backed ‘regime change’ by force from the outset, despite warnings from Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, that such action could be illegal… It records a meeting in July 2002, attended by military and intelligence chiefs, at which Blair discussed military options having already committed himself to supporting President George Bush’s plans for ousting Saddam.

‘If the political context were right, people would support regime change,’ said Blair. He added that the key issues were ‘whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan space to work’.

The political strategy proved to be arguing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed such a threat that military action had to be taken. However, at the July meeting Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, said the case for war was ‘thin’ as ‘Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran’. Straw suggested they should ‘work up’ an ultimatum about weapons inspectors that would ‘help with the legal justification’. Blair is recorded as saying that ‘it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors’. A separate secret briefing for the meeting said Britain and America had to ‘create’ conditions to justify a war.

Sunday’s leaked document proves what many suspected all along. Tony Blair and Jack Straw had already decided to go to war with Iraq in July 2002, even while they were publicly insisting that “no decision has yet been taken”. Knowing that the case for war was “thin” they then set about concocting a phoney justification, based around nonexistent WMD.

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Radio report from Blackburn election campaign

National Public Radio(US)– Britain’s Straw Faces a Challenge over Iraq: Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray is running against Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for Parliament. Murray was removed from his post in October after criticizing U.K. security services’ use of data obtained by torture by Uzbek forces. Murray is running on an anti-Iraq war platform, a subject both major parties have tried to ignore.

Click here for the link to the audio report

NB – The NPR report incorrectly states the circumstances of Craig Murray’s sacking; click here for a clear outline of those circumstances.

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