Monthly Archives: August 2005


Update on the Pledge Bank list for Uzbekistan Blog

Tomorrow is independence day in Uzbekistan and will be marked by an international day of blogging on the call for sanctions and how to affect positive change in the country.

A pledgebank list was established to help solidify support for the idea and we are pleased to let you know that the list target has now been exceeded. However, there is still time to sign up or just take part!

A 20 second reminder of why this is a good idea.

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The White House silence

US journalist David Corn comments on the White House’s silence on Uzbekistan – an American administration more than capable of being loud and undiplomatic – as the regime victimises witnesses to the massacres in May.

From www.davidcorn.com.

While Bush has been busy rah-rahing his war for freedom in Iraq, has anyone heard him refer to the Uzbekistan massacre that occurred in May, in which perhaps up to a 1000 civilians were gunned down by the military goons of strongman Islam Karimov? No, Bush and his top officials have not said much about this human rights abuse, which is probably the worst attack of this sort since the Tiananmen Square massacre. Karimov has canceled his agreement with Washington regarding an important US military base there (which probably was the reason for Bush’s low-volume reaction to the massacre), but Karimov’s decision has not apparently caused Bush to feel freer to denounce Karimov. (The base is still being used, and perhaps the White House hopes to work out a deal with Karimov.) It’s no surprise that much of the world dismisses Bush’s pro-freedom rhetoric, given that he has much to say about freedom in some places and little to say about freedom in other places.

What reminded me of Bush’s inadequate reaction to the Uzbekistan massacre is a piece by Anne Penketh in today’s Independent. It starts:

‘Uzbek authorities have jailed hundreds of people and forced them to confess to links to Islamists to justify the army crackdown on peaceful demonstrators last May that left 500 people dead, The Independent has learnt.

‘Human Rights Watch reports that witnesses of the massacre in the eastern city of Andizhan and relatives of the victims, have been rounded up and jailed for between 10 to 15 days on fabricated charges. “They are severely beaten and tortured until they sign statements confessing to being members of radical Islamic groups,” a researcher for the group who has just visited the central Asian region said.

‘The authoritarian government of President Islam Karimov has refused all calls for an international inquiry into the worst massacre of civilians by an army since China’s 1994 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

‘Despite eyewitness accounts contradicting the government version, the Uzbek authorities continue to insist that the army was forced to act on 13 May to put down an attempt by radical extremist Muslims to overthrow it. Human Rights Watch fears that the jailing and coercion of “hundreds, or even thousands” of people is a deliberate tactic aimed at bolstering the government’s case. It appears that some have been so intimidated that they have readily confessed to having been manipulated by the radicals.’

I’m not expecting Bush to address this latest human rights tragedy in Uzbekistan. After all, being consistent on such matters can be hard work.

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Uzbekistan – America and the European Union have let a dictator get away with murder

Published in The Economist on 25th August

ON MAY 13th, the authorities in Uzbekistan opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of close to 10,000 people in the eastern city of Andijan, probably killing several hundred of them and possibly as many as 1,000. According to survivors, tanks rolled through the main square, firing indiscriminately, snipers picked off their victims from convenient buildings, and, later on, soldiers shot some of the wounded dead. That was three months ago. Since then, the European Union and America have expressed their horror at the worst massacre of demonstrators since Tiananmen Square by imposing the following sanctions on Uzbekistan:

Weary observers of realpolitik might think that they have seen it all before: that the democracies often enough turn a blind eye to misdeeds of dictators like Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov when it suits them. But this is something special. On few, if any, occasions since the cold war has so little been done by so many in the face of such atrocity. At least China was thrown into the diplomatic ice-box for a few years after Tiananmen, and the arms embargo imposed on it is largely intact 16 years on. Myanmar remains a pariah even among pariahs’in both cases for misdeeds on about the same scale as Andijan. America claims that it is indeed pondering sanctions, but awaiting Europe’s lead. This not a widely noted feature of its foreign policy these days, but there is a kind of sense behind it. A former member of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan is a part of the widest of Europe’s concentric circles. It is a member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and it has a partnership and co-operation agreement (PCA) with the EU. So there is some justification in allowing Europe, with its famous common foreign and security policy, to take the lead.

If so, the European Union has risen to the occasion as grandly as it did over Bosnia, Iraq and on so many other occasions: with a display of spinelessness worthy of a sea full of jellyfish. First, in June, it demanded that Uzbekistan submit to an international investigation to determine precisely what happened in Andijan. Failure to comply by July 1st, it terrifyingly threatened, might lead to a ‘partial suspension’ of the PCA. Some countries wanted to go so far as to threaten a visa ban for (some) Uzbek officials and possibly even an arms embargo’but that was reckoned to be a bit too tough.

July 1st came and went, as did August 1st. Still the EU has done nothing. It has tried to send a ranking bureaucrat, one Jan Kubis, to take a look: but Uzbekistan has refused to let him go to Andijan. Fortunately, outfits such as Human Rights Watch, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have proved more enterprising than Mr Kubis’so there is no excuse to be made that the EU does not have a pretty good idea of what happened. The latest word is that the issue of Uzbekistan may be looked at when the EU’s foreign ministers meet in Wales on September 1st. But it is not even certain that the massacre of about 500 people by one of Europe’s associates will merit a discussion there. Meanwhile, the Uzbek government is pressing ahead with its own investigation of what happened on May 13th. This involves beating ‘confessions’ out of demonstrators who are made to say that they carried weapons to the square, and forcing neighbouring Kirgizstan to send Uzbek refugees back before they can tell any more tales to journalists, NGO workers, or even Mr Kubis.

But doesn’t the West ignore equally grisly abuses in Chechnya? Yes, but there it can at least be argued that friendship with Russia is in its vital interest. Friendship with Uzbekistan is not. Uzbekistan has gas, but it is not very accessible to westerners. And until now America has had an airbase, but others in the region will do just as well. The failure to punish Mr Karimov discredits the West, and provides ammunition to its enemies. It has gone on for far too long.

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Blair knew of Iraq war terror link one year before London attacks

By Martin Bright writing in The Observer

“The Foreign Office’s top official warned Downing Street that the Iraq war was fuelling Muslim extremism in Britain a year before the 7 July bombings, The Observer can reveal. Despite repeated denials by Number 10 that the war made Britain a target for terrorists, a letter from Michael Jay, the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary, to the cabinet secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull – obtained by this newspaper – makes the connection clear.

The letter, dated 18 May 2004, says British foreign policy was a ‘recurring theme’ in the Muslim community, ‘especially in the context of the Middle East peace process and Iraq’.

‘Colleagues have flagged up some of the potential underlying causes of extremism that can affect the Muslim community, such as discrimination, disadvantage and exclusion,’ the letter says. ‘But another recurring theme is the issue of British foreign policy, especially in the context of the Middle East peace process and Iraq.

‘Experience of both ministers and officials … suggests that … British foreign policy and the perception of its negative effect on Muslims globally plays a significant role in creating a feeling of anger and impotence among especially the younger generation of British Muslims.’

The letter continues: ‘This seems to be a key driver behind recruitment by extremist organisations (e.g. recruitment drives by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al Muhajiroon). The FCO has a relevant and crucial role to play in the wider context of engagement with British Muslims on policy issues, and more broadly, in convincing young Muslims that they have a legitimate and credible voice, including on foreign policy issues, through an active participation in the democratic process.’

Al Muhajiroon, formed by Omar Bakri Mohammed, the radical preacher who fled Britain after the 7 July bombings, was a recruiting organisation for young Islamic extremists in Britain.

Attached to the letter is a strategy document, also obtained by The Observer, which reveals further concerns. It says Britain is now viewed as a ‘crusader state’, on a par with America as a potential target. ‘Muslim resentment towards the West is worse than ever,’ the document, ‘Building Bridges with Mainstream Islam’, says.

‘This was previously focused on the US, but the war in Iraq has meant the UK is now seen in similar terms – both are now seen by many Muslims as “Crusader states”.

‘Though we are moving on from a conflict to a reconstruction phase in Iraq, there are no signs of any moderation of this resentment. Our work on engaging with Islam has therefore been knocked back. Mr O’Brien [then a Foreign Office minister] has expressed his concern.’

However, all mention of the Iraq connection to extremism was removed from ‘core scripts’ – briefing papers given to ministers to defend the government’s position on Iraq and terror.

The document begins: ‘We do not see the Muslim community as a threat. Muslims have always made, and continue to make, a valuable contribution to society.’

The lines to be used by ministers include measures designed to address Muslim concerns, such as the introduction of religious hatred legislation and tackling educational underachievement among Muslims. But there is nothing to address the concerns raised by Jay eight months earlier.

The documents reveal deep divisions at the heart of government over home-grown religious extremism and its connections to British intervention in Iraq.

The Prime Minister has consistently said that the bombers were motivated not by a sense of injustice but by a ‘perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of Islam’. Although Iraq was clearly used as a pretext by extremists, he said he believed it was ideology that drove them to kill. To press home the point, Downing Street issued a list of atrocities carried out before intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. The claim was later undermined by the MI5, which said that Iraq was the ‘dominant issue’ for Islamic extremists in Britain.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, also rowed back from his comments immediately after the bombings that there was no connection with Iraq and the terror threat after it became clear that the public remained unconvinced.

But Jay’s letter shows that the Foreign Office was convinced that foreign policy played a key role in radicalising young Muslims.

The letter outlines a list of 11 ‘work streams’ to discourage extremism. They included delegations to the Islamic world, ministerial briefings for key members of the Muslim community and receptions to mark key Muslim festivals.

It is not known how Turnbull responded to the letter, although it is clear that, by January, there was a significant difference between what was being said within the Foreign Office and what ministers were officially being permitted to say in speeches.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten last night called on the government to come clean about the link between extremism among British Muslims and anger about Iraq: ‘For the government to deny a link between the war in Iraq and dismay among the Muslim community is ridiculous. But to try to cover it up, when senior civil servants have recognised the seriousness of the resentment, is even worse.'”

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Pat Robertson to be banned from UK?

With religious ‘extremists’ being targeted by the British government for exclusion and deportation, how would Pat Robertson be treated if he turned up at Heathrow? As yet there appears to have been no statement from Charles Clarke on this important test of his new approach. Maybe the ‘Pat Robertson test’ should now be added to Ken Livingstone’s Nelson Mandela test of such legislation?

The question of Pat’s visa is raised by Profindpages

“We wonder how this new list would apply to Pat Robertson in the U.S. who went on TV and said that the U.S. government should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Isn’t this “Advocating violence in support of particular beliefs”? Will Robertson be allowed into Britain after this, or does this new rule only apply to Muslims who might promote hatred?”

Why Pat Robertson won’t be treated as a terrorist in the US is discussed on the Media Monitors Network

“At the very least, Robertson should be charged under hate-speech laws. But such laws are weak in the United States, and many Americans fear the idea of hate-speech laws. So radio and television broadcasters continue spewing hate and dishonest claims in the exalted name of free speech.”

If there is anyone wanting to find out more about the man himself then Pat Robertson’s own site can be found here

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Amnesty International reacts to UK government’s plans for deportation

Amnesty International respond to the anouncement of the UK government’s new proposal to allow deportation of foreign nationals. Their full press release can be found here.

“The new measures, proposed today by the United Kingdom (UK) government, targeting non-nationals considered to be threatening public order, national security and the rule of law, violate basic human rights and the UK’s international obligations, Amnesty International said today.

The Home Secretary Charles Clarke ordered an immediate review of his powers to exclude and deport non-British citizens suspected of “justifying or glorifying terrorism, seeking to provoke terrorist acts, fomenting other serious criminal activity, fostering hatred that might lead to inter-community violence. A global database will list foreigners who engage in different forms of “unacceptable behaviour”, such as radical preaching and publishing websites and articles intended to foment “terrorism”, to be vetted automatically before entering the UK.

“The vagueness and breadth of the definition of ‘unacceptable behaviour’ and ‘terrorism’ can lead to further injustice and risk further undermining human rights protection in the UK. Instead of strengthening security, they will further alienate vulnerable sections of society,” Halya Gowan, Europe and Cental Asia Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International, said.

“The right not to be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, or to be sent to a country where there is a risk of such treatment, applies to everybody, irrespective of whatever offence they may have committed. The so-called ‘diplomatic assurances’ that the UK government seeks when expelling people to countries where they may be at risk of being tortured are a clear violation of international law.”

“If the UK authorities reasonably suspect people of having committed certain criminal offences, their immediate duty is to bring criminally recognizable charges against them and promptly try them according to international fair trial standards instead of off loading them to a third country where they may be tortured.”

Amnesty International is concerned that the procedure to be used to process deportations or exclude people who may “threaten public order and national security” may once again include the use of secret evidence at secret hearings.

“The UK authorities will be violating the rights of non-British nationals if they seek to deport them or prevent them from entering the country by not allowing them adequate defence in the course of secret proceedings,” Halya Gowan said.

“The new measures are similar to those brought under the now repealed part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 in that they are discriminatory and arbitrary.”

Amnesty International has unconditionally and unreservedly condemned the attacks in London on 7 July 2005, and has called for those allegedly responsible to be brought to justice. The organization also considers that any measures the UK authorities take with the stated intention to protect people from repetitions of such crimes must be consistent with international human rights law and standards.

“Security and human rights are not alternatives; they go hand in hand. Respect for human rights is the route to security, not the obstacle to it.”

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UN Special Rapporteur criticises Blairs position on deportations and torture

Tony Blair’s recent statements on deportation and torture receive further criticism, this time from the the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

The original UN press release can be found here.

Detailed information on the work of the Special Rapporteur on Torture is available here.

“The Special Rapporteur on questions relating to torture strongly condemns all acts of terrorism, including the bombings which took place in London on 7 July 2005 and the subsequent attempted attacks and expresses his sympathy to the Govenrment of the United Kingdom and the families of all the victims.

The Special Rapporteur, an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, would like to refer to the Prime Minister Blair’s statement of 5 August 2005, where he indicated that from now on, due to changed circumstances of national security, the United Kingdom will deport persons to their home countries even in cases where these countries have been found to violate international minimum standards, including the absolute prohibition of torture, in the past. The Prime Minister argues that memoranda of understanding containing what he calls “necessary assurances from the countries to which we will return the deportees, against their being subject to torture or ill-treatment contrary to Article 3″ constitute a sufficient guarantee to avoid violation of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. On 10 August 2005 a first memorandum was signed with Jordan. The Prime Minister also indicated that the conclusion of other memoranda is on-going.

The Special Rapporteur fears that the plan of the United Kingdom to request diplomatic assurances for the purpose of expelling persons in spite of a risk of torture reflects a tendency in Europe to circumvent the international obligation not to deport anybody if there is a serious risk that he or she might be subjected to torture. The fact that such assurances are sought shows in itself that the sending country perceives a serious risk of the deportee being subjected to torture or ill treatment upon arrival in the receiving country. Diplomatic assurances are not an appropriate tool to eradicate this risk.

Most of the states with which memoranda might presumably be concluded are parties to the United Nations Convention against Torture (Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and Yemen) and/or to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and Yemen) and are therefore already obliged vis-a-vis other States parties (including the United Kingdom) not to resort to torture or ill treatment under any circumstances. Such memoranda of understanding therefore do not provide any additional protection to the deportees.

The Special Rapporteur calls on Governments to observe the principle of non-refoulement scrupulously and to not expel any person to frontiers or territories where they run a serious risk of torture and ill treatment. In addition, the Special Rapporteur requests Governments to refrain from seeking diplomatic assurances and the conclusion of memoranda of understanding in order to circumvent their international obligation not to deport anybody if there is a serious risk of torture or ill treatment.”

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Updates to the archive – new media files added!

Four new items are added to the archive today. These include 3 streaming audio radio interviews from earlier this year and an article on Craig Murray’s work in Uzbekistan from back in 2003. To listen to the audio files you will need Real Player that can be downloaded for free from here

Within the interviews category, TV and radio media files are now indicated with a Real Player icon so they can be readily identified.

Archive entries:

Radio 4 Today interview

Radio Netherlands Interview

Public Radio Chigaco interview

Article from Eurasianet

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Lord Liverpool and Tony Blair?

A posting on Medialens looks at the historical background to Lord Liverpool, a politician referred to in a recent article on this site.

“Prime Minister Liverpool equated Parliamentary Reform with treason. At a peaceful and massive meeting – around 50-60,000 – in Manchester’s St. Peter’s Field in 1819, demanding Reform , troops attacked the assembly and killed nine men and two women, and wounded 400. This event became known as the “Peterloo Massacre’

Far from reviewing the error of his resistance to reforms, Liverpool responded to Peterloo by rushing in the Six Acts. This law forbade meetings of more than 50 people, extended the power of summary conviction by magistrates, made ‘blasphemous and seditious libel” a transportable offence, and placed a heavy tax on newspapers.

There is a parallel today. Blair’s government, instinctively authoritarian as was Liverpool’s, seizes on catastrophic events, resulting from his own criminal policy, to take repressive measures and rush in laws against freedom of speech.

Lord Liverpool’s henchman and foreign secretary from 1812-1822 was Lord Castlereagh, about whom the redoubtable poet Shelley wrote after Peterloo.

I met Murder on the way

He had a mask like Castlereagh.

His come-uppance was a bitter one. Deranged by power, Castlereagh suicided in 1822. Chroniclers record that on the news the Capital’s “mob” celebrated in the streets, and at his funeral cheered.

Something perhaps for Blair and his henchmen to ponder?”

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The killing of Jean Charles de Menezes

Craig Murray reacts to the latest revelations about the probable murder of Jean Charles de Menezes

I am not sure which scares me most ‘ the way the police murdered Jean Charles de Menezes, or the lies they told about it afterwards. It is worth bearing in mind that when the Police and the Home Office went into overdrive to spin their dramatic falsehoods ‘ that he vaulted the ticket barrier, ran through the station, wore a padded jacket and leapt onto the train ‘ they still thought they had killed a terrorist, not a Brazilian electrician.

We now know that Mr Menezes had a ticket and passed the barrier the normal way, walked quietly through the station, picked up a newspaper, boarded the train quietly and sat down. He was then pinioned by a policeman and shot at eleven times by at least two others while immobilised in his seat.

That makes it not just an unlawful killing, but plain murder. And it would still be murder even if Mr Menezes was indeed a terrorist. That was unequivocally established by the Death on the Rock case, where the European Court ruled that it was illegal to assassinate IRA terrorists in cold blood in Gibraltar, whether or not they were engaged in a bombing operation.

The government are acutely aware of that precedent. That is why the lies about his bizarre behaviour were so quickly concocted, and assiduously spread. They did so with the help of a compliant media establishment that repeated these lies ad nauseam to an excited public. And of course, the liar in chief was Sir Ian Blair himself. He must now resign immediately. I have never believed in eugenics, but the evidence of the unique propensity to lying of the clan Blair is pretty compelling, though I confess my sample of two is statistically insignificant.

One of my chief allies in fighting for human rights in Uzbekistan was Professor Douwe Korff, a key member of the legal team that brought the British government to book over Death on the Rock. It is typical of this government that Charles Clark’s reaction in his Evening Standard interview is to threaten British judges with new legislation to restrict their power to defend liberty. He also specifically threatened legislation to remove us from European Court jurisdiction ‘ no more Death on the Rock cases, then.

You could read about Douwe and I working in Uzbekistan in my forthcoming book, except that I have now received four letters and last evening a phone call from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to tell me I can’t publish it. It tells of Jack Straw’s decision that MI6 should use intelligence obtained under torture by foreign intelligence agencies. They don’t want you to know that. I had hoped that Straw’s decision was an isolated bit of over-zealousness.

I now know that it was part of a systematic lowering of our standards on human rights across the board. Blair is, beyond denial, leading the most authoritarian government since Lord Liverpool In fact Blair’s proposals outdo for sheer illiberalism the notorious Six Acts, which every schoolboy for generations learnt of as the most heinous assault on British liberties, happily overcome.

Blair’s media support is of two sorts. The right wing press share this analysis, but applaud it. They have the most populist right wing leader in British history, and are delighted. On the other side The Blair project cheerleaders who dominate the Guardian are stuck with their monstrous delusions.

The BBC remains cowed by the Gilligan affair, and large job losses. The fact that Gilligan told the truth ‘ there were no Iraqi WMD ‘ perversely diminished rather than increased their confidence. Telling the truth gets you shafted. Toeing Tony’s line gets you promoted.

Tony Blair’s new raft of ‘Anti-terrorist’ proposals includes deporting people for visiting certain bookshops and websites. Police continued their policy of ramping up media hype by smashing open, for the cameras, the door of a Muslim bookshop in Leeds. The owners had actually given them the keys and invited them to look around. No propaganda value in that, so out came the battering ram.

The media have carried rubbish in screaming headlines about the bomb attacks on 7 and 21 July. They were perpetrated by Al Qaida, they were funded from Pakistan, the two groups were linked. All rubbish. And of course we had Tony Blair’s repeated assertion that anger at our invasion of Iraq was in no way the cause. To understand was to excuse.

I condemn terrorism unequivocally. It is in every sense immoral and unreasoned. But it is not a natural phenomenon like the Birmingham tornado – Blair’s actions provoked it. The invasion of Iraq based on a tissue of lies, the co-operation with security services of regimes that practice torture throughout the Muslim World, the support for Bush and Sharon on settlements policy, the imprisonments without trial and other attacks on liberty in the UK.

After the 9/11 attacks, I recall the general reaction of the British intelligentsia was to ask why the Americans failed to understand what it was that caused them to be hated in much of the rest of the World. In our own hurt following the London bombings, we are making the same mistake.

It will be little comfort to the family and friends of Mr Menezes, but there is some hope that his death and the exposure of the spin that surrounded it will cause some reaction to the way this country is headed.

It is essential to the survival of liberty in this country that the killers of Mr Menezes stand in the dock. Doubtless the press will mount a campaign to defend them. Isn’t it time we were given their names? I don’t recall the identities of other alleged killers such as Barry Bolsara or Peter Sutcliffe being protected before their trial. The police have happily given out the name of several people who turned out to be completely uninvolved, including a Leeds muslim chemist who went on holiday to Egypt (dead suspicious).

Let’s have the names of the killers. At least we can avoid sitting next to them on the tube. Given the manner of cold-blooded execution, I suspect they may turn out to be SAS or MI5. But the blame must not stop with the men who pulled the triggers. Nor does it lie solely with the people that provided the so-called intelligence identifying Mr Menezes. The real blame lies with those who sanctioned the ‘shoot to kill’ policy defended in such macho fashion by Jack Straw and Charles Clarke.

They must now resign. British liberty will not recover until Charles Clarke and Ian Blair stand in the dock for their part in this murder.

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“Should Not Be Known”

As we approach September 1st, the day of international blogging on Uzbekistan and the call for sanctions against cotton exports, we are posting the following excerpt from Chapter 12 of Craig Murray’s forthcoming book.

After leaving Ergashev, I said goodbye to Vakhida, who left in a police car for the airport, to fly back and work for Nick. I would be without an interpreter for the rest of the day, but would be joined by a professional one in the morning in Namangan, to which city we were due to head that night. I judged we still had plenty of time to visit the University, and told Gafur so. He was standing smoking and chatting with the escorting policemen. They looked dubious and called the Deputy Hokkim, who had repaired to a nearby chaikhana while I was with Ergashev.

“Please, Mr Ambassador,” he said, “it is late, and it is dangerous to drive to Namangan after dark.”

“It’s not that late. An hour at the university and we can be away by five.”

“But I believe we are not expected now at the University.”

My hackles were beginning to rise.

“Well, think what a pleasant surprise it will be for them.”

The deputy gave a wan smile, and got back into his Daewoo Maxima, which had dark pleated curtains at the windows. I climbed into the back of my Discovery; it seemed strangely empty now, with only Gafur and I in it. The police cars started off and we followed. After about twenty minutes, we were heading out of town.

“Gafur, where are we going?”, I asked.

“This is the road to Namangan, ambassador.”

“Is the university this way?”

“No, Ambassador.”

“Do you know where the University is?”

“Yes, I think so.” I had explained to the Embassy drivers that, within reason, they should always reconnoitre the day’s calls in the early morning or the evening before.

“Then stop.”

“Sorry, Ambassador?”

“STOP! We’re going to the university.”

Obviously impressed by the drama of the moment, Gafur slammed on the brakes and we slewed to a halt. The lead police car and the Hokkim’s Daewoo carried on ahead of us, turning round a corner. The police car behind had to brake quickly, and the doors opened as the police got out to see what the problem was. Gafur, having halted, was turned round looking quizzically at me.

“The university, Gafur. Drive to the university.”

“OK, sir”

It was a wide road, and Gafur spun the Discovery round. We sped off, leaving the puzzled policemen standing in the street staring at us. Gafur had worked out we were giving the escort the slip, because he drove like crazy through the streets of Ferghana. The escort caught up with us again just as we pulled up in front of the university. I waited for the deputy hokkim on the steps. He simply gave me a wan smile. I wanted to go straight to the English department, but he insisted that we should first call on the Rector. I was happy to concede that one.

The university building was a large brick edifice that would not have looked out of place in any British provincial university. The Rector was sour-faced and unwelcoming, and we endured fifteen minutes of stilted conversation over tea. We then walked down to the English centre, our footsteps echoing from the vaulted ceilings. The most striking thing about the University was that it was so devoid of life ‘ there seemed to be virtually no-one around.

In the English language centre I met two charming old ladies who taught there. They showed me with great pride the books they had been given by the British Council, and their cataloguing system. The only thing that worried me was that they all appeared to be neatly on the shelves, as opposed to being used by students. I had another cup of tea with the old ladies and two part-time students who had come in. They all said how delighted they were to meet a genuine English speaker. Their standard was very good, given that none of them had ever visited an English speaking country. They asked me about Big Ben and why the English are so fond of gardening. I asked them where everybody was, which brought a moment’s silence and no real answer.

The authorities had not wanted me to visit the University because of its resemblance to the Marie Celeste. I was later to discover the answer to the question, where has everyone gone? They were all in the fields picking cotton.

Even the massive labour forces held on the state farms are insufficient when it comes to harvest time. So other forced labour is drafted in. Staff and students are brought in from colleges and universities, which are effectively closed for the entire autumn term. An able-bodied university or college student will expect normally to spend two months in the cotton fields. Older schoolchildren will do the same, and even children as young as eight might expect to spend two or three weeks in the fields. Civil servants and even factory workers can also be drafted as the size of the harvest and weather conditions dictate.

Conditions can be appalling. The workers sleep in the fields, or in rough barracks. Sanitation is poor, food consists of a bare gruel, and water is taken straight from irrigation canals. The harvest regularly lasts through into October or early November, when temperatures can drop below freezing. Each farm and each region had its quota to produce in the State five year economic plan, and managers and hokkims were under extreme pressure to fulfil their quota.

Those drafted in for the harvest are not paid, but they are, for the most part, very successfully brainwashed by constant propaganda on television and radio, in newspapers and on banners and posters about harvesting the nation’s “White gold”. It is chilling to hear a bedraggled ten year old in a field talking about their patriotic duty to pick cotton to fund the nation’s independence.

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Not Worth the Paper They’re Written On

Despite what the Prime Minister says, the rules of the game have not changed

By Steve Crawshaw, London Director of Human Rights Watch

In the days after the bombings of 7 July, there were many reasons to feel proud to be a Londoner. Politicians responded with dignity to the terrible events. People of all faiths stood together in the knowledge that those who had commissioned these crimes against humanity should be identified and prosecuted. The rule of law seemed to reign supreme.

Now, all that has changed utterly. The Government seems ready to exploit the national fear by riding roughshod over principles which have long been sacrosanct. In a fearful society, it is easy to persuade people that the old rules no longer exist. Easy, and dangerous.

The Government presents the latest proposal to deport people with supposed guarantees that they will not be tortured as though it were a new idea, devised as an emergency response to the bombings. In reality, it is a mendacious old idea. A year ago the Human Rights Watch report Empty Promises demonstrated clearly and in detail that diplomatic assurances are no guarantee against torture. Four months ago, a 90-page report Still at Risk, confirmed the point, with yet more evidence. Human Rights Watch and Liberty wrote to the Prime Minister, pressing the point. The Government, however, seems uninterested in facts. It proudly announced this week that it has struck a deal with Jordan on sending people back; it wants to strike more such deals with a clutch of torturing governments in the region.

The evidence shows clearly how flawed such agreements can be. Sweden sent two men back to Egypt in 2001, after receiving assurances that they would not be tortured. They were, of course, tortured. Bizarrely, the United States even claimed to believe Syria (a paid-up member, after all, of George Bush”s “axis of evil”) when Washington received what it called “appropriate assurances” that Damascus would not torture Maher Arar, a Canadian-Syrian handed over in 2002. (Arar, too, was tortured.)

The phrase “assurances” was not always so polluted. Assurances are given in cases where a suspect is extradited for trial to a country with the death penalty, such as the United States. On such occasions, America assures the delivering country that the (otherwise legal) death penalty will be suspended. Such assurances are within the framework of the law and wholly verifiable. In short, they work.

But the new style of “diplomatic assurances” is very different. Torturers do not like to tell the truth. Governments which practise torture routinely assure the world that they do not do so. What, then, is the point of yet another assurance? If a government regularly breaches international treaties against torture which carry criminal penalties, why should they respect a bilateral agreement which neither government has any real interest in enforcing?

The idea that occasional prison visits will reveal the truth is equally far removed from experience – a person being visited occasionally cannot speak the truth for fear of being sent right back to be tortured.

There are two possible interpretations of what has happened. Either the Government does not understand the significance of all the broken promises that have gone before. Or, on the contrary, it understands all too well and calculates that, in the current climate, many in Britain will be unbothered about unsavoury characters being sent back to face torture. Some judges might be unhappy, admittedly but, as the Lord Chancellor and others have made clear in recent days, who cares about judges anyway?

Certainly, it could be easy to persuade those who fear being blown up on their way to work that rules no longer quite matter just as we saw that the US administration played on American fears, with a lawless Guantanamo, after 9/11. Guantanamo was (presumably) supposed to make the world safer. In the UK, some had hoped for a more intelligent approach. It is depressing if our political leaders fail to understand the importance of the rule of law. Sending people back to the torture chambers is in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Nor is this just a European issue. Such deportations are also in obvious breach of the UN Convention against Torture whose enforcement the UK once worked so hard to ensure. Changing national laws will not make the UK less in breach of international law.

Despite what the Prime Minister says, the rules of the game have not changed or they should not have done, unless politicians (cynical, foolish, or both) decide that they wish unilaterally to change the rules. Those who have committed crimes, or plotted serious crimes, can be prosecuted. Those whose activities give cause for concern can be placed under surveillance as happened many times in Northern Ireland. But if the rules of the game now read “Torture is always bad–except as part of the war on terror, when we no longer care”, then that is a betrayal of all the values that this country once stood for. If the Government refuses to acknowledge that basic point, we will all be the losers.

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“Those of us who believe freedom is important, face a huge battle over many years, and against great odds. We have lost our best leader” – Craig Murray on the death of Robin Cook

I turned on my television to watch the news, and when it warmed into life, was surprised to see myself looking at a picture of Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

For many years my parents lived close to Raigmore, at Incheswood, and that was the road from which the BBC were taking their picture. I have many happy memories of Inverness, and the hospital itself is a wonderful facility with cheerful and helpful staff. But I visited both my father and my grandfather in that hospital shortly before their deaths, and a chill enters my heart when I see it.

I now learnt of the death of Robin Cook, and felt a real sorrow.

I was one of a few enthusiasts in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who welcomed the arrival of Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary and his declaration of an ‘Ethical foreign policy’. The majority were hostile and cynical, but not nearly so much as was Tony Blair.

Within a very few weeks, Blair arranged Robin Cook’s defeat at Cabinet when Cook wanted to stop the export of British Aerospace Hawk jets to the Suharto regime of Indonesia, which has a strong history of vicious repression of its disparate peoples. I was told by a Cabinet Minister who sided with Cook, that Blair managed Cook’s cabinet defeat in as confrontational and humiliating a manner as possible.

Plainly there would be no ethical foreign policy under Blair, and ‘New Labour’ would be even snugger in bed with the arms industry than the old version. One of Blair’s lead men on Hawks to Indonesia was Jack Straw, who declared in the register of members’ interests that 50% of his election expenses had been paid by Lord Taylor, a Director of British Aerospace.

By one of life’s sad ironies I was closely involved in an episode which held the ethical foreign policy up to media ridicule, from which it never recovered. A mercenary outfit called Sandline claimed to have been given the go-ahead by the FCO to ship weapons to Sierra Leone, to help President Kabbah recover his country from rebels. The problem was this breached a UN arms embargo. Both the Tory media and the pro-Blair Murdoch media had a frenzy, attacking Cook for claiming to be ethical while breaching UN law.

In fact, while Sandline had close connections with the British High Commission in Sierra Leone, they were simply lying about being given permission to ship arms. I can say that with certainty, because it was I they claimed gave the permission.

The storm passed, but ethical foreign policy disappeared as a term of art. The crisis brought me into closer and more intense personal contact with Robin Cook than I might normally have expected, and for that I am grateful.

His famous gnomic and ginger appearance is much commented upon, but I have never seen anyone describe his eyes, which is a pity. He had really startling eyes, of an extraordinarily light, bright, limpid blue. They absolutely held you, and as you spoke they were searching you out. I found him both funny and kind.

He had his faults. Very self-obsessed, the first time I ever met him I was kept waiting in his outer office for over three hours. No respecter of persons, he famously once did much the same to Princess Diana (well, maybe not three hours, but a lot longer than she was used to).

I met him again in Ghana, when he accompanied the Queen on a State Visit. He got so deeply into a conversation with a journalist that he missed the convoy as it departed from a Durbar, and had to be rescued from the massive crowds, having apparently lost interest in what the Queen and the Government of Ghana might be doing.

At that time, he was interviewing for a new Private Secretary. Deciding that this would be a useful way to fill out the hours spent as a courtier, he had the candidates flown out to Ghana at public expense to be interviewed ‘ including at least one candidate, then Head of the FCO’s United Nations Department, whose London office was a thirty second walk from his.

So I observed him as self-centred and irascible, but at the same time kind, witty and deeply intelligent. I agreed with him on ethical foreign policy, and on the Iraq war. But where we will now miss his influence most of all, was his passionate commitment to individual liberty and balanced democracy.

Cook was the country’s most influential advocate of proportional representation, the surest safeguard against abuse of power by narrow and unrepresentative government. He also wanted to see executive authority checked by a powerful and fully elected House of Lords. This was the great work of his second ministerial post, as Leader of the House. It should not be forgotten that just as Blair deliberately blocked Cook over ethical foreign policy, so he blocked an elected House of Lords. And Blair blocked it for exactly the reason Cook wanted it, because it would be a brake on the Prime Minister’s authority.

It amazes me that, when Blair made clear he wanted a largely appointed House of Lords, most people still didn’t tumble to just how power-mad the man is. Now we face proposals to hold people for three months without charge, and to deport people for entering the wrong bookshop or visiting the wrong website. We are to accept ‘assurances’ from murderous regimes that they won’t torture or kill dissidents we hand over to them.

Blair bangs on as if it wasn’t already illegal to be a terrorist, to kill people, to make or supply bombs or assist those who do. It is noteworthy that the alleged London bomber now charged is facing longstanding laws, like murder and conspiracy to murder, without any need for the raft of new legislation already in place, let alone Blair’s latest proposals.

What kind of society are we turning into? Blair talks of designating suspect bookshops, and I have just received my fourth official letter from the government reminding me that my own book, which I haven’t even finished yet, is banned from being published.

Robin Cook was a man of principle and lover of liberty, and he hated all of this. The last, brilliant, Guardian article I read by him was arguing against purchasing a replacement for trident missiles, while claiming that Blair had already taken that decision. He also stated baldly that the policy of Bush and Blair was creating terrorism, not defeating it.

These are the most dangerous times for liberty in the UK since the government of Lord Liverpool. Those of us who believe freedom is important, face a huge battle over many years, and against great odds. We have lost our best leader.

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Understanding Uzbekistan’s snub

Washington Post, Understanding Uzbekistan’s Snub By JIM HOAGLAND, August 8, 2005

If you can supply energy to world markets, do you really need the U.S.

and its conflicting priorities and bureaucracies, and all that yammering about human rights and democracy? For Islam A. Karimov, the dictatorial ruler of Uzbekistan, the answer is a big NO.

Mr. Karimov’s recent order to the U.S. to cease operations at the K-2 air base and pull its troops out of his Central Asian republic within six months came only after he had reached new understandings on energy and other subjects with the leaders of China, Russia and his immediate neighbors. Tyrant and butcher Mr. Karimov may be; fool he is not.

Mr. Karimov received assent or encouragement from Russian President Vladimir Putin and from China to stick his thumb in Uncle Sam’s eye by closing the base, a move that complicates the resupply of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That makes the U.S.-Uzbek rupture more than a diplomatic spat over human rights. It becomes a focus for global strategy as well, raising serious questions about the Bush administration’s ability to sustain an American military presence in Central Asia.

Settling on a strategy toward Mr. Karimov alone was not that difficult for Washington. Superpowers have a history of cutting adrift once useful bloodstained dictators. But charting why Mr. Putin is now asking President Bush to set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Central Asia is a far bigger, still unfolding task.

So is reconciling the meaning of a U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights abroad with the demands of the global war on terrorism and the energy-dominant global economy. While principles remain

constant, the reflexes developed during the Cold War seem insufficient today.

Mr. Karimov became an embarrassing partner for Washington following the police massacres of hundreds of civilians in the town of Andijan on May 13. He refused to respond to public U.S. demands for an

independent international investigation. The speed and the studied shrug with which Washington greeted the Uzbek president’s expulsion seem to reflect not only a bowing to Uzbek sovereignty but also an assessment that Mr. Karimov’s political viability is running on empty. The former Soviet bureaucrat is playing a losing and possibly short-lived hand at home, in this view.

He superficially resembles a 21st century Mobutu Sese Seko, Ferdinand Marcos or Erich Honecker. Those Cold War-era satraps became more trouble than they were worth to their superpower patrons when they were openly repudiated by their own people. Communicating their expendability was often more a matter of calculation than of conscience.

Because the U.S. is reaching so deeply into the former Soviet sphere of influence to fight Islamic extremism, Washington does not have wholly owned “SOBs” of its own there. Actions or words from Washington that undermine Mr. Karimov (or his autocratic neighbors) also affect Mr. Putin’s hold on power in the Kremlin in a direct way.

This makes Washington’s support for human rights abroad a more complex but even more important undertaking than it was in the Cold War. How other nations, and particularly Islamic nations, treat their

citizens is today the substance, not just the form, of international relations.

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Casting Aside Justice

by William Norman Grigg

By claiming the power to imprison terrorist suspects without trial, or to send them abroad to be tortured by foreign secret police, President Bush is creating precedents that imperil the rights of U.S. citizens.

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

‘ O’Brien, torture specialist in George Orwell’s 1984

Roughly a century and a half before Orwell published 1984, his cautionary tale of endless dictatorship through perpetual war, British statesman Edmund Burke warned that “criminal means, once tolerated, are soon preferred.” That which we authorize our government to do to anyone, it can do to everyone. If we permit the government supposedly protecting us to ignore the constitutional limits on its powers, it will quickly become the single greatest threat to our own lives and liberties.

The Bush administration, and those who dutifully echo its rhetoric, insist that everything changed on 9/11. “There was a before-9/11 and an after-9/11,” Cofer Black, the onetime director of the CIA’s counterterrorist unit, insisted in congressional testimony in 2002. “After 9/11 the gloves came off.”

As Burke observed, once a government removes those “gloves,” it will only put them on again when it is forced to do so. And once a state ‘ any state ‘ gets the scent of blood in its nostrils, it tends to become less than discriminating in its targets.

Many conservatives consider it something akin to sedition or treason to criticize the Bush administration for claiming that the president has unlimited power to deal as he sees fit with anyone he designates as an enemy in the “war on terror.” This perspective rests on two completely unjustified assumptions. The first is that George W. Bush, being a better man than Bill Clinton (hardly the highest hurdle to surmount), can be entrusted with extraordinary powers. The second is that the powers in question would always be used against “them” ‘ that is, the “worst of the worst” ‘ rather than against “us.”

Mr. Bush’s trustworthiness, or lack thereof, aside, he is constitutionally required to step down in January 2009. His successor could very well be a second president Clinton (or a first president Rodham), or someone of similar ideological inclinations who might look on “right-wing extremists” as the domestic equivalent of al-Qaeda. Once again, that which we authorize the government to do to anyone, it can do to everyone.

In defiance of centuries of Anglo-Saxon common law, the Bush administration claims that the president has the power to render any individual an “un-person” with respect to the protection of the law by designating him an “enemy combatant.” Those thus designated may be imprisoned, without legal recourse of any kind, for as long as the president sees fit, and be treated in any manner the president deems suitable. This could include the delivery of such hapless people into the hands of foreign governments ‘ such as those ruling Egypt, Syria, Morocco, or Uzbekistan ‘ that employ torture as a means of interrogation.

None of this is theoretical. Our government is doing these things today, and anticipates making use of these criminal means for the foreseeable future. And, once again, under the doctrines being devised by the administration, U.S. citizens could be subject to such treatment at the president’s discretion.

The Padilla Case

For three years, Jose Padilla, an American citizen, has been detained in military custody, without trial, at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Padilla was arrested by federal agents on May 15, 2002, after he arrived from Pakistan at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed that Padilla, an ex-convict whose unsavory background includes participation in ethnic street gangs and other suspicious associations, had been involved in a plot to smuggle a radioactive “dirty bomb” into the country.

There is ample reason to believe that Padilla was involved in criminal activity, and some circumstantial evidence that he may have had contacts of some sort with Muslim radicals. He’s poorly cast in the role of martyr for the cause of civil liberties ‘ which is probably why he was chosen as the first test of the president’s supposed power to incarcerate U.S. citizens at whim.

President Bush designated Padilla an “enemy combatant” by executive order on June 9, 2002. This was done on the basis of evidence compiled, after the fact, by Michael H. Mobbs, Special Adviser to the undersecretary of defense for policy. The administration insists that the so-called “Mobbs Declaration” satisfies the requirements of Due Process in Padilla’s case.

From the administration’s perspective, a document written by a third-tier executive branch functionary justifying the president’s order to imprison a U.S. citizen nullifies the need for a trial ‘ or judicial review of any kind. The administration also claims that the presidential “enemy combatant” designation renders moot the habeas corpus guarantee, under which an incarcerated individual must be brought before a judge and either formally charged with a crime or released.

Then-Deputy Solicitor General Paul D. Clement argued in a July 2003 brief submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals that Padilla’s imprisonment, as a “wartime” measure, falls entirely within the president’s discretion and cannot be subject to the scrutiny of the courts. Judicial review “of the Commander-in-Chief’s wartime judgements would raise serious separation-of-powers concerns,” insisted the administration’s brief. Such review “could extend no further than assessing whether there is some evidence supporting that [presidential] determination. To that end, the government submitted the Mobbs Declaration setting forth the evidentiary basis for the President’s determination.”

The administration’s reasoning, if that word applies, is perfectly circular: Padilla, as an enemy combatant, is not entitled to due process of law beyond the president’s determination that he is an enemy combatant.

In a December 13, 2003 decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against this sweeping claim of presidential power, since even in wartime “presidential authority does not exist in a vacuum.” While the Constitution does provide for the suspension of habeas corpus (which would permit emergency detention of suspects), that power is assigned exclusively to Congress. Rather than enacting legislation to permit such summary detentions, Congress in 2000 had passed a law called the “Non-Detention Act” expressly forbidding the summary imprisonment of American citizens. Since Padilla’s detention was not authorized by Congress, the court observed, “the president does not have the power ‘ to detain as an enemy combatant an American citizen seized on American soil outside a zone of combat.”

The Bush administration appealed the Appeals Court’s ruling to the Supreme Court, which has declined thus far to rule on the substantive issues raised by the case. In a similar case involving Yaser Essam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, the High Court upheld the detainee’s right to mount a court challenge to his imprisonment. Writing on behalf of the majority, retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor explained: “A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”

The administration continues to hold Padilla in military custody and will likely have a second opportunity to challenge the lower court’s ruling in his case. Furthermore, the retirement of O’Connor may offer President Bush a chance to build what legal reporter Rick Montgomery calls “a wartime Supreme Court.”

Leader Principle

One essential principle of Anglo-Saxon Common Law since the Magna Carta is that the government, as represented by a king or a president, cannot imprison an individual without due process. Standing in direct opposition to that concept is the “leader principle,” under which the executive ‘ monarch, president, or dictator ‘ answers to no one.

In a section defining the leader principle (fuhrerprinzip), the Organization Book of the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party states that the power of the chief executive “is not limited by checks and controls, by special autonomous bodies or individual rights, but it is free and independent, all-inclusive and unlimited…. He is responsible only to his conscience and the people.” Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin, who invented modern totalitarianism, summarized his version of the “leader principle” as follows: “The scientific concept of dictatorship is nothing else than this ‘ power without limit, resting directly on force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted by rules.”

Ritually invoking September 11, the Bush administration ‘ with the aid of its surrogates in talk radio and other conservative media outlets ‘ has made astonishing progress toward enacting an American version of fuhrerprinzip. The basis of that doctrine is the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against terrorists. That resolution has been treated by the Bush administration as a wholesale transfer of authority, both legislative and judicial, to the president in his role as commander-in-chief. In a constitutional sense, this claim is tantamount to a blank check written against a non-existent account in a fictitious bank.

In December 2004, the Justice Department quietly released a legal memorandum entitled “The President’s Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations Against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them.” The document, composed by former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Yoo, had been circulated within the administration on September 25, 2001, but hadn’t previously been made public.

By publicly releasing its contents when it did, the Bush administration ensured that there would be no discussion of its plainly totalitarian concept of presidential power during the 2004 campaign. Significantly, once securely reelected, George W. Bush referred to the election as an “accountability moment” that bestowed the electorate’s blessing on everything his administration had done in its first term. Presumably that “accountability moment” ratified the expansive claims of presidential power in the Yoo Memorandum, which had been kept from the public.

“We conclude that the Constitution vests the President with the plenary authority, as Commander in Chief and the sole organ of the Nation in its foreign relations, to use military force abroad,” proclaims the Yoo Memorandum. The document specifically claimed that Congress cannot “place any limits on the President’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make.”

One wonders which “Constitution” Yoo refers to, since nothing in the charter created at Philadelphia in 1787, and ratified by the original states, invested powers of that variety in the president. In our constitutional system, no branch of the federal government has “plenary,” or absolute, authority; this is particularly true of the president, whose powers as commander-in-chief are contingent and limited. Congress controls all power to appropriate funds, including those for the military, and it has the sole authority to establish regulations governing the armed forces. Additionally, only Congress can declare war.

The Yoo Memorandum claims: “During the period leading up the Constitution’s ratification, the power to initiate hostilities and to control the escalation of conflict had long been understood to rest in the hands of the executive branch.”

This is a bit like an adulterer justifying his infidelity by pointing out that “during the period leading up to” his marriage, he had been free to indulge his carnal whims. Prior to adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the power to conduct war had been exercised by the British monarch. As Hamilton pointed out in The , No. 69, the war power delegated to the president through the Constitution was “in substance much inferior” to that of the British monarch, with the power to declare war and raise armies given exclusively to the legislature.

Rather than being rooted in the U.S. Constitution, the Bush administration’s doctrine of executive power has more in common with the “Enabling Act” passed by the German Reichstag in 1933, which gave the German chief executive ‘ Adolf Hitler ‘ the legal basis for building the National Socialist dictatorship and conducting aggressive war against Germany’s neighbors.

In December 2001, another secret Justice Department memorandum (not disclosed to the public until it was leaked in mid-2004) instructed the Defense Department that no federal court could “properly entertain” appeals from “enemy aliens” held in detention at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Asserting that Cuba has “ultimate sovereignty” over Guantanamo (which would mean, if this claim were said in earnest, that U.S. military personnel at that facility are under Fidel Castro’s authority), foreign nationals held there are beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.

That memorandum essentially consigned foreign nationals detained at Gitmo to legal limbo: They were to be treated neither as prisoners of war nor as criminal suspects. The designation of Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant opened the gates of that legal limbo to U.S. citizens. An August 1, 2002 memorandum written by former assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee (now Judge Bybee of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) made the explicit claim that the president can order the torture of detainees as he sees fit.

The Bybee memo was written on behalf of Alberto Gonzalez ‘ at the time, chief Legal Counsel to the president, currently the incumbent attorney general. In it Bybee professed to discover a “sweeping grant” of authority to the president in the form of an unenumerated “Commander-in-Chief Power.” Acting as an agent of the commander-in-chief, interrogators enjoy immunity from prosecution under laws against torture, since (according to Bybee) “enforcement of [an anti-torture] statute would represent an unconstitutional infringement of the President’s authority to conduct war.” Thus “the Department of Justice could not bring a criminal prosecution [against someone] who had acted pursuant to an exercise of the President’s constitutional power…. If Congress could do so, it could control the President’s authority through the manipulation of federal criminal law.”

It bears repeating that even (or perhaps especially) in wartime, the president’s powers are contingent, not absolute. And the president is required to see that all constitutionally sound laws ‘ including those prohibiting torture ‘ are “faithfully executed.” The Bush administration, however, is wedded to a doctrine of executive power alien to our Constitution and unmistakably akin to the doctrines devised by Lenin, Hitler, and their totalitarian heirs.

In his August 2002 “torture memorandum,” Bybee asserted that interrogation techniques “may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering or the requisite intensity” to meet the legal definition of torture. Only acts that inflict pain “equivalent in intensity to ‘ serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” could be considered torture. And as Bybee concluded elsewhere, acts of unambiguous torture are “legal” when committed by those acting on behalf of the president.

Not everyone within the Bush administration agreed with the Bybee memo’s assertions. FBI Director Robert Mueller has stated that interrogation methods used by CIA interrogators in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq “violate all American anti-torture laws and would be prohibited in criminal cases of the most serious kind.” Mueller has actually instructed FBI agents in Guantanamo Bay to leave the room when CIA or military intelligence interrogators begin their work, in order to avoid implicating the Bureau in acts the director regards as clearly criminal.

Outsourcing Torture

Many of those detained and interrogated by the Bush administration are removed from U.S. jurisdiction entirely and flown ‘ via a fleet of Gulfstream V executive jets ‘ to countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Uzbekistan. This process, known as “extraordinary rendition,” has been labeled “outsourcing torture” by its critics. That description is entirely reasonable, given that its chief selling point is the fact that the recipient regimes are all notorious for the use of torture.

In a March 12 Boston Globe op-ed column, Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) offered a capsule description of the “rendition” process at work:

An unmarked plane arrives in the middle of the night carrying men who aren’t wearing uniforms but have on black hoods. The men grab prisoners out of the hands of government officials, cut off their clothes, drug them on the spot, shackle them, force the prisoners onto the plane and take off into the night. When the “torture” plane disappears, no one knows where and when the captives will appear and what will happen to them: electrocution, beatings, sexual abuse?

At first guess, you might imagine that this terrible operation is the work of a drug cartel or a rogue member of the “axis of evil,” but the scene described involves U.S. officials as a routine part of the Bush administration’s practice of “outsourcing torture.”

In fact, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” like many other constitutionally impermissible counter-terrorism policies followed by the Bush administration, actually began under Bill Clinton. Former CIA Director George Tenet testified before Congress in 2002 that over 70 people had been subject to rendition prior to September 11, 2001. Another official cited by Rep. Markey estimated that “over 150 renditions have been conducted since 9/11.”

The Bush administration and its supporters insist that rendition is an unsavory but necessary method to extract information from the “worst of the worst.” But the problem, once again, is that it amounts to summary imprisonment and torture of individuals by presidential decree. As the case of Canadian citizen Mahar Arar illustrates, innocent people can suffer tremendous harm by being swept up in the net of “extraordinary rendition.”

Snatched to Syria

Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was returning from a family vacation abroad in September 2002 when he was detained at JFK Airport by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. For several hours, Arar was kept in a semi-secure area by officials who insisted that he was undergoing a “regular procedure.” Arar (who had gone home alone ahead of the rest of his family) was denied access to a telephone and required to surrender his Canadian passport. Eventually he was joined by an interrogation team, including an FBI agent and a New York police officer.

“I told them I wanted a lawyer,” recalled Arar more than a year later. “They told me I had no right to a lawyer, because I wasn’t an American citizen…. They swore at me, and insulted me. It was very humiliating. They wanted me to answer every question quickly. They were consulting a report while they were questioning me, and the information they had was [very] private…. I told them everything I knew.”

The questioning focused on Arar’s relationship with a man named Abdullah Almalki, whose brother worked with Arar at a hi-tech consulting firm in Ottawa. The Almalki family had emigrated to Canada from Syria at roughly the same time as Arar’s, and he told his interrogators that he had a “casual” relationship with Abdullah.

The questioners, accusing Arar of lying, produced a copy of Arar’s 1997 rental lease agreement, which Abdullah had signed as a witness. Arar, understandably, had forgotten that Abdullah had substituted in that role at the last minute when his brother hadn’t been available. “But they thought I was hiding this,” he related. “I told them the truth. I had nothing to hide. I had never had any problems with the United States before, and I could not believe what was happening to me.”

The interrogation lasted until midnight. Arar’s pleas to speak with an attorney were ignored. Eventually he was shackled in chains, stuffed in a van, and taken to “a place where many people were being held in another building by the airport.” There his questioning soon resumed, this time focusing on “what I think about bin Laden, Palestine, Iraq. They also asked me about the mosques I pray in, my bank accounts, my e-mail addresses, my relatives, about everything.”

An INS official demanded that Arar “volunteer to go to Syria.” Arar, a Canadian citizen by choice, asked to be sent to his adopted homeland. He was given a document and told to sign it without being allowed to read it. Weary and thoroughly intimidated, and still convinced that what he believed to be a misunderstanding would soon be straightened out, Arar signed the paper. He was shuttled to New York’s Metropolitan Detention Center, where he was finally afforded a few basic decencies, including an opportunity to call his family.

Roughly two weeks after Arar’s ordeal began, he was roused at 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 8, by a prison guard who informed him that “based on classified information that they could not reveal to me, I would be deported to Syria.” Chained and shackled, Arar begged not to be delivered into the custody of a regime identified as a terrorist state by the U.S. government ‘ a regime his family had fled over a decade and a half earlier. Responding to Arar’s protests that he would be tortured at the hands of Syrian officials, his captors “read part of the document [he had earlier signed under duress] where it explained that INS was not the body that deals with Geneva Conventions regarding torture.”

Shoved into a car and taken to New Jersey, Arar was bundled into a small private jet. “I was the only person on the plane” apart from the flight crew, Arar recalled. “I was still chained and shackled.” The plane made stops in Washington, D.C.; Portland, Maine; Rome, Italy; and then Amman, Jordan. During the flight Arar overheard unnamed officials “talking on the phone, saying that Syria was refusing to take me directly, but Jordan would take me.”

On arrival in Amman, Arar was blindfolded, chained, and thrown into another van. His captors immediately began to beat him. In short order he was delivered into the custody of an even rougher crew that was identified as “the Palestine branch of the Syrian military intelligence.” Like the Americans who had originally seized Arar, the Syrians had a detailed dossier. But their methods of interrogation were much more severe.

“If I did not answer quickly enough, [the colonel and chief interrogator] would point to a metal chair in the corner and ask, ‘Do you want me to use this?'” recounted Arar. “I did not know then what the chair was for. I learned later it was used to torture people.” Taken to a basement, the hapless Canadian ‘ who to this day has never been charged with a crime by Canadian, American, or Syrian officials ‘ was thrust into a tiny earthen cell he came to call a “grave.”

“It was three feet wide,” he recalled. “It was six feet deep. It was seven feet high. It had a metal door, with a small opening in the floor, which did not let in light because there was a piece of metal on the outside for sliding things into the cell.” There were two blankets, two dishes, and two bottles ‘ one for water and one to use as a urinal.

For 10 months and 10 days, Arar shared his “grave” with a shifting population of cats and rodents. Denied any semblance of basic human comforts, Arar would be taken out of his cell every day and beaten with heavy rods and thick electrical cables. He was constantly threatened with electrocution. He constantly heard the anguished screams of others whose treatment was even worse.

After several weeks of torture, Arar received visits from Canadian consular officials, who seemed oddly indifferent to his treatment. Several months after the ordeal began, amid incessant torture and reiteration of the plausible threat that “tomorrow it will be worse,” Arar broke down and signed a document stating that he had attended “a training camp in Afghanistan.”

On October 5, 2003, after Arar made that confession, he was released without being charged. After serving a sentence of nearly a year in a Syrian gulag, suffering incessant torture at the hands of KGB-trained interrogators, Arar was sent back to Canada without explanation, without apology, without ever being permitted to confront the witnesses against him or examine the evidence.

Bestial Methods

Though Arar was treated brutally at the hands of the Syrian secret police, it could have been much worse. According to an investigative report compiled by the New York Times, the Bush administration has used the former Soviet Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan as a “surrogate jailer” and interrogator of terrorist suspects.

According to a 2001 State Department report, the Uzbek regime of “ex”-Communist Party thug Islam Karimov regularly employs torture in dealing with both political dissidents and common criminal suspects. Beatings, asphyxiation, electroshock, and boiling of various body parts are among the methods preferred by Karimov’s secret police, which is a direct outgrowth of the Soviet-era KGB. As described in a 2002 State Department report, two detainees killed by Uzbek prison authorities “had likely been suspended in boiling water.”

According to Craig Murray, Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan, “CIA flights flew to Tashkent [the capital] often, usually twice a week.” In a July 2004 confidential memo to the British Foreign Office, Murray described evidence he had obtained of U.S.-sanctioned torture of suspects “rendered” to the Uzbek regime. “We should cease all cooperation with the Uzbek security forces ‘ they are beyond the pale,” Murray urged the Foreign Office. Murray’s superiors, the former ambassador told the Times, were “furious” over his objections, claiming that intelligence obtained through torture was of value to the counterterrorism effort. Rather than acting on Murray’s recommendations, the Foreign Office cashiered the whistle-blower.

For its part, the Bush administration has treated Karimov’s regime ‘ a throwback to Stalin-era Communist totalitarianism ‘ as a valued ally in the “war on terror.” Mr. Bush formalized the relationship during a March 2002 Oval Office meeting with Karimov, and the administration has lavished at least a half billion dollars on Tashkent for use in “security matters,” reported the Times.

On March 5, during Karimov’s visit to the U.S., White House press spokesman Scott McClellan was asked about the propriety of sending suspects to Uzbekistan, where they would almost certainly be tortured. McClellan breezily defended the practice by stating “it is important that we gather intelligence to protect the American people.”

During a White House press conference in April, Mr. Bush was asked about the methods used by Uzbek security forces in questioning suspected terrorists. Refusing a direct answer ‘ as is his wont ‘ the president offered the meaningless assurance that his administration seeks promises “that nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country.” But as the case of Mahar Arar illustrates, “rendition” does not involve deportation to a suspect’s “home country” (in his case, Canada), but rather delivering him into the hands of hired torturers in a country outside of U.S. jurisdiction.

Chain the Beast

When criticized for abuses of power ‘ torture, summary detention, “rendition” of suspects to terror regimes ‘ the Bush administration and its defenders have typically employed a three-stage defense that runs as follows: “The government’s not doing things like that. You can’t prove they’re doing things like that. Well, all right, they are doing things like that ‘ but what’s the problem, as long as it’s only being done to ‘them’?”

At the foundation of every defense of the Bush administration’s abuses of power is the notion that George W. Bush can be trusted with the extraordinary powers he claims. Similar claims were made with respect to the powers the administration of John Adams had claimed through the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which were enacted during a time of national crisis in some ways similar to the present one.

In a resolution published on November 10, 1798, Thomas Jefferson condemned the Alien and Sedition Acts as an assault on constitutional liberty and the foundation of an executive dictatorship. Under their provisions, he warned, the federal government “may place any act they think proper on the list of crimes, and punish it themselves”; the president, or any of his agents, could “himself be the accuser, counsel, judge and jury, whose suspicions may be the evidence, his order the sentence, his officer the executioner, and his breast the sole record of the transaction.” Under this doctrine of executive power, Jefferson continued, all American citizens would be “reduced, as outlaws, to the absolute dominion of one man, and the barrier of the Constitution [would be] swept away.”

While many esteemed President Adams as a model of piety and rectitude, Jefferson warned that “confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism ‘ free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence…. In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

If we do not act soon to shackle our government in the metaphorical chains of the Constitution, we will in short order find ourselves bound by the very tangible chains of despotism.

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American Civil Liberties Union

The ACLU maintains a useful database of documents about international detainee torture and abuse by the US goverment. They are also running an ongoing legal campaign to ensure that the government cannot use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to withhold records of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The ACLU and Human Rights First have also charged that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees, and filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of eight men subjected to torture and abuse under Secretary Rumsfeld’s command.

American Civil Liberties Union

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