Monthly Archives: September 2005


The EU’s tardy response to the Andijan massacre is criticised

From The Telegraph

It has taken the European Union four and a half months to decide on sanctions against Uzbekistan for the Andijan massacre. These are due to be approved by foreign ministers of the 25 member states in Brussels on Monday. They are expected to ban exports of arms, military equipment and material that could be used for internal repression. Other measures include refusing visas to those thought to have been involved in the massacre, and cuts in aid disbursed under a 1996 partnership and co-operation agreement.

The EU argues that it had to wait for the report of its special representative, the Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis, before taking action. In so doing, it ignored its own deadline, of June 30, for Uzbek compliance with a demand that the May 13 massacre, in which hundreds of people were killed, be subject to an international inquiry. To add insult to injury, it did not even bother to place Andijan on the agenda of this month’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Newport.

Mr Kubis, who visited Tashkent and Andijan three weeks ago, has duly relayed President Islam Karimov’s refusal to accede to EU demands. Instead, the government has put on trial 15 defendants charged with what it terms an uprising by Islamic extremists. Investigations by human rights organisations have, by contrast, found that the authorities applied excessive lethal force to a largely peaceful protest against poverty and repression.

The EU has the chance to compensate for procrastination at its summit with Vladimir Putin in London next Tuesday. The Russian president has moved swiftly to strengthen relations with Mr Karimov following the latter’s decision to withdraw basing rights from the Americans at Karshi-Khanabad; enhancing Russian influence in the “near abroad” tops the Kremlin’s foreign policy agenda. EU leaders should tell Mr Putin that support for the Uzbek tyrant threatens stability in a region of mutual strategic concern, and can only damage Moscow’s relations with the West. The question is: will they have the guts to do so? Dilatoriness over the Andijan massacre does not encourage optimism.

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Italy issues three more arrest warrants for CIA operatives

From BBC online

An Italian court has issued three more arrest warrants for suspected CIA agents accused of helping to kidnap a Muslim cleric in 2003. The authorities have already ordered the arrest of 19 people suspected of being involved in the abduction of Egyptian Osama Mustafa Hassan.

The suspects are accused of abducting Mr Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, and flying him to Egypt for interrogation. Correspondents say the case has soured relations between Washington and Rome. Italy says the alleged operation hindered Italian terrorism investigations. No arrests have been made. None of the suspects is currently believed to be in Italy.

US policy

The latest warrants came after Italian investigators reconstructed the contents of a computer hard-disk belonging to one of the accused, according to the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Prosecutors believe the operation was part of a US anti-terror policy called “extraordinary rendition”. The policy involves seizing suspects and taking them to third countries for questioning without court approval. The US has previously acknowledged it sends terror suspects to third countries for questioning, but denies it condones torture.

Mr Hassan, 42, is believed to have been abducted on 17 February 2003, and flown out of the country from a US base in Aviano, north of Venice. After his release last year, he called his family telling them he had been tortured with electric shocks during his detention.

The CIA has refused to comment on the case and the Italian government has said it had no prior knowledge of the kidnap plot. Mr Hassan is believed to have arrived in Italy in 1997, where he was granted refugee status.

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Abu Ghraib images to be released to American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU Calls “Historic Ruling” a Step Toward Government Accountability for Abuse and Torture of Prisoners

NEW YORK – A federal court has ordered the Department of Defense to turn over to the American Civil Liberties Union more than 70 photographs and three videos depicting abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The release of the photos has been stayed for 20 days pending the government’s expected appeal.

See the ACLU site for full details

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Akiner exposed – Craig Murray slams SOAS “propagandist for the Karimov regime”

Dear Professor Bundy,

It is with a heavy heart that I write to you about the activities of Shirin Akiner in acting as a propagandist for the Karimov regime of Uzbekistan. I am very reluctant to do so because I am a passionate believer in academic freedom and the right to express even the most unorthodox of views. However I feel that in her activities in attempting to justify the Andizhan massacre, Ms Akiner has entered the realm of deliberate dishonesty, and demonstrably departed from standards of academic method in a way that SOAS cannot ignore.

Ms Akiner has lied about the origin of her visit to Andizhan as a guest of the Uzbek government. She claims she was in Tashkent anyway, and accepted an unexpected invitation issued on the spot. In fact the Uzbek Ambassador to London, Mr Riskiev, had told a British businessman in London many days before this that the Uzbek government was countering the possible imposition of sanctions by sending Shirin Akiner to produce a report to give credibility to the Uzbek government’s version of the massacre. The businessman immediately told me, so I knew of her visit to Andizhan before Akiner alleges that she did.

On the question of academic method, Akiner operated under the direct supervision of Uzbek government officials. She only spoke to alleged witnesses in the presence of government officials, and indeed I believe it was almost always the regional governor himself, the Hokkim of Andizhan, who was with her. The idea that in a totalitarian state evidence of an alleged government atrocity can be gained by allowing the government to produce the witnesses, and interviewing them in the presence of government officials, is ludicrous, as any decent academic would recognise. It seems to me that on this particular point there is evidence for SOAS to speak to Ms Akiner.

Her account of what happened agrees perfectly with the Uzbek government’s account, which is unsurprising in the circumstances. Her account contrasts sharply with the excellent report by Human Rights Watch, compiled after decent individual interviews with twenty times as many individuals as Akiner interviewed individually, and in the case of HRW, interviewed without the presence of government officials. Akiner’s account also differs from those of journalistic eyewitnesses, including that of Galima Burkabaeva, a reporter for CNN I have known well for three years who was present throughout the events in Andizhan. Galima is now a postgraduate student at Columbia University, and I discussed these matters with her last week.

Burkabaeva says that Akiner’s account is completely incompatible with the truth. In both Washington and New York I found that my audiences ‘ including Columbia University, the American Bar Association and the Brookings Institute ‘ were simply astonished at the propaganda tour of the United States Akiner recently undertook. With the exception of a tiny number of the most extreme neo-conservatives, everyone asked me ‘ literally scores of people ‘ why SOAS was working for the government of Uzbekistan. I do not believe you are aware of the damage Akiner is doing to the reputation of your institution.

Let me be quite plain. I am not seeking to stop Akiner supporting the Uzbek government. Her political views are her own business. I am accusing her of deliberate abandonment of academic method in her Andizhan investigation, in order to produce a desired propaganda result. I presume that she preaches the resulting falsehoods not only in the States, not only on Channel 4 News last night, but also to your students.

I should be most grateful if you would refer this email to the SOAS ethics committee.

One final question. In Uzbekistan everybody, no matter what subject they are studying and at what level, is required to study the works of President Karimov. This starts at elementary school and extends up to PhD. I met one brilliant mathematician who had just submitted their mathematics PhD, but was very worried about the compulsory examination where they had to reproduce and praise passages of Karimov’s books.

I was recently told that Akiner curried favour with Karimov some years ago by securing SOAS funds and other resources for translating Karimov’s execrable books into English. I should like to know if that is true.

Craig Murray

UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan 2002-4

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“Happy molehunting” – Craig Murray sends his memoirs to the UK Foreign Office

I have today submitted the text of my book to the FCO for clearance, as I am contractually obliged to do. I have already received four letters, an email and a phone call to tell me I must not publish without clearance, so I have little doubt that the FCO intends to prevent publication. I thought it might be interesting to publish the correspondence as it develops.

Apart from the Official Secrets Act, or the ironically named Freedom of Information Act, the government can use civil litigation under contract. A civil servant’s contract nowadays states that they will never publish anything they learnt or saw in the course of their work, whether it is secret or not. This removes any public interest defence, or need for the government to prove questions of national security. It should cause more alarm than it does that civil servants are gagged by such draconian anti-whistleblower legislation.

I have finished 26 chapters of the book, and the final three are part complete. Publishers abroad seem very keen, but not in this country, which I don’t completely understand. There is one firm bid in to option the film rights, and five other expressions of interest in bidding for these. My agents are David Higham.

Craig

From: Craig Murray

Sent: 29 September 2005 07:17

To: Richard Stagg

Subject: Should Not Be Known

Dear Dickie,

As promised, I attach the text of my memoir. This is not actually quite finished yet, but I thought you might like to be getting on with clearance.

I note that Mr Price has gone ahead and published his account of life in No 10, without clearance. I bought a copy of the Mail to read it. It was rather boring. The interesting thing is that I would not have bought it, had the government not tried to ban it. The same is true of Spycatcher, a mind-numbingly dull book which I bought because it was banned, as did 220,000 other people. I rather hope that you do try to prevent publication, because you won’t succeed, and it may help me secure a publisher. Publishers in this country remain less than interested.

That is probably because there is nothing new in the book ‘ it is all very much in the public domain. I hope that the writing makes it still interesting.

The book reproduces a number of official documents. These are either in the public domain, being readily available on the internet (and not originally placed there by me, though I subsequently copied some to my website), or were released to me under the Data Protection Act.

The exception might be some of the detail on the Chris Hirst case. Here I think there is a duty to contradict the extraordinarily tendentious account of events given to the Foreign Affairs Committee by Sir Michael Jay. I also believe that one of the more disturbing episodes of the whole story, is the fact that the FCO were much less concerned that Hirst was conducting murderous assaults, than they were interested in using him to obtain evidence that I visited bars. I expect the reading public will think so too.

I have tried to be scrupulously fair to my colleagues, however little they deserve it, and to be more than fair to the more junior. I would like to believe that the Office might learn some lessons from this account, but of course you won’t.

I would finally add that attempting to avoid embarrassment is not a legitimate reason to ban a book or parts of it. However I expect that to be the Office’s reaction.

I hope that whoever gets the task of ploughing through this, finds at least bits of it enjoyable. It is actually quite an interesting story, even though I say it myself. I fully believe it to be entirely true. Where information comes not from my direct observation but from another source, I say so.

Happy mole-hunting.

Craig

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New Accounts of Torture by U.S. Troops

U.S. Army troops subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers, according to accounts from soldiers released by Human Rights Watch.

The administration demanded that soldiers extract information from detainees without telling them what was allowed and what was forbidden. Yet when abuses inevitably followed, the leadership blamed the soldiers in the field instead of taking responsibility.

The new report, ‘Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division,’ provides soldiers’ accounts of abuses against detainees committed by troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury), near Fallujah.

Three U.S. army personnel’two sergeants and a captain’describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water. The soldiers also described abuses they witnessed or participated in at another base in Iraq and during earlier deployments in Afghanistan.

According to the soldiers’ accounts, U.S. personnel abused detainees as part of the military interrogation process or merely to ‘relieve stress.’ In numerous cases, they said that abuse was specifically ordered by Military Intelligence personnel before interrogations, and that superior officers within and outside of Military Intelligence knew about the widespread abuse. The accounts show that abuses resulted from civilian and military failures of leadership and confusion about interrogation standards and the application of the Geneva Conventions. They contradict claims by the Bush administration that detainee abuses by U.S. forces abroad have been infrequent, exceptional and unrelated to policy.

‘The administration demanded that soldiers extract information from detainees without telling them what was allowed and what was forbidden,’ said Tom Malinowski, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch. ‘Yet when abuses inevitably followed, the leadership blamed the soldiers in the field instead of taking responsibility.’

Soldiers referred to abusive techniques as ‘smoking’ or ‘fucking’ detainees, who are known as ‘PUCs,’ or Persons Under Control. ‘Smoking a PUC’ referred to exhausting detainees with physical exercises (sometimes to the point of unconsciousness) or forcing detainees to hold painful positions. ‘Fucking a PUC’ detainees referred to beating or torturing them severely. The soldiers said that Military Intelligence personnel regularly instructed soldiers to ‘smoke’ detainees before interrogations.

One sergeant told Human Rights Watch: ‘Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport’ One day [a sergeant] shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger, a metal bat.’

The officer who spoke to Human Rights Watch made persistent efforts over 17 months to raise concerns about detainee abuse with his chain of command and to obtain clearer rules on the proper treatment of detainees, but was consistently told to ignore abuses and to ‘consider your career.’ He believes he was not taken seriously until he approached members of Congress to raise his concerns. When the officer made an appointment this month with Senate staff members of Senators John McCain and John Warner, he says his commanding officer denied him a pass to leave his base. The officer was interviewed several days later by investigators with the Army Criminal Investigative Division and Inspector General’s office, and there were reports that the military has launched a formal investigation. Repeated efforts by Human Rights Watch to contact the 82nd Airborne Division regarding the major allegations in the report received no response.

The soldiers’ accounts show widespread confusion among military units about the legal standards applicable to detainees. One of the sergeants quoted in the report described how abuse of detainees was accepted among military units:

‘Trends were accepted. Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it. They wanted intel [intelligence]. As long as no PUCs came up dead it happened. We heard rumors of PUCs dying so we were careful. We kept it to broken arms and legs and shit.’

The soldiers’ accounts challenge the Bush administration’s claim that military and civilian leadership did not play a role in abuses. The officer quoted in the report told Human Rights Watch that he believes the abuses he witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan were caused in part by President Bush’s 2002 decision not to apply Geneva Conventions protection to detainees captured in Afghanistan:

‘[In Afghanistan,] I thought that the chain on command all the way up to the National Command Authority [President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld] had made it a policy that we were going to interrogate these guys harshly. . . . We knew where the Geneva Conventions drew the line, but then you get that confusion when the Sec Def [Secretary of Defense] and the President make that statement [that Geneva did not apply to detainees] . . . . Had I thought we were following the Geneva Conventions as an officer I would have investigated what was clearly a very suspicious situation.’

The officer said that Bush’s decision on Afghanistan affected detention and interrogation policy in Iraq: ‘None of the unit policies changed. Iraq was cast as part of the War on Terror, not a separate entity in and of itself but a part of a larger war.’

As one sergeant cited in the report, discussing his duty in Iraq, said: ‘The Geneva Conventions is questionable and we didn’t know we were supposed to be following it. . . . [W]e were never briefed on the Geneva Conventions.’

Human Rights Watch called on the military to conduct a thorough investigation of the abuses described in the report, as well as all other cases of reported abuse. It urged that this investigation not be limited to low-ranking military personnel, as has been the case in previous investigations, but to examine the responsibility throughout the military chain of command.

Human Rights Watch repeated its call for the administration to appoint a special counsel to conduct a widespread criminal investigation of military and civilian personnel, including higher level officials, who may be implicated in detainee abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.

Human Rights Watch also called on the U.S. Congress to create a special commission, along the lines of the 9/11 commission, to investigate prisoner abuse issues, and to enact proposed legislation prohibiting all forms of detainee treatment and interrogation not specifically authorized by the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation and all treatment prohibited by the Convention Against Torture.

‘When an experienced Army officer goes out of his way to say something’s systematically wrong, it’s time for the administration and Congress to listen,’ Malinowski said. ‘That means allowing a genuinely independent investigation of the policy decisions that led to the abuse and communicating clear, lawful interrogation rules to the troops on the ground.’

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Deportation of British residents linked to ’40bn arms deal

Evidence has emerged of Prime Minister Blair’s involvement in a secret Saudi trade mission and its link to the attempted deportation of anti-Saudi dissidents.

By David Leigh and Ewen MacAskill in The Guardian

“Tony Blair and John Reid, the defence secretary, have been holding secret talks with Saudi Arabia in pursuit of a huge arms deal worth up to ’40bn, according to diplomatic sources.

Mr Blair went to Riyadh on July 2, en route to Singapore, where Britain was bidding for the 2012 Olympics. Three weeks later, Mr Reid made a two-day visit, when he sought to persuade Prince Sultan, the crown prince, to re-equip his air force with the Typhoon, the European fighter plane of which the British arms company BAE has the lion’s share of manufacturing.

Defence, diplomatic and legal sources say negotiations are stalling because the Saudis are demanding three favours. These are that Britain should expel two anti-Saudi dissidents, Saad al-Faqih and Mohammed al-Masari; that British Airways should resume flights to Riyadh, currently cancelled through terrorism fears; and that a corruption investigation implicating the Saudi ruling family and BAE should be dropped. Crown prince Sultan’s son-in-law, Prince Turki bin Nasr, is at the centre of a “slush fund” investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

The Saudis have been trying for years to get their hands on Mr Faqih, who they say was involved in a plot to assassinate the recently enthroned King Abdullah. Mr Faqih, who has asylum, denies support for violence, and privately neither the Foreign Office nor the security services regard him as a danger to Britain. Mr Masari fled Saudi Arabia in 1994, and the Major government made an unsuccessful attempt to exile him to the Caribbean island of Dominica under pressure from BAE.

The Typhoon, currently entering service with the RAF, has a price of more than ’45m a plane. Saudi Arabia previously bought a fleet of its predecessor Tornados from Britain in the Al Yamamah arms deal. Mike Turner, the chief executive of BAE, Britain’s biggest arms company, was quoted in Flight International magazine on June 21, just before Mr Blair’s Riyadh trip, saying: “The objective is to get the Typhoon into Saudi Arabia. We’ve had ’43bn from Al Yamamah over the last 20 years and there could be another ’40bn.”

There is concern within the Foreign Office at the apparent partiality of No 10 to BAE’s commercial interests. Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s chief of staff, and his brother Charles, Lady Thatcher’s former adviser and now a BAE consultant, are believed to be in favour of the deal.”

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No one is calling for an immediate British withdrawal from Iraq?

A posting on Medialens questions the editorial judegment of the Guardian on the question of a troop withdrawal from Iraq.

“We do not know whether Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote yesterday’s leader on “Britain’s post-invasion commitment to Iraq”, but we assume that he approved it. (‘Signposting the Exit,’ The Guardian, September 21, 2005)

“No one is arguing for an immediate pull-out”, the editorial claims.

Presumably those calling for an immediate withdrawal, including many in the anti-war movement, do not exist.

“No one” includes Caroline Lucas, Green Euro-MP, one of many speakers who called for “the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq” at a ‘Troops Out Now’ rally in central London on March 19, 2005. (Green Party news release, March 18, 2005)

“No one” includes Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War coalition. In a Guardian comment piece ahead of the same rally, he called for “the occupation [to be] brought to a speedy end, our troops brought home, and full sovereignty restored to the Iraqi people”. (Murray, ‘No escape from the war,’ The Guardian, March 16, 2005)

“No one” includes Rose Gentle, who lost her 19-year-old son Gordon, killed by a roadside bomb in Basra. She helped form the Justice for Gordon Gentle campaign, and has been campaigning for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. She told a public rally in Glasgow last year:

“Gordon’s pals came home last night and he could have been here. I feel his life was wasted by going into an illegal war. I will not stop calling for the troops to come home.” (Cameron Simpson, ‘Mother says she feels her son’s life was wasted,’ The Herald, December 8, 2004)

“No one” includes American mother Cindy Sheehan, who also lost a son in Iraq. Mrs Sheehan has been conducting a “Bring Them Home Now” bus tour in the US. In calling for troops to be “brought home immediately”, she exhorted Bush: “You can’t win the war on terror by killing more of our soldiers and innocent Iraqi people. You are breeding more terror.” (Sheehan, ‘My response to George,’ August 24, 2005; http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/24483/)

“No one” includes more than half of the US public. When asked how long American troops should remain in Iraq, 52 per cent interviewed called for an immediate withdrawal, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. (Raymond Hernandez and Megan Thee, ‘Iraq’s Costs Worry Americans, Poll Indicates,’ New York Times, September 17, 2005)

“No one” includes Iraqis themselves. Guardian comment editor Seumas Milne observed last year that “polls show most Iraqis want foreign troops out now”. (‘If the US can’t fix it, it’s the wrong kind of democracy,’ The Guardian, November 18, 2004) Does the Guardian think Iraqi opinion doesn’t count?

“No one” includes the Guardian’s new columnist Simon Jenkins who wrote this week:

“Don’t be fooled a second time. They told you Britain must invade Iraq because of its weapons of mass destruction. They were wrong. Now they say British troops must stay in Iraq because otherwise it will collapse into chaos.

“This second lie is infecting everyone. It is spouted by Labour and Tory opponents of the war and even by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell.” (Jenkins, ‘To say we must stay in Iraq to save it from chaos is a lie,’ The Guardian, September 21, 2005).

One can debate what timescale is implied by “immediate” withdrawal. Many peace activists propose a deadline of Christmas 2005. A rally taking place this Saturday in Hyde Park will call for the withdrawal of troops to be completed by then (www.stopwar.org.uk). A letter in support condemning the continued occupation of Iraq as “an unmitigated disaster”, was signed by 100 academics, MPs and activists, and delivered by musician Brian Eno and actor Julie Christie to Downing Street last week. Signees also included Richard Dawkins, Harold Pinter, Ken Loach, A L Kennedy, George Monbiot, Tony Benn, John Pilger and former UK ambassador Craig Murray. (Ben Russell, ‘Arts world unites for plea to pull troops out of Iraq,’ The Independent, September 16, 2005)

Calling for a rapid withdrawal of ‘coalition’ troops does not mean accepting that the people of Iraq will be required to suffer even worse chaos and violence. US historian and peace activist, Howard Zinn, comments:

“The UN should arrange, as US forces leave, for an international group of peacekeepers and negotiators from the Arab countries to bring together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and work out a solution for self-governance that would give all three groups a share in political power. Simultaneously, the UN should arrange for shipments of food and medicine, from the United States and other countries, as well as engineers to help rebuild the country.” (Zinn, ‘How to get out of Iraq,’ The Nation, May 6, 2004)

But this is an inconceivable option for warmonger Tony Blair, his faithful retinue of ministers, and his supporters in the media who, on the evidence to date, include the ‘liberal’ Guardian.”

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Britain should not have “cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime”

As part of his speaking tour in the US Craig was interviwed yesterday in Washington DC on WAMU Radio. You can listen here to the interview with Real Player or Windows Media Player

(24.09.05 – Apologies to anyone who followed the mobile link yesterday to a very interesting, but completely unrelated interview!)

“Craig Murray may have spent his career in the diplomatic service, but he doesn’t mince words. As British ambassador to Uzbekistan, he publicly criticized the nation’s human rights record and said Britain should not have “cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime.” A year after leaving his post, he joins us to discuss diplomacy and human rights.”

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A march for Peace and Liberty in London this Saturday

A ‘Peace and Liberty’ march is scheduled in London for the 24th September.

With the situation in southern Iraq now looking extremely hazadous for British troops, and the rest of Iraq seeming to go from bad to worse, large marches in London and the US are expected on Saturday. As stated by the former Chief of the Defense Staff, Lord Bramall, on BBC Radio 4 this morning, the operation has degenerated into a disaster and a review of policy and a clear exit strategy for British forces seems to be required.

For full details of the demonstration in London can be found here

Information on the US protest is available from here

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Craig Murray embarks on speaking tour in the US

Craig Murray began an invited speaking tour yesterday in Washington, where he gave several addresses on US foreign policy, including one to civil servants and congressional staffers. Predictably, there was quite a reaction, and we are looking forward to posting more on the view from America shortly.

Craig is continuing his tour until the 28th September. The main focus of his talks will be on the conduct of foreign policy and the “war on terror”.

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Craig Murray TV documentary to be screened today

The Ambassador’s Last Stand

Wed 21 Sep, 7:00 pm – 7:50 pm 50 mins

“Craig Murray was our man in Uzbekistan, who says he put his life and career on the line for a principle. He made claims and protests about the apparent British policy of obtaining intelligence via torture. The fallout led to his early resignation, and then Murray stood against his former boss, foreign secretary Jack Straw, in Blackburn in the general election.

John Sweeney tells the story of Britain’s colourful former ambassador to Uzbekistan. He follows Murray, his glamorous young Uzbeki girlfriend Nodira, and a platoon of volunteers as they try to awaken Blackburn to what they believe is New Labour’s complicity in torture.”

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Ex-ambassador accuses Straw of lying over torture

By David Leigh in The Guardian

The controversy over the UK’s complicity in torture is likely to be revived today when the BBC screens footage of a former British ambassador describing Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, as a liar. Mr Straw is shown in a BBC2 documentary due for transmission this evening denying any knowledge that Britain uses intelligence gained by torture. But Craig Murray, who was ousted as ambassador to Uzbekistan, responds by saying: “He’s simply lying.”

The programme comes at a sensitive time for the BBC, which was recently forced to rebuke the veteran presenter John Humphrys for making an after-dinner speech suggesting that some Labour politicians tell lies.

In November 2004, Mr Straw admitted privately to MPs: “There are certainly circumstances where we may get intelligence from a liaison partner where we know … that their practices are well below the line. It does not follow that, if it is extracted under torture, it is automatically untrue.” The documentary shows Mr Straw six months later, during the election campaign in Blackburn, denying that Britain uses intelligence gained through torture. Mr Murray stood against Mr Straw in the election on an anti-torture platform.

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Uzbeks accuse foreign media of coup attempt as Andijan ‘show trial’ opens

‘ BBC named for ‘colluding’ with 15 Islamic militants

‘ Observers brand Tashkent proceedings as a sham

Nick Paton Walsh in The Guardian

Western aid groups and journalists, including the BBC, helped Islamists in a bid to overthrow the Uzbek government, prosecutors claimed yesterday at the start of a trial of 15 men accused of organising May’s uprising in Andijan.

The claim was part of an attempt to portray the massacre in the eastern town of Andijan, in which witnesses have said at least 500 protesters were gunned down by Uzbek troops on or after May 13 this year, as a foreign-assisted coup aimed at forming an Islamic caliphate.

The deputy prosecutor general, Anvar Nabiev, said the “foreign destructive forces” behind the uprising “used so-called human rights groups and foreign media whose aim was to blacken the actions of the Uzbek government and help destabilise society”. He said some aid groups were created “just to help” such Islamic extremists.

The team of four blue-uniformed prosecutors put their case for five hours before the defendants, all well-dressed and fed, rose inside a large metal cage, to declare their guilt, on all charges. Their defence lawyers remained silent. All 15 face the death penalty over dozens of charges including murder, trying to overthrow the constitutional order and attempting a coup. A further 106 men will be tried.

Islamic extremism and the foreign media are commonly cited by authoritarian regimes in central Asia. Yet Uzbek prosecutors made little mention of the armed jailbreak that may have killed up to 50 prison guards, and which sparked the protests, and the crackdown.

Mr Nabiev said the 15 were linked to the Akramiya group, an Islamic movement that encourages business success. The arrest and jailbreak of 23 of its members started the Andijan uprising. Mr Nabiev said Akramiya was linked to fundamentalists Hizb ut-Tahrir and to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the US blacklisted for its links to al-Qaida. He said $200,000 (‘110,000) had been sent from Akramiya cells in the Russian towns of Omsk and Ivanovo to fund the operation. Hizb ut-Tahrir denies such links.

The prosecutors stopped short of accusing the foreign media of having co-planned the event, yet suggested they had been tipped off. They said several foreign journalists in Andijan on the day of the massacre were brought to the state building seized by the gunmen so they would report a peaceful uprising. A Human Rights Watch report released yesterday documented months of abuse against foreign media and rights workers who exposed the scale of the massacre.

Mr Nabiev singled out two BBC journalists: Jenny Norton, a World Service reporter, for saying the protests in Andijan were of “an unprecedented scale”; and a Russian Service correspondent, Valeri Pankrashin, for saying Akramiya members were businessmen, not extremists. A reporter for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Galina Bukharbayeva, was also frequently criticised for similar comments made on CNN and in her reports.

Mr Nabiev claimed the Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, had negotiated with the uprising’s organisers for 11 hours but that their leader, Kabul Parpiev, who remains at large, had refused their offer of safe passage after talking to his handlers in Afghanistan. When the troops neared the seized building, the gunmen began to flee, “standing behind hostages as human shields”, a prosecutor added.

“They killed hostages who resisted them,” he said. He read a list of victims, repeating the government line that civilians among the 187 dead were shot in the back by the militants. Witnesses have said troops shot randomly at protesters in the afternoon, and finished off wounded survivors with a shot to the head.

Craig Murray, ex-British ambassador to Uzbekistan, said: “This is a hideous show trial, more suited to Stalin’s Russia than a country today where the US and UK still have embassies. In a state where prisoners are routinely tortured, sometimes by immersion into boiling water, admissions of guilt are ten-a-penny.” Despite admissions of guilt, the supreme court trial is expected to last for weeks.

Murad Batior, an official held hostage by the gunmen, said outside court that he recognised two defendants: “The gunmen told me I worked for the state and would have to answer. They killed a policeman before my eyes, cutting his eyes out.”

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Rebels are tried but the massacre goes unpunished

From Jeremy Page writing in the Times Online

FIFTEEN men accused of organising an uprising in Uzbekistan go on trial today as human rights groups accuse the West of doing nothing to punish the Uzbek Government for the killings that followed.

The group is the first to be tried over the violence on May 13 in Andijan, which began with armed men taking over government buildings and ended with troops shooting anti-Government protesters.

President Karimov said that 187 people were killed, mostly Islamist terrorists. But witnesses said that more than 700 unarmed civilians were killed, and human rights activists draw parallels with the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in 1989.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issue reports today accusing the Uzbek Government of further abuses and calling for an arms embargo and sanctions. Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said: ‘The US and the European Union appear to have backed off entirely rather than implement a more robust strategy to hold the Uzbek Government accountable for the loss of life.’

Uzbekistan is a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and has co-operation agreements with Nato and the EU. It refuses to allow an international inquiry into the killings, but no sanctions have been imposed against it.

Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Tashkent, said: ‘It’s appalling that Western governments aren’t doing anything at all.’ He called for travel bans on senior officials, as with Zimbabwe and Belarus, and to consider sanctions on Uzbek cotton, a key source of the Government’s income. ‘I’d argue that Uzbekistan is worse than Zimbabwe or Belarus,’ he said. ‘The men going on trial will all be found guilty. They will all have confessed under torture.’

Mr Murray was recalled last year after he accused Britain and the US of condoning torture in Uzbek prisons. At the time, the US was accused of softening its criticism of Uzbekistan because it had been allowed to use an airbase for operations in neighbouring Afghanistan since 2001.

However, in July, President Karimov ‘ who has been in power since before the Soviet Union’s collapse ‘ asked the Americans to leave within six months after Washington joined calls for an inquiry into the Andijan killings.

The US had also backed a plan by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to relocate to Romania 439 refugees who fled Andjian to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Another 11 were flown to London last week and will move on to Belgium, Finland and the Netherlands.

Washington is thought to be coming up with a tougher policy towards Mr Karimov, who tolerates no political opposition and no observance of Islam beyond the state’s control.

However, Uzbekistan has realigned itself with Russia and China, which have backed it over the Andijan killings, partly to offset US influence in the region. Russian troops flew into Uzbekistan yesterday for joint anti-terrorist exercises based on a scenario similar to the protests in Andijan.

Last week, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s office accused Western reporters of waging an ‘information war’, and state television called Western journalists who covered Andijan ‘hyenas and jackals’.

Uzbek prosecutors accuse the 15 defendants of attacking troops and a government building, killing hostages and forcing civilians to participate in the demonstrations on May 13.

Anvar Nabiyev, First Deputy Prosecutor-General, said that the defendants, three of whom were Kyrgyz, had been trained in Kyrgyzstan and received funding from abroad. He said: ‘This is the first group of extremists. Besides them, another 106 people were arrested as well.’

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I’ve seen the blood on Labour’s hands

From The Sunday Times (18.09.05)

An interview with Craig Murray by John Sweeney, the producer of the forthcoming TV documentary.

Our sacked man in Tashkent tells John Sweeney he won’t give up his fight against Britain’s reliance on foreign intelligence obtained by torture

It’s early morning and Craig Murray -our former man in Uzbekistan -is making himself a cup of tea in a Blackburn semi during his doomed attempt to unseat the foreign secretary Jack Straw in May’s general election. His towel slips and he is exposed, our nudest ambassador.

“Oops!” says Murray, “losing my dignity. Not to mention my towel. Careful where you’re putting that camera. Children might be watching. Old ladies might faint with shock. Young ladies might faint with lust.”

They might, but that seems unlikely. Murray is 46, and has the body of a devil sick of sin. But he does have a 25-year-old Uzbeki girlfriend and a liking for a drink and talks openly about the joys of sex. So, you might say, no wonder Jack Straw’s men fired him.

Being a sexual pervert, a crook or a drunk has never been an impediment to a fine career in the Foreign Office: Donald Maclean once defecated on the carpet during a party thrown by an American diplomat and it was all hushed up. Nothing untoward happened to the traitor until he upped sticks and defected to Moscow.

Today, one senior figure at King Charles Street is said to be a serial shagger – “everybody knows about it” -having allegedly bedded at least two female Labour MPs, and nobody has cut down his ration of Ferrero Rochers.

Although Murray admits he is a bit of a lad, he insists that he is not a drunk or a crook or a perv, and remains deeply wounded that the Foreign Office accused him of selling visas for sex, of being off his head on booze and stealing Her Majesty’s dosh: “They hit me with 18 charges and I was cleared on all 18.” His crime, he says, was to commit the sin of sins, to criticise the way America was running its war on terror, in private and in public.

He challenged the credibility of Uzbeki intelligence given to the Americans and British, saying that it was based on torture. X and Y and Z were confessing to be major players in Al-Qaeda, said the raw material from the Uzbeks. Rubbish, said Murray, pointing out that in President Islam Karimov’s neo-Stalinist central Asian despotism, they boil people alive, and worse.

In a series of telegrams to Straw, copied to MI6, the lawyers and all the senior players, Murray argued that a) intelligence based on torture was useless because a torture victim will confess to anything, and b) that it was morally wrong -“we are selling our souls for dross”.

Straw saw the telegrams, says Murray, and came to the judgment that Her Majesty’s government should continue relying on the boil-in-the-bag intelligence.

This issue wasn’t academic for the ambassador. Within days of starting his job in Tashkent in 2002, photographs of a corpse landed on his desk. He sent them off to Britain, to be analysed by a Home Office pathologist.

The victim was a supporter of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a fundamentalist Islamic organisation but one that professes non-violence. Murray says: “The main finding was that this person had died from immersion in boiling liquid. And it was immersion, rather than splashing, because there was a clear tide-line around the upper torso and upper limbs and complete burns coverage underneath.

“Obviously the idea of someone being boiled to death is pretty horrific and that was one of the first eye-openers that I found in Uzbekistan.”

Most British ambassadors would have huffed and puffed in private, and said nothing in public. Imagine the fuss, then, when Murray spoke his mind in a speech in Tashkent in October 2002. Lines such as “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”, “brutality is inherent” and just the mention of the secret police “boiling men to death” went down like a lead balloon. The uproar in central Asia was heard in Washington DC.

The Americans have a huge airbase there, just north of Afghanistan. What Murray said might have been true, but it was not “helpful” in the war on terror.

Murray is nothing if not smart. He had cleared his speech with the Foreign Office beforehand. Someone might have been very dim at King Charles Street, but they couldn’t get Murray on procedure.

As the war in Iraq drew near, and Washington’s rhetoric about Saddam’s “torture and rape rooms” grew louder, Murray sent telegrams bemoaning “double standards”.

“When it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as peccadillos, not to affect the relationship and to be downplayed in the international (forums) … I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.”

The irony here for Murray is that he says all he was doing was following new Labour’s ethical foreign policy. The problem was, perhaps, that the policy had been dropped.

A stout patriot, in every sense of the phrase, Murray’s contempt for what he calls the doublespeak that justified torture is based on a deep sense that Britishness should never have anything to do with electrodes on genitals. It is a remarkable passion for a diplomat and has caused him to lose his job, his lifestyle and, for a time, his sanity.

Murray said while stomping the streets of Blackburn: “I feel tremendously strongly about what this government has done in launching an illegal war, combined with the attacks on civil liberty at home, the portrayal of the Muslim community as being full of terrorists and the decision to obtain and use intelligence that was got under torture. This constitutes a real slide towards evil and people have a duty to try to stand up against it, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Murray’s sacrifice was real. He loved his job. “I do often wish I was back in Uzbekistan, partly because I liked the people so much but mostly because I felt I was doing valuable work.”

He also loved the lifestyle. “There was a very beautiful landscaped garden in Uzbekistan, a very wonderful swimming pool. It was very idyllic. I used to have people who hung up my clothes for me, and washed them and ironed them, and all that sort of stuff. Sadly, those days are gone.”

And going bonkers wasn’t fun. After the Foreign Office accused him of being a thieving, drunken sex maniac, he suffered a mental breakdown and was flown back to London and admitted to St Thomas’s hospital. “I was determined to hold onto my self-respect. I wasn’t going to admit to something that I hadn’t done. But it’s amazing how easy it is to break someone.

“I went into complete listlessness, apathy, I was crying, I couldn’t see any way out. I couldn’t tell anyone about it and I was actually brought back under medical supervision. For the first 10 days of that I was on suicide watch. That involved a large male nurse being with me, 24 hours a day, following me into the loo and that kind of thing. I tell you that if you’re not suicidal before, you get suicidal pretty quickly when you are being followed into the loo by a large male nurse.”

He got his marbles back, fought the Foreign Office, cleared his name and realised his career was over. He took early retirement and remains Jack Straw’s least favourite critic. Thus far, the ever-nimble foreign secretary has avoided every single attempt by Murray to debate the issues one-to-one.

A bit like the Terminator, Murray staggers on, relentlessly, accusing Straw of complicity in torture -and that is a breach of article 4 of the United Nations convention against torture. Straw’s line is that, “to the best of my knowledge”, no intelligence he receives is based on torture, to which Murray says: “He is lying.” The Foreign Office disagrees.

Murray’s heroic failure when he stood in Blackburn against Straw is, like most tragedies, blackly comical. I will never forget the sight of Murray standing on top of the Green Goddess, the ancient army fire engine he bought for the campaign, and proclaiming in his rich baritone to elderly Lancashire ladies who looked the spitting image of Ena Sharples: “People have their fingernails ripped out, have electrodes attached to their genitals, are suffocated, drowned in the torture chambers …”

He got fewer votes than the British National party. It was a miserable ending to a brave adventure as Straw’s supporters booed Murray with special vehemence. “The guy from the BNP turned to me and said, ‘They hate you more than me’.”

The day we finished editing our film was 7/7. We were in a sound dub in central London, a few streets away from the Tavistock Square bus bomb. The sound engineer quipped: “It’s a great film, John, but torturing Muslims is about to be Britain’s number one Olympic sport.”

It was a cruel joke, all the funnier because of the germ of truth in it. If torturing some fanatic with a beard in Uzbekistan could prevent another 50 people being blown to smithereens on the Piccadilly line, why not? Murray replies: “No.

Torturing innocents is wrong. But torturing the guilty is wrong, too. If we in Britain change our mind about that, then at least we should have the honesty to say so. Torture is wrong, full stop.”

At the forthcoming Labour party conference Straw will trot out his usual line: “The British government does not condone torture, full stop” -which is not quite the same thing, as he and Craig Murray know only too well.

John Sweeney’s The Ambassador’s Last Stand will be broadcast on BBC2 on Wednesday at 7pm

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Safe h(e)aven for Uzbek strongman’s daughter

By Sergei Blagov writing in Asia Times

MOSCOW – The Russian Foreign Ministry has accredited Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s daughter as a counselor at the Uzbek embassy in Moscow in a move that could be interpreted as a new sign of Uzbekistan’s political drift towards Moscow. However, Russian media outlets, notably Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, speculate that Gulnara accepted the post simply to obtain diplomatic immunity.

Gulnara Karimova-Maqsudi has already sought international immunity in a bitter custody battle over her children, on the grounds that Uzbekistan is not party to international agreements on civil matters, commonly referred to in legal circles as the Hague Conventions.

In January, the Superior Court of New Jersey ruled that Mansur Maqsudi, of Mendham, New Jersey, deserved sole custody of the couple’s two children, 10-year-old Islam and six-year-old Iman. His ex-wife, Gulnara, had taken the boy and the girl to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in 2001, when her estranged husband sought to dissolve their marriage. The court called on Gulnara to “cause the children to be transported to the United States or to another country which is a signatory to the Hague Convention”.

Moreover, the court disclosed some information on the division of assets, indicating the affluence of the Karimovs. For instance, the court awarded Maqsudi the house the couple had shared in Mendham, New Jersey. He also is to take possession of two luxury cars, a $7,000 piano, over $440,000 in bank and brokerage accounts, a stake in a business called the ROZ Group – valued at close to $6 million – and $3.3 million in cash. According to the ruling, Gulnara could keep $4.5 million worth of jewelry, 20 percent of Uzbekistan’s Uzdunrobita wireless telephone company, worth $15 million, $11 million in bank and investment holdings in Geneva and Dubai, a house in Tashkent, a $10 million retail complex, a $13 million resort in Uzbekistan and Tashkent nightclubs worth $4 million, and a TV station, recording studio and spa worth $5.5 million. The wireless phone company is a joint venture founded by the state (as a minority shareholder) and an American cellular concern.

Moreover, to feel more at home in Moscow, Gulnara reportedly purchased 420 square meters of three-level apartments at the “Camelot” deluxe compound in downtown Moscow. Details of the deal are yet to be disclosed, but the apartments’ price is estimated at $1.5-2 million.

To date, there has been no official clarification on how Gulnara, who reportedly worked in the state bureaucracy, obtained such extensive business and property holdings. It is yet to be revealed whether the Moscow penthouse is counted as Gulnara’s private property, or Uzbekistan’s diplomatic asset.

Gulnara’s new-found diplomatic privileges come at just the right time as she is now seeking immunity from the US ruling, having failed to comply with the New Jersey court’s January custody order. This forced the same court, on June 10, to order Gulnara’s arrest. In a tit-for-tat response, Uzbekistan’s Prosecutor General issued international arrest warrants for Mansur Maqsudi, his father Abdul-Rauf and brother Farid, all ethnic Uzbeks naturalized in the US.

This controversy has overshadowed bilateral relations between the US and Uzbekistan, which is increasingly drawing international criticism over its human rights practices. At the same time, Tashkent faces growing pressure from global financial institutions to introduce currency convertibility, and to take other steps to liberalize the economy.

The latest government crackdown in Uzbekistan is the harshest since the one in the aftermath of the 1999 Tashkent bombings, international observers say. In recent months, human rights advocates, independent journalists and opposition political activists have endured arrests, beatings and other forms of intimidation.

Last May, human rights advocate Ruslan Sharipov was arrested on homosexuality charges. An Uzbek court sentenced him to a five-year jail term on August 13. On August 28, Surat Ikramov, an outspoken defender of Sharipov, was abducted from his car in Tashkent by four masked men, according to a statement issued by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. He was subsequently beaten, sustaining concussion and two broken ribs.

The crackdown has created a dilemma for US diplomats, given that Uzbekistan is Washington’s most important strategic partner in Central Asia. Uzbek military bases have been used to back international efforts in Afghanistan.

Both Karimov and Uzbek Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev, a former ambassador to Washington, have stressed that Tashkent’s desire for expanded economic ties with Russia does not mean a deterioration in relations with the US.

Karimov used the September 1 opening of the fall parliamentary session to stress the importance of bilateral relations with Russia, and recalled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samarkand in August as “important”. He said that he and Putin sought to reach agreement on all topics they discussed, and that he was greatly satisfied with the outcome.

During the Samarkand meeting, Putin and Karimov concentrated primarily on the prospects for expanding bilateral economic cooperation, especially the export of Uzbek cotton and natural gas, and the participation of Russian companies in exploring oil and gas deposits in Uzbekistan. Karimov’s daughter taking up a position as a diplomat in Moscow might help support these initiatives.

Adding spice to the controversy swirling around Gulnara are unconfirmed reports that she had married Sadyk Safayev, who has been touted as Karimov’s successor; although all of the former Soviet states are technically republics, family succession plays a big part.

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Blows to democracy

From The Guardian

The retreat from the rule of law – despite the enactment of the Human Rights Act – has been the deepest flaw of the Blair administration. Some retreat on civil rights was obviously necessary in the wake of this summer’s terrorist attacks. But as an eminent QC noted after the bombings: “It is all too easy to respond in a way that undermines commitment to our most deeply held values and convictions and cheapens our right to call ourselves a civilised nation.” Yesterday, towards the end of an interview on the BBC Today programme in which he unequivocally defended this week’s proposed strengthening of anti-terrorist measures, the prime minister was read a part of the QC’s opinion and reminded that the author was his wife, Cherie Booth. Expressing gratitude for the reminder, he conceded: “It’s important that we don’t respond in a way that damages the very fabric of our democracy.”

Here are three ways fundamental democratic principles are being quite unnecessarily damaged by this week’s moves. First, free speech. Under the proposed law anyone who “glorifies, exalts or celebrates” any terrorist act committed over the past 20 years could face a sentence of up to five years. Rarely, even within notorious conspiracy legislation, has there been such a broadly drafted clause. What makes it even more unnecessary is that the bill already tightens up the incitement to terrorism offence. If the test has to be overt endorsement of terrorism – as officials suggested this week – why not prosecute them under the direct incitement clause? More absurd still, the home secretary will be empowered to go even further and draw up a list of historical terrorist acts which if “glorified” could mean a criminal act had been committed. Consider the huge distractions such a list would generate, when all efforts ought to be concentrated on effective moves to pre-empt terrorism.

Second – which both opposition parties are rightly opposing – is a clause extending the right to detain suspects for questioning for up to three months. Remember, we are talking about suspects. Many will turn out to be innocent. The current 14 days was only recently introduced. Even at the height of the IRA campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, only seven-day detentions were allowed. Three months would be the equivalent of a six-month prison sentence given current 50% remission rules. Clearly the home secretary had doubts himself. An early draft of a letter he sent to shadow spokesmen was leaked yesterday. It included the line – “I believe there is room for debate as to whether we should go as far as three months” – that was deleted from the final version. Charles Clarke is not going to win the cross-party support which he was rightly seeking to build if he sticks to this proposal. He should drop it now.

The third threat to fundamental rights concerns the detention of seven Algerians earlier this week. They were alleged to have been involved in a plot to spread ricin, a deadly toxin. But the substances the police claimed were ricin contained no trace of the poison. Four who faced trial were found not guilty and the proceedings against the other three dropped, but they have still been declared by the home secretary as “a threat to national security”. There is no right for a foreigner in Britain to remain in this country once declared “non conducive to public good” save for two important caveats: that deportation does not lead to either torture or capital punishment. Algeria has a notorious reputation, documented by Amnesty International, for ill treatment and torture of prisoners. Our courts are bound to uphold these defences, set out in the Human Rights Act, and refuse their deportation to Algeria. The courts should stand firm – despite pressures from the prime minister -and uphold the rule of law. Our values, as Cherie Booth asserted, need protection.

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Arts world unites for plea to pull troops out of Iraq

By Ben Russell writing in The Independent

A coalition of artists, musicians and writers have joined anti-war campaigners to make a collective appeal to Tony Blair to pull British troops out of Iraq by the end of the year.

The diverse group, including the musician Brian Eno, the actor and film director Mark Rylance and the guitar player John Williams, as well as 100 academics, MPs and activists, signed an open letter of protest condemning the continued occupation of Iraq as “an unmitigated disaster”.

The letter, which was also signed by the film director Ken Loach, the Body Shop founder Anita Roddick and the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, urged Mr Blair to start moves to pull troops out of Iraq when the US-led alliance’s United Nations mandate expires at the end of December.

Mr Eno and the film star Julie Christie delivered the letter to Downing Street yesterday, the day after a suicide bomber killed more than 150 in Baghdad’s bloodiest day since the fall of Saddam. And in the past week, three more British soldiers have been killed in Iraq, bringing to 95 the number of British service personnel killed in there since March 2003.

The text states: “The war and occupation of Iraq have been an unmitigated disaster, both for the people of Iraq and Britain. Countless innocent Iraqis have lost their lives and still more innocents have been killed on our streets.

“British soldiers, many of whom do not want to serve in Iraq, have been killed, wounded or maimed.”

The letter argues that a pullout would stop Iraqi deaths at the hands of British troops and make Britain’s streets safer.

Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Eno told The Independent: “We are saying that the war is a disaster and has failed in every way and is continuing to fail. Personally I’m saying I do not want to be associated with a bunch of red necks with big guns and small minds.

“People who were perhaps agnostic about the war have become much more sceptical about it. I want to say to Mr Blair that he would not be that badly off if he admitted he had made the wrong decision.” Ms Christie added: “What we are doing is encouraging the growth of terrorism, despite Tony Blair’s vociferous denials.

“People will not stop fighting against occupation,” Asked what her message was to Mr Blair, she said: “It’s hard to talk to someone who isn’t listening.”

The letter was drawn up by the Stop the War coalition. The group is hoping for a huge turnout at a demonstration in London on 24 September, on the eve of the Labour Party conference.

Labour left-wingers are planning to raise the war at the conference, and are hoping for a significant demonstration to increase the pressure on Mr Blair to act. Jeremy Corbyn, the MP for Islington North, said campaigners were attempting to secure a debate on an emergency resolution on Iraq at Labour’s conference later this month.

He said: “The message of the eve of the Labour Party conference will remind Tony Blair of the anger about the Iraq war. We want to … build support for the march on September 24.”

Other signatories include Professor Richard Dawkins, the scientist, Billy Bragg, Tony Woodley, the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and the playwright Harold Pinter.

The letter to the Prime Minister

The war and occupation of Iraq have been an unmitigated disaster both for the people of Iraq and Britain. Countless innocent Iraqis have lost their lives and still more innocents have been killed on our streets. British soldiers, many of whom do not want to serve in Iraq, have been killed, wounded or maimed.

The United Nations’ mandate for the occupation of Iraq expires this December. We call on you to initiate the first steps to end this carnage by announcing that British troops will be brought home by the end of this year.

If you do this, you can stop the killing of any more Iraqis by British troops. You can save the lives of our soldiers. You can make Britain’s streets safer. You can defend civil liberties rather than erode them.

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Deportations not based on intelligence assessment of risk

In the Home Affairs Committee hearings Charles Clarke admits that there is no intelligence assessment to suggest that his plans for deportation will reduce the threat of terrorism. This admission follows concerns about the risk of torture for people being deported to countries with a track record of abuse. The hearing was also told of the first British citizen to be subject to executive detention without trial (control orders).

JAMES KIRKUP, writing in the Scotsman looks at what was said.

“MI5 HAS not told ministers that deporting alleged Islamic extremists will significantly reduce the threat of terrorist attacks, Charles Clarke admitted yesterday, prompting suggestions the government’s policy is driven more by politics than genuine security concerns.

The Home Secretary’s revelation came as he gave evidence to a committee of MPs investigating anti-terrorism laws.

The Home Secretary was asked by Janet Dean, a Labour MP, if he had been advised by MI5 that deporting foreign preachers would significantly reduce the risk of bombings.

“It does not reflect specific security service advice in the way that you put your question,” Mr Clarke replied.

A senior Whitehall official later confirmed that MI5 had not been involved in the formulation of the deportation policy, and would only become involved if asked to provide a security assessment of individuals facing expulsion. The deportation plan was conceived in the Home Office, the official said.

Mr Clarke told the committee that in the wake of the London bomb attacks, the “climate” around terrorism had changed, which explained new government policies.

But, questioned about officials’ decision to lower their threat assessment in the months before the 7 July attack, he insisted that the level of danger had not risen and that intelligence did not suggest any specific threat facing Britain.

John Denham, the former Labour Home Office minister who chairs the committee, said afterwards that Mr Clarke’s answers suggested a government policy driven by the desire simply to reflect public opinion and not sensible precautions.

“The implication is that the decision to deport is based not on the actual threat but on the change of mood and atmosphere since the bombings.

Mr Denham pointed out that earlier this year the government had argued that its “control orders” curbing individual freedoms were an adequate safeguard against terrorism.

Since the London bombings, Mr Denham said, the government’s stance had changed, “even though there has been no change in the threat”.

He added: “Some of the policies from the government appear to be reflective only of the need to be seen to be doing something.”

So far, the government has not successfully deported anyone suspected of encouraging militancy, though officials have drawn up a list of several likely targets for expulsion.

Nine of the people on that list were previously interned at Belmarsh jail in London, then released and subject to “control orders.” Those orders have been allowed to lapse pending deportation proceedings, Mr Clarke revealed yesterday. He also said that the first control order has been imposed on an unnamed British citizen, last Monday.

There are now three people in Britain under control orders, among them believed to be Abu Qatada, a preacher who is linked to Osama bin Laden and was arrested last month.

Mr Clarke said he had refused three requests to modify terms of the control orders, which impose a loose form of house arrest on suspects, including a curfew and restrictions on who they can speak to and meet.

Mr Clarke also said “hundreds” of people in Britain remained under surveillance.”

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