Daily archives: October 27, 2005

The reality of Britain’s reliance on torture

Craig Murray writes today in The Independent on the reality of Britain’s reliance on torture

“Torture means the woman who was raped with a broken bottle, and died after 10 days of agony”

The Government has been arguing before the House of Lords for the right to act on intelligence obtained by torture abroad. It wants to be able to use such material to detain people without trial in the UK, and as evidence in the courts. Key to its case is a statement to the Law Lords by the head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller. In effect she argues that torture works. It foiled the famous ricin plot.

She omits to mention that no more ricin was found than is the naturally occurring base level in your house or mine – or indeed that no poison of any kind was found. But let us leave that for now. She argues, in effect, that we need to get intelligence from foreign security services, to fight terrorism. And if they torture, so what? Her chief falsehood is our pretence that we don’t know what happens in their dungeons. We do. And it is a dreadful story. Manningham-Buller is so fastidious she even avoids using the word “torture” in her evidence. Let alone the reality to which she turns such a carefully blind eye.

Manningham Buller also fails to mention that a large number of people have been tortured abroad to provide us with intelligence – because we sent them there to be tortured. The CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” programme has become notorious. Under it, detainees have been sent around the world to key torture destinations. There is evidence of British complicity – not only do these CIA flights regularly operate from UK airbases, but detainees have spoken of British intelligence personnel working with their tormentors.

So the UK receives this intelligence material not occasionally, not fortuitously, but in connection with a regular programme of torture with which we are intimately associated. Uzbekistan is one of those security services from whose “friendly liaison” services we obtained information. And I will tell you what torture means.

It means the woman who was raped with a broken bottle in both vagina and anus, and who died after ten days of agony. It means the old man suspended by wrist shackles from the ceiling while his children were beaten to a pulp before his eyes. It means the man whose fingernails were pulled before his face was beaten and he was immersed to his armpits in boiling liquid.

It means the 18-year-old whose knees and elbows were smashed, his hand immersed in boiling liquid until the skin came away and the flesh started to peel from the bone, before the back of his skull was stove in.

These are all real cases from the Uzbek security services which we viewed as friendly liaison, and from which we obtained regular intelligence, in the Uzbek case via the CIA.

A month ago, that liaison relationship was stopped – not by us, but by the Uzbeks. But as Manningham-Buller sets out, we continue to maintain our position as customer to torturers in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and many other places. The key point is that none of the these Uzbek victims were terrorists at all.

The great majority of those who suffer torture at the hands of these regimes are not terrorists, but political opponents. And the scale of this torture is vast. In Uzbekistan alone thousands, not hundreds, of innocent men, women and children suffer torture every year.

Across Manningham-Buller’s web of friendly intelligence agencies, the number may reach tens of thousands. Can our security really be based on such widespread inhumanity, or is that not part of the grievance that feeds terrorism?

These other governments know that our security services lap up information from their torture chambers. This practical condoning more than cancels out any weasel words on human rights which the Foreign Office may issue. In fact, the case for the efficacy of torture intelligence is not nearly as clear-cut as Manningham-Buller makes out. Much dross comes out of the torture chambers. History should tell us that under torture people would choke out an admission that they had joined their neighbours in flying on broomsticks with cats.

We do not receive torture intelligence from foreign liaison security services sometimes, or by chance. We receive it on a regular basis, through established channels. That plainly makes us complicit. It is worth considering, in this regard, Article 4 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires signatories to make complicity with torture a criminal offence.

When I protested about these practices within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I was told bluntly that Jack Straw and the head of MI6 had considered my objections, but had come to the conclusion that torture intelligence was important to the War on Terror, and the practice should continue. One day, the law must bring them to account.

A final thought. Manningham-Buller is arguing about the efficiency of torture in preventing a terrorist plot. If that argument is accepted, then in logic there is no reason to rely on foreign intermediaries. Why don’t we do our own torturing at home? James VI and I abolished torture – New Labour is making the first attempt in English courts to justify government use of torture information. Why stop there? Why can’t the agencies work over terrorist suspects?

The Security Services want us to be able to use information from torture. That should come as no surprise. From Sir Thomas Walsingham on, the profession attracts people not squeamish about the smell of seared flesh from the branding iron. That is why we have a judiciary to protect us. I pray the Law Lords do.

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‘Harassment’ forces BBC out of Uzbekistan

By Nick Paton Walsh writing in The Guardian

The BBC yesterday said it would close its World Service operation in the central Asian state of Uzbekistan, citing harassment by local officials. The foreign media have been under increasing pressure in the authoritarian state since the massacre of at least 500 protesters by Uzbek troops in the southern town of Andijan.

Fifteen men went on trial last month for organising the unrest. Prosecutors yesterday asked the alleged “terrorists” to be sentenced for up to 20 years, and at the start of the trial had claimed the men had been advised during the unrest by the BBC.

A BBC statement said: “The BBC World Service’s office in Tashkent is being suspended and all local staff withdrawn with immediate effect for six months pending a decision on their longer-term future. We are doing this over concerns of security.” The BBC World Service regional head, Behrouz Afagh, said that during the four months since Andijan, staff had been subjected to “a campaign of harassment and intimidation”.

In June, the BBC added, its correspondent, Monica Whitlock, was forced to leave the capital “under government pressure” after she was accused of breaking unspecified laws for her reports on Andijan.

Six other staff members have since left, two of whom have been classified as refugees by the UN. The BBC retains a monitoring office but has no correspondents in the country.

Yesterday it also emerged that Sanjar Umarov, chairman of the opposition Sunshine Coalition, who was arrested on Sunday for alleged embezzlement, had shown signs of having been tortured in jail. His lawyer said that he saw Mr Umarov naked, swaying back and forth in his cell. “He threw all his clothes out into the feeding slot and didn’t react to my words,” Valery Krasilovsky told Associated Press.

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Andijan five months on

The bullet holes and bloodstains are gone, but for Uzbeks life is even worse

By Nick Paton Walsh in Andijan writing for The Guardian

Repression on a huge scale follows massacre of at least 500 protesters

Plaster covers up the bullet holes in the walls of Andijan, a city whitewashed into denial. Builders clamber around buildings, hastily repairing blast damage. Residents talk in code on the phone; the less cautious sometimes disappear. Thick-set men in sunglasses band together on street corners, their silver saloons conspicuously tailing outsiders. The veneer of normality, here in the authoritarian state of Uzbekistan, is brittle. Ola picks at her ice cream in one of Andijan’s pristine parks and says: “Everyone here has amnesia. Didn’t you know?”

In the centre, the tranquil Bobur Square yields no suggestion that five months ago it was, in the words of witnesses, awash with blood. Here troops shot dead at least 500 people protesting in support of 23 local businessmen charged with “extremism” but freed in a jailbreak. The troops walked among the wounded, finishing them off with a single shot to the head, before hoarding their corpses in a nearby school.

But while locals say between 1,500 and 2,000 people died on the square, the regime of President Islam Karimov insists that only 187 criminals were killed. They have tried to recast the massacre as a measured response to a coup by Islamists, a version of events repeated daily in the Uzbek supreme court in the capital, Tashkent.

In the court, 15 of the 23 businessmen are on trial for terrorism and may be executed. They have said they opened fire first, that the US embassy helped finance their attack, and the foreign media, including the BBC, advised them. Officials have testified that the militants refused an offer of safe passage, battered their captives and began shooting each other. State TV has replayed confessions from similarly repentant “organisers”.

This Orwellian conceit lapsed only once when a woman said troops had shot at people waving white flags. Makhbuba Zakirova, 33, who was interrupted by the judge, said: “Even Hitler did not do it that way.”

The charade is shattered behind the closed doors of Andijan’s homes. Survivors and relatives told the Guardian, the first western newspaper to gain access to Andijan since the massacre, of months of repression, arrest, and torture. Hundreds of survivors have been forced into confessing their “military involvement” to bolster the state’s case.


Many are in jail, up to 200 awaiting trial; others have disappeared from hospital. One police officer said 300 people had been arrested in Andijan since the massacre; Human Rights Watch suggests up to 4,200 have at some point been detained in the surrounding region. Knock on doors in a street in Andijan and it is clear the repression that hit the town of 450,000 after May 13 may eclipse the horrors of the massacre itself.

Udgarbek, 16, sits on a bed in his mother’s courtyard. On May 13 he was shot twice in the back. The first cut just past his upper spinal cord. The second is lodged in his lower back. He walks stiffly as if his back and thighs were strapped to a plank; urine stains his trousers, his nerve endings still damaged.

That day, he was left for dead near Bobur Square. Soldiers dragged him into the grounds of a school where he lay among hundreds of corpses. He saw nine injured people die before they put him on a bus to hospital at dawn. There, the security services visited him. “They beat me on the legs and the soles of my feet to make me sign a confession saying I was sniper,” he said. “They yelled at me: ‘Where are your guns and your friends?’ But I refused, fearing what they would do to me if I confessed.”

After 26 days, he was discharged. But at home convalescing and unable to walk, he was still seen as a threat. “They came again in June and took me to the regional police station,” he said. “They did not beat me that time, but fingerprinted, photographed and filmed me.”

Many did not return home from hospital. Saidkhan Saidhojayev, 27, left home excitedly on the morning of May 13. The businessmen had been busted out of prison. The local government building had been taken over. The town’s life would start anew. The president was coming to negotiate and so Mr Saidhojayev dressed in his best white shirt and trousers. By 8pm, he was staggering home after being shot in the left arm. He did not enter his mother’s house, but lay outside on a pile of gravel until 11pm, when friends took him to hospital. There his infected arm was cut off. Three days later he was moved by the police and has not been seen again.

No return

On the same day, Anvar Todjihanov,a father of four, was taken from hospital. His wife declined to be interviewed but told friends how her husband, 36, who was shot in the back on Bobur Square, had lost 10kg (22lb) in weight and is “on the borders of death” in jail. Plain-clothed security men, who last searched her flat 15 days ago, have told her to get a job as Mr Todjihanov won’t be returning.

The authorities’ reputation has heightened the anguish. The US state department says Uzbek police use “torture as a routine investigation technique”. Methods include crushing limbs, electric shocks, raping relatives before the accused, sexual abuse with a broken bottle, and in one case the boiling to death of a suspect. Others have been arrested by the National Security Service, as “hostages” to persuade relatives to give themselves up. Shurat Nuridinov, 24 and a student, was jailed for terrorism on May 26. His father Avas said the case was probably aimed at forcing his relative, one of the businessmen, Burkhoni Nuridinov, to return to Uzbekistan. Burkhoni is one of 400 Uzbeks who fled to Europe and gained asylum.

A human rights activist, Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, who spoke out about the death toll, was arrested on the Uzbek border after taking a wounded protester to Kyrgyzstan. He has been charged with criminal defamation and distributing leaflets that threaten national security. “We don’t know where he’s being held,” said his son, Ilhom. “I doubt they’ll release him. His lawyer says he’s already confessed and asked for the president’s forgiveness.” Ilhom was beaten up days after meeting the Guardian, a human rights worker said.

The crackdown has continued across Uzbekistan, as Mr Karimov hurries to ensure that any repeat of Andijan will not be as well publicised. Two weeks after the massacre, in the town of Jizzakh, a human rights worker was attacked at home by 70 people who gave him 24 hours to leave town. “They were all state employees,” Bakhtiyor Khamraev said. “They hit me over the head with a stick. For 50 minutes they screamed: ‘You are an American spy, a terrorist. You have sold yourself.'”

The next day they came back, but Mr Khamraev was with a US researcher from Human Rights Watch. The threat of publicity caused the crowd to flee, he said. Since then telephone calls have threatened his family, warning: “We will kill you. No foreigner can help you.”

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