Daily archives: March 13, 2006

More evidence of Foreign Office complicity in torture

From the Scotsman: Taking prisoners to the edge of drowning ‘not torture’ says FO, by James Kirkup

FORCING a prisoner’s head under water until they believe they are drowning does not necessarily constitute torture or abusive treatment, the Foreign Office has said.

The equivocal statement has fuelled suspicions that Britain is turning a blind eye to practices by its allies that many international lawyers believe are illegal.

Holding mock executions is banned in international law, yet simulated drowning is specifically intended to persuade subjects that they are about to die.

Known as “waterboarding,” forms of simulated drowning have been used to torment prisoners since the Middle Ages. Victims experience an automatic gag reflex and acute terror, quickly and inevitably pleading for the ordeal to end.

In a written parliamentary exchange, the Foreign Office was asked whether “the infliction of simulated drowning falls within the definition of torture or cruel and inhumane treatment used by the government for the purposes of international law.”

Replying, Ian Pearson, a junior Foreign Office minister, gave what some saw as a vague answer. “Whether the conduct described constitutes torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment for the purposes of the UN Convention Against Torture would depend on all the circumstances of the case,” Mr Pearson wrote.

Waterboarding is one of the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” that US intelligence officers are said to use against suspected international terrorists.

The CIA version of the technique sees the subject strapped to a board, feet raised. Cellophane is wrapped over the nose and mouth and water is poured over the head.

The technique has since been used on senior al-Qaeda figures in US custody, intelligence sources say. US officials have never denied those claims.

There is no suggestion that British military or intelligence officers have used waterboarding directly against prisoners.

Human rights groups yesterday condemned the Foreign Office’s ambiguous legal position on simulated drowning.

James Welch, the legal director of Liberty, said Mr Pearson’s answer suggests ministers are ignoring international treaty obligations. “It is incredible that a government minister, mindful of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, UN Convention Against Torture and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, could possibly consider that holding someone under water with the intention of making them think they were going to drown was anything but torture,” he said.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director, said the government must take a much clearer position against techniques like waterboarding.

“Instead of equivocating the government should be clearly condemning all forms of torture, including partial drowning, death threats, sensory deprivation and indeed all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” she said.

View with comments

“Get away from me. I will not be insulted by you. This is an insult” – Charles Clarke’s words to the father of a 7/7 survivor who challenged him about the lack of a public inquiry

From Rachel North

My dad, who is a parish priest and honorary Canon, read my draft article on Forgiveness (‘The F-word’) last night, and it so happened that he was going to to a clergy meeting this morning at Norwich Cathedral where the special guest was the Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

Clarke is my father’s MP.

Clarke, in his speech to the assembled clergy, made much of the fact that he had spoken to the PM ”only yesterday” and the PM was at the time considering the problem of an angry Sedgefield constituent about the closure of a school. Clarke remarked upon this system of top executives still being MPs and responsible to their constituents, how unusual this was compared to most Parliamentary systems. You lucky people, even though I am the Home Secretary, I am still also your M.P and here to help with all your little problems and enquiries. Etc.

He didn’t actually say ‘ you lucky people”, Dad said, but that was the inference. Dad was pleased that he could finally ask his M.P, Charles Clarke, the question he has been keen to ask for some months. Dad waited eagerly to ask his question; he had already written to Clarke in December 2005 with his question. But Clarke had not replied.

Dad was therefore very keen to be part of what was advertised in the meeting notes as ”30 minutes of reflection” after Clarke spoke. (In these meetings, ”30 minutes of reflection”means ”30 minutes of debate”. But it a clergy meeting, so they all ”reflect”, rather than shout and argue. It’s more dignified and godly, see. )

Unusually, according to Dad, on this occasion there was not a debate and questions from the floor, as is usual with these meetings at which Clarke was the special guest today: there were instead only 3 questions which Clarke answered at length, the questions seemed to Dad to be pre-prepared to give Clarke an opportunity to talk about things like prisons and police in a self-congratulatory way.

Dad was not able to ask his question, the last question finished and it was announced that there would be Eucharist in 2 minutes. Dad was very angry that ”the Eucharist was being used as a filibuster.” And still he had not had a chance to ask the question that was by now burning him up inside. It was time to break bread together; people began to leave the room.

My father tells me he at this point left his seat and strode up to Clarke, because he wanted to ask his question, and he said,

”Congratulations on fixing the meeting so that nobody can ask questions! You will have heard about Rev Julie Nicholson who is so angry she cannot forgive the bombers who killed her daughter on 7th July , well, I have a question, my daughter was feet away from the 7/7 Kings Cross bomb, and she and some other surivors have said they are not angry with the bombers, but with the Government, because there was no public enquiry. Why is there no public enquiry?”

Charles Clarke looked at my father ”in a very nasty way”, and then he said to my father

” Get away from me, I will not be insulted by you, this is an insult’.

And he stormed past, and Dad was so upset he could not share Eucharist with this man,

and my father left the cathedral in despair.

Dad has cheered up a bit now, but he was almost in tears at being so insulted by Clarke when I spoke to him: he did not think he had insulted Clarke at all.

Why is it an insult when the father of a bomb survivor, a gentle man of God, who has never caused trouble in his life, asks for a public enquiry? Why is his question not answered?

View with comments

Government washes its hands of weapons sales to the Uzbek government

The British government has tried to circumvent restrictions on the supply of military vehicles to the Uzbek government by allowing the sale of land rovers to be modified for military use by a third party.

From Hansard

Q56 Richard Burden: One thing that was in your submission was the Land Rovers, the Turkish made Land Rover Defender 110 military vehicles which were used by Uzbek troops during the massacre of 2005. What you have said about that in your submission is that they were a gift from the Turkish government to the Uzbek government, and you think it is likely that they were produced under licence from the UK by Otokar, the Turkish company, although 70 per cent of the components were exported from the UK and therefore you say there is a loophole. We actually put this to the Government and said what do you say about this then, and I would like to read out to you what the Government said in response to that, and then perhaps you can give your response to that. What the Government told us was: “We understand that Land Rover sells flat-pack civilian Land Rover Defenders to the Turkish company in question, which then assembles and re-badges them for onward sale under its own name, using its own products and components, and according to designs for which that company holds the intellectual property rights. It is the Government’s understanding that these are not Land Rover approved products and it is therefore inaccurate to describe the company concerned as an overseas production facility for Land Rover. Under the EC Dual-Use Regulations … the UK has no power to control the export of civilian specification Land Rovers. To the extent that the buyer in Turkey converts the civilian vehicles using his own technology and without UK involvement, this is a matter for the Turkish authorities as regards any export from there.” That is what the Government said to us and I would be interested in your reaction to that.


View with comments

Book review: The Railway

From the New Statesman

The Railway

Hamid Ismailov Harvill Secker, 224pp, ‘12.99

ISBN 1843431610

Reviewed by Craig Murray

Like almost all decent Uzbek literature, Hamid Ismailov’s The Railway has been banned in Uzbekistan. It is not a political work, but it presents a kaleidoscopic view of the extraordinary ethnic, cultural and political mix of Uzbek society across a period ranging from about 1880 to about 1980. It consists of a series of tales structured loosely around a remote village, Gilas, and the effect on the lives of the inhabitants of the railway built through it.

This mixture is, like Uzbekistan’s ethnic composition, so rich as to be almost indescribable. However, the two main strands are the folklore of the Asiatic peoples of the steppe, desert and mountain, and the subversive literature of communist states, with their suppressed individualism. We have mythic stories of heroic nomads performing impossible physical feats alongside the tale of Ulmas Greeneyes, nicknamed Mullah, a naIf swept along by events beyond his comprehension, who becomes a cog in both Stalin’s and Hitler’s interchangeable machines. Ismailov’s text is itself a product of Uzbekistan’s remarkable history. Discernible influences range from Omar Khayyam to Bulgakov, all overlain with the country’s cultured and tolerant version of Islam.

Indeed, Ismailov’s writing appears deeply infused with a rich heritage of Sufic thought. The translator, Robert Chandler, has brilliantly reproduced the rolling rhythms of the incan-tatory, mesmeric prose. Some of these stories could have been told by Scheherazade. Ismailov is a skilled craftsman, completely aware of the tradition on which he draws, and the book is peppered with scholarly allusion, but brilliantly done in a manner not distracting to the uninitiated. If you are familiar with central Asia and its literature, you will find the foreword masterly and will wallow in the footnotes. If not, I would advise you to ignore both and just drink in the novel.

The society Ismailov paints is recognisably still the Uzbek society of today – it made me yearn to go back. While the novel makes no direct criticism of the current regime, many of the incidents described, often casually, are features of modern Uzbekistan. In particular, The Railway details the sexual blackmail of women by the police, the huge corruption in the state cotton industry and the capriciousness – sometimes lazy, sometimes vicious – of the government (a poet is executed).

Thanks to the human-rights campaigns of the past couple of years, far more people in Britain now know something of Uzbekistan. Ismailov’s novel will further advance our understanding of this fascinating land. It is a work of rare beauty – an utterly readable, compelling book.

Craig Murray is Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan

View with comments