By Monica Eng in the Chigaco Tribune
Six weeks after Craig Murray started his job as British ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002, a packet of photos landed on his desk. Inside were pictures a mother had taken of her son’s mutilated corpse. The young man, a political prisoner accused of having ties to radical Islam, had been tortured, beaten and immersed in boiling water.
“And,” Murray recently told an audience at the University of Chicago, “when that guy was boiled to death, you paid to heat the water.” He was referring to the $500 million in U.S. aid given to the Uzbeks in 2002.
Murray, 47, visited Chicago during a recent college speaking tour with other members of the Bush Crimes Commission, a group that seeks to document, through outside experts, what it believes are crimes committed by the Bush administration.
The veteran diplomat left the foreign service in 2004 and has written an as-yet unpublished memoir he titles “Murder in Samarkand” about his time as ambassador to the Central Asian nation. During his tumultuous tenure, he openly criticized the human rights practices of his host country, met with government critics and was charged by his own government with trading sex for visas and 17 other infractions. (All were dismissed except for two minor charges.)
British film director Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People”) has announced that he will make a movie based on Murray’s memoir. The following is an edited transcript of two interviews.
Q. You talk about the CIA intelligence reports you received being “full of lies” that “came from the [Uzbek] torture chamber.” How do you know?
A. We had a report back that there was an Al Qaeda training camp in the hills of Samarkand from which they were going to swoop down and take the city. Ridiculous. We went, and there was nothing there. And if I could find that out, the CIA could, because they had a much bigger staff.
These agencies were routinely getting the information through sadistic torture, by which I mean the smashing of knees and elbows, electrocution, pulling of fingernails and toenails, the mutilation of genitals and very commonly the rape of family members in front of the person [whom] they wanted to sign. If you torture people, they will sign anything.
Q. You talk about the cold response to your concerns over torture evidence from our own government. How did the Americans react?
A. When I challenged the American officials about the intelligence being false, they told me that it was “operationally useful,” but at no point did anyone ever say to me that the information didn’t come from torture or that the information was true.
Q. The U.S. stopped supporting the Uzbek government in 2005 after it massacred hundreds of civilians in Andijan. In response, our air base was forced out. Isn’t that progress?
A. U.S. criticism of Andijan wasn’t really the reason the Uzbeks kicked out the air base. That decision was made the previous November as part of a deal Uzbekistan made with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Gazprom [the Russian gas company].
Q. “Murder in Samarkand” refers to an actual event, right?
A. Yes. I was having a talk over dinner with this professor and dissident in Samarkand one night, and while we were having dinner, his grandson was abducted off the street, tortured and, at about 4 o’clock in the morning, dumped on the doorstep. I was subsequently told by the Russian ambassador that it had been done by the Uzbek authorities as a message for me to stop meeting with dissidents.
Q. Do you think transporting suspects to countries where other nationals can interrogate them using torture is still going on?
A. I have no reason at all to think the policy has changed. But [the CIA is] being much more careful about touching down in Europe with prisoners onboard, because of all the fuss in Europe and the investigations going on.
Q. Do you think other diplomats are disillusioned by this policy but are afraid to speak out?
A. I think there is a great deal of fear.