Daily archives: July 16, 2006

Whitehall dug for dirt on rebel envoy

By Jack Grimston in the Sunday Times

A ROGUE diplomat has posted evidence on his website of what he says was an ‘extraordinary’ campaign by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to trawl for incriminating evidence about his private life.

The internal FCO documents posted by Craig Murray, who was sacked as British ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2004, include references to him attending a strip club, and allegations that he kept a flat for unspecified ‘entertainment’ purposes.

The papers also include a summary of passages that Murray agreed to remove from a new memoir. Among them are alleged indiscretions by his US counterpart in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. Murray decided last week to take down some of the documents after government lawyers threatened to sue him for breach of crown copyright.

The former diplomat, 47, was recalled to London in 2003 for ‘medical reasons’ before being sacked. He is now making a film about his experiences. Murray believes officials were trying to gather evidence about his private life to stop him speaking out about the poor human rights record of Islam Karimov, the Uzbek president. ‘I wanted to publish the documentation to corroborate my story, especially as the FCO is claiming the story is untrue,’ he said.

The documents have angered not only Murray but the anti-war Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay. One, which is heavily blacked out, contains a passing reference to MacKinlay: ‘We also know that Craig Murray has tried to contact Andrew MacKinlay MP.’

Both Murray and MacKinlay said this weekend they had ‘no idea’ how the FCO could have known this, except by bugging. ‘I am frightened and concerned,’ said MacKinlay. ‘It is menacing and an affront to the democratic process that they should try to find out who has been trying to contact an MP.’

Murray was posted to Uzbekistan in 2002. He soon made himself unpopular with his hosts ‘ as well as with the Americans and with the FCO ‘ by being outspoken on human rights. Karimov was seen as a key ally in the war on terror, particularly for operations in Afghanistan, and he was taking draconian steps against anyone suspected of Islamist links.

One of Murray’s claims was that a dissident died as a result of being boiled by his torturers. The documents on the website include a series of angry exchanges with Murray’s FCO masters.

After Murray had sent a draft speech to London for checking, Charles Hill, an FCO official, reproached him for what he called the ‘soapbox tone of the peroration’. In reply Murray noted acidly that one official had called torture by boiling water ‘horrid’ and added: ‘I presume you think he is being a bit strong.’

The passages deleted from the book, Murder in Samarkand, at the request of the FCO, include a reported conversation with John Herbst, Murray’s American counterpart. Herbst and Murray discussed human rights in Uzbekistan and dangers from Islamic militants.

Murray said: ‘NGOs (non-governmental organisations) estimate there are some 7,000 prisoners of conscience,’ to which Herbst replied: ‘Yes, but most of those are Muslims,’ to which Murray responded ‘I’m sorry?’ Herbst corrected himself, saying: ‘I mean Muslim extremists. Most of those prisoners are Muslim extremists.’

Murray said he had not included the comments in the book because they were probably a slip of the tongue ‘ albeit, he added, probably ‘a Freudian slip’, reflecting the American view that the Uzbek regime was justified in locking up suspected militants.

In the same talk, Herbst mused to Murray that if fundamentalists came to power there would be an end to ‘watching the pretty Uzbek girls go by in T-shirts and skirts’.

Some of the memos report tittle-tattle, including a claim that Murray visited a strip club in Warsaw. Murray said this weekend: ‘I went to a strip club in Poland on a stag night once.’

Murray said he deplored the FCO’s digging into his private life rather than taking seriously his human rights arguments. One memo described how, after a dinner in Tashkent, ‘Craig, in the company of a young female fixer, went off in search of a jazz club’.

Murray said: ‘The evening he (the official) is referring to is the evening that we were at the home of a dissident whose grandson was murdered while we were dining. Me going for a drink afterwards rates a mention, but the murder of our host’s grandson doesn’t.’

The FCO said Murray’s book was a ‘betrayal of trust’, adding: ‘Some of its contents are misleading and incorrect.’

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