REVIEWED BY MAX HASTINGS in the The Sunday Times
It is a horrible story, and rings horribly true. Murray’s testimony forms another piece in the Iraq-WMD-Bush-war-on-terror-Afghanistan jigsaw of shame. It helps explain the moral bankruptcy to which the Blair government has reduced itself.
MURDER IN SAMARKAND: A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror
by Craig Murray
Craig Murray is a former British ambassador to the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. To get the flavour of his astonishing career there from 2002-04, consider some of the headings under his name in this book’s index: ‘accusations against; bugging suspicions; sacking; Tashkent, asked to leave; topless bathers; visas for sex allegations; marriage, end of’. Lest anyone still fears this is a humdrum diplomatic memoir, here is Murray’ s account of his first meeting with a teenage belly dancer in a Tashkent niterie: ‘I astonished her by saying that I wanted her to give up the club and be my mistress. I explained that I could not marry her, as I was married, but I would keep her. I gave her my card and urged her to phone me.’
Phew. If this was Foreign Office life in the 21st century, candidates would be breaking down doors to join the party. Only it is not, of course. Murray, a kilted philanderer of heroic recklessness, proved an embarrassment to his masters from the day of his appointment, and ended up parting brass rags with them in a welter of mental breakdowns, publicity, divorce and mutual recriminations that he recounts with masochistic frankness.
‘So much for your dolly-bird secretary,’ he records his wife remarking, in a characteristic marital conversation after a less-than-successful embassy dinner. ‘Even if you aren’t screwing her, everybody thinks you are, and that suits you and your bloody ego!’
The pity of all this soap-opera stuff is that it cripples Murray’s purpose in writing his book: to expose the ghastly conduct of the Uzbek dictatorship and Anglo-American collusion with it. From the day Murray arrived in Tashkent in 2002, aged 43, he was appalled to discover that the regime of President Islam Karimov subsisted on a diet of mass murder, torture and slavery. He not only reported in detail to London, he also began to make speeches about human-rights abuse. His outspoken behaviour earned applause from the western media, oppressed Uzbeks and a few diplomatic colleagues, together with fury from the American ambassador and the Foreign Office.
George Bush and Tony Blair were preparing to invade Iraq. The Uzbek government was among their few Asian supporters. Washington was profoundly grateful to Karimov for granting the Americans basing rights in his country, as well as supporting Bush’s idiotic ‘war on terror’, which provided useful cover for Karimov’s persecution of dissidents.
American politicians and diplomats justified cash handouts to Karimov by asserting that Uzbekistan was moving towards democracy; that its human-rights record was improving. Murray encountered daily proof that this view was a travesty. The title of his book refers to an episode when, with his Foreign Office superior, he visited a prominent dissident. Within hours of their departure the man’s grandson was murdered, almost certainly by government agents. Murray was certain that this was retribution for meeting the British.
Yet the FCO refused to make a fuss. Pressure on Murray from Whitehall mounted, as he became passionately critical of the relationship between Whitehall secret services and the Uzbeks, who routinely tortured people to death to gain information. At one point, Murray attended a meeting in London at which a senior Foreign Office lawyer sought to soothe the ambassador, assuring him that there was no legal barrier to the British government’s use of evidence gained by torture in its campaign against terrorism.