Monthly Archives: August 2006


Uzbekistan: Observers Say Situation Heading Toward Upheaval

From RFE/RL

Uzbekistan will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its independence on September 1. President Islam Karimov has proclaimed in the past that the Uzbek nation and its 26 million people are heading toward democracy and that democratic reforms are the only form of political development. But his rhetoric is quite different from reality.

PRAGUE, August 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) — Fifteen years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has what some experts refer to as a notorious reputation.

Bahodir Musaev, an independent sociologist, spoke to RFE/RL from Tashkent. He said: “Fifteen years after declaring independence, we find ourselves behind the starting point, in a deadlock, if not in a complete social catastrophe. The most obvious example is our neighbor Kazakhstan. In 1991, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were at the same point. Today, there is a huge gap between them [in democratic and economic development].”

Falling Behind

Uzbekistan seems to trail not only Kazakhstan — which is now Central Asia’s wealthiest country — but others as well.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Tashkent and a fierce critic of President Karimov’s regime, tells RFE/RL that in the fight against dissent, the Uzbek regime is the most brutal among all Central Asian countries and even harsher than Turkmenistan.

“I think the violence is worse in Uzbekistan,” Murray said. “More people are tortured by the regime than in Turkmenistan. Certainly the repression has increased ever since [the May 2005 violence in] Andijon. There are successive trials of both opposition people and religious people, sometimes in quite large groups. And the scale of political attacks seems to be increasing [in Uzbekistan].”

While the Uzbek government has strengthened repression against political and religious opponents, it has also shut down or squeezed out many foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian groups.

The most recent case of an NGO’s imminent closure came today. Authorities accused the Massachusetts-based Partnership in Academics and Development (PAD) of proselytizing among Uzbeks. PAD says it has helped Uzbek university professors with new textbooks and assisted them in expanding contacts with academics in the international community.

As a result of its anti-NGO policy, the portion of Uzbek civil society supported by foreign aid groups has almost disappeared.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to strictly control local media, and foreign journalists have been forced to leave the country amid harassment and intimidation.

Fierce Repression

Opposition party members and human rights activists have been either jailed or forced to exile.

Bakhtiyor Hamroev, one of the few human rights activists still working in the country, was injured on August 18 in his apartment by a large group that beat him — in the presence of British diplomats and with police watching.

Another rights activist, publicist Motabar Tojiboeva, who is serving a prison term, is reportedly being ill-treated and tortured in jail.

The situation in the economic sphere does not seem to be any better. And foreign investors have become a target of government pressure.

Earlier this month, authorities announced the bankruptcy of Zarafshan-Newmont, a U.S.-Uzbek joint venture, and froze its assets and confiscated gold.

Earlier this month, reports said authorities had revoked the license of Britain’s Oxus Gold PLC, preventing it from continuing to develop a high-grade zinc, silver, copper, lead, and gold deposit in the country.

On August 24, Uzbekistan stripped an Uzbek-Israeli joint venture of its exclusive rights to process a strategic metal (molybdenum concentrate) produced by the state-owned Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Combine.

Uzbekistan’s Future

Experts say these are signs of the regime getting more desperate as opposition among the people grows stronger.

The question is: where is Uzbekistan heading and what options do the people have before them? Murray says a popular upheaval is imminent.

“At the moment, Uzbekistan, undoubtedly is heading into further political and economic isolationism,” he said. “And things are simply going to get worse. You can keep people managing to just live at a very low level and you can keep the very wealthy people and President Karimov still managing to steal huge amounts of money from the economy provided that [currently high] gold and cotton prices maintain and the regime keeps its grip on power. But ultimately that’s going to lead to violent upheaval.”

Musaev agrees and says the country is in agony.

“The country has already entered the period of troubles,” he said. “Potential for protest has been growing, there will be social collapses — local, regional, and then bigger ones. The country had already become unmanageable. It is held together only by fear — by rubber truncheons and bayonets.”

Creating Radicals?

Many Uzbeks are trying to find an escape. Some leave the country. Others find consolation in religion: membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, the banned Islamic religious group that offers to create a caliphate, or an Islamic state, as an alternative to the current system, has reportedly been growing in membership despite the authorities’ brutal repression.

Michael Hall, the director of the International Crisis Group’s Central Asia Program, says political instability, growing unemployment and corruption, as well as repression against dissent contribute to the popularity of radical ideologies. He says the Uzbek government has to change the political and economic situation if it wants to change this trend.

“I think to a large extent, it does depend on the government’s policies,” Hall said. “Allowing, for example, for greater freedom of discussion, allowing for greater independence from the state of religious institutions, I think this certainly can help. I think there are other aspects of the problem, too. One simple fact: a large number of Hizb ut-Tahrir members are young people. Young people very often don’t have much to occupy their time with. The educational system is being underfunded and in some places is inadequate.”

Musaev believes the current regime is unlikely to voluntarily begin making reforms. He says Karimov is not willing to give up power and the only way that will happen is to change the whole political system.

“The political system needs to be dismantled,” Musaev said. “The regime is going to maintain itself only on [declarations of] the necessity to provide national and regional security. But objectively, this internal policy of using violence amid the absolute poverty of people will create a huge social base for terrorism. And it won’t be Islamic at all, just [take] one demographic factor — people who have no jobs. Karimov’s political regime is a complete failure.”

View with comments

‘Titanic Express’ reviewed in the Independent

Peter Stanford reviews Titanic Express, By Richard Wilson

From The Independent

Forgiveness is not a popular concept these days. Instead, we seek justice, compensation and, often, revenge when others have done us wrong. These were the immediate goals of Richard Wilson when his 27-year-old sister, Charlotte, was murdered by rebel gunmen in Burundi in December 2000. A VSO worker in neighbouring Rwanda, Charlotte had been travelling on a bus – the Titanic Express of the title – with her Burundian fianc’, Richard Ndereyimana, when the attack took place. As well as the couple, 20 other passengers were robbed, stripped and then killed in cold blood.

Titanic Express begins with an account of Wilson’s battle to find out how his sister died, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Foreign Office officials and the Metropolitan police officers assigned to the case are among the obstacles he has to surmount. More than once, he contemplates commissioning someone with a gun in Burundi to do to Charlotte’s killers what they did to her.

As his investigation unfolds, however, Wilson makes contacts with other aid organisations in Burundi, foreign journalists and exiles from its corrupt political system and ethnic tensions between Tutsis and Hutus – the same animosities that caused the genocide in Rwanda in 1995. In the process, he becomes an expert on Burundian politics – a microcosm of the problems that continue to afflict parts of post-colonial Africa. Movingly, he goes beyond a desire for revenge to develop an understanding of why Charlotte’s killers did what they did. Yes, they were heartless murderers, but something had happened to make them like that. In violent, hopeless societies, everyone and everything is infected and degraded.

It is not an easy personal journey. Wilson continues to struggle with a more primitive reaction even late in the book, when he meets a BBC World Service journalist from Burundi who has close links with the rebel group behind the attack. But his honesty carries the reader with him. Intimate books charting an individual’s quest only work if the author is prepared to show himself, warts and all. This Wilson does unflinchingly.

He also goes beyond the particular to ask broader questions about grief. It is a messy, painful, isolating experience that society today is reluctant to acknowledge or support. In his anguish, Wilson speaks to and for all who cannot easily put loss behind us and get on with life as if nothing has happened.

View with comments

Aero’s Cloaks and Daggers

By Barbara Koeppel in Consortium News

Torture at CIA secret sites is illegal. So too is the practice of the CIA transporting suspects to other countries where torture tactics are commonplace.

To expose and halt such goings-on, members of Stop Torture Now and Code Pink gathered last November at a rural airport in Smithfield, N.C., about 40 miles from Raleigh. Their target was Aero Contractors, a charter airline company. The activists insist that from this bucolic setting and another small airport in Kinston, N.C., called Global Transpark (GTP), Aero runs ‘torture taxis”secret rendition flights for the CIA

The activists say they don’t want this dirty business starting on their turf. ‘Aero uses runways and hangars paid for with our tax dollars,’ they argue. The activists cite a $9 million state bond and $650,000 in federal funds secured last fall by Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., to extend Smithfield’s runway.

The activists also note that Aero’s rent to Global Transpark (GTP) is just $.05 a square foot. Since Aero leases five acres’218,000 square feet’it’s just $10,890 a year. Moreover, since GTP gave Aero a credit for the $60,000 the company spent to ‘upfit’ its hangar, Aero will park free for over five years. Someone is footing the bill, the activists argue, and that someone is the taxpayer.

Aero’s planes stop first at Dulles or at CIA facilities in Virginia to pick up flight plans, then fly to Ireland to refuel, and from there to countries such as Britain, Italy, Sweden, Pakistan, Germany, Bosnia, Macedonia, Morocco and Turkey to collect the suspects. On the final lap, they deliver the human cargo for interrogation to countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Afghanistan and until last year, Uzbekistan’all cited in U.S. State Department reports as having unclean hands when it comes to human rights.

The flights have been documented by Amnesty International and the Council of Europe (COE) Parliamentary Assembly on Human Rights in 2006 reports. To verify the dates and routes, investigators have used a global network of ‘plane spotters’ who stake out positions near runways where they photograph Aero take-offs and landings, and they write down the tail numbers of the otherwise unmarked craft. They then match the numbers with airport and aircraft logs obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.

‘Spider’s Web’

In its April report, the COE described Aero and other civilian charter companies as part of a ‘global spider’s web.’

Why the front companies? To maintain deniability about renditions and secret prisons, the CIA contracts with Aero to fly the planes. As part of the ruse, the craft are registered as ‘owned’ by shell companies: None list boards of directors, phone numbers or e-mail addresses. Their only identifications are post office box numbers. Moreover, the names change nearly every year. Thus, the Boeing 737 that Aero ‘leases’ were ‘owned’ by Stevens Leasing Company in 2001, ‘sold’ to Premier Executives in 2002, and ‘re-sold’ to Keeler and Tate Management in 2004. Each time, new tail numbers are painted over the old, to make the planes harder to track.

Also, the CIA uses civilian charter airlines because, under international law, private companies don’t need to reveal the nature of their trips to the countries where they refuel or fly over, while military planes must declare the names of their crews, flight plans, passengers and cargo. As a civilian charter, Aero is not asked for this information.

Another clue: According to Amnesty International, Aero has ‘CALP’ rights (Civil Aircraft Landing Permits)’enjoyed by just 10 other charter companies’which allow it to land at U.S. military bases around the globe.

However, as a veteran intelligence agent told me, ‘these tactics, like having supposedly private companies do the flying and changing the owners’ names and craft numbers, are so sloppy that they are completely transparent.’

He explained that ‘if the CIA leased planes with a company to really perform an air cargo service it wouldn’t feel compelled to continually change the names of the owners and numbers.’

Secret Police

In Uzbekistan, the flights were common knowledge. Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2003-2004, said, ‘Premier Executives flew dozens of detainees from Kabul to Tashkent, probably Uzbeks or Uzbek nationals living in Afghanistan. The flights were part of an international web of transporting people, the torture end of the operation, since the Americans handed them over to the SNB’the [Uzbek] national security secret police. After this, they went off the radar screen, not seen again.’

How did Murray know? ‘Few westerners live in Tashkent and the city is small so everyone knows everyone else. I knew Premier’s ground crew, who I believed to be CIA operatives. I just assumed Premier was owned by the CIA and that it was based in one of the Carolinas. And I thought they assumed that I assumed it,’ he explained.

The British diplomat told me he chatted with the men about once a week for over a year in a bar frequented by westerners. He noted that they weren’t particularly secretive.

‘They would say ‘things were difficult today,’ or that it was ‘hard work getting them off the plane.’ This was casual conversation after work,’ Murray recalled.

Back in the U.S., on the subject of renditions, the CIA and the Bush administration neither confirmed nor denied that CIA ground and flight crews were involved. Aero didn’t respond to a request for comment on this article.

The U.S. government flatly denies it engages in torture. In December 2005, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stated, ‘The U.S. does not permit or condone torture’or transport detainees from one country to another for the purpose of torture.’ She added, ‘where appropriate, the U.S. seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.’

Mounting evidence, however, suggests the contrary. Indeed, in the ‘global war on terror,’ torture is very much on the table. Amnesty International, the Council of Europe and Human Rights Watch describe case after case of terror suspects held incommunicado in secret detention centers, tortured, and kept out of the reach of the International Red Cross, lawyers or human rights groups. The United Nations human rights panel is also convinced of the abuses and demanded in July that the U S. close its secret prisons.

(more…)

View with comments

Manchester Labour Party Conference: Time to Go!

Military Families Against the War will host a Peace Camp to coincide with September’s TIME TO GO demonstration at the Labour conference in Manchester.

‘ The camp will begin in Albert Square at 3pm on Thursday 21st September.

‘ Open to all who want to show their support for our campaign to get the troops home.

‘ Please publicise the Peace Camp, tell your family and friends, post the details on web forums or groups.

‘ If you would like to take part in the peace camp contact MFAW at [email protected]

View with comments

“Rarity of integrity in public life”

By Mary Raftery in The Irish Times

He was accused of corruption, of taking bribes, being an alcoholic and sleeping around. Pretty hairy stuff, if you happen to be the UK foreign office’s youngest ambassador, a high flyer well on your way to a glittering career.

The story of Craig Murray, British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 until 2004, is a salutary tale for anyone thinking of doing the right thing, of defending people against murder and torture, of standing up and speaking out in the face of duplicity, hypocrisy and evil.

For this is what Murray did when he publicly condemned the Uzbek regime in 2003 for its systematic use of torture – “on an industrial scale”, as he has described it. He also implicitly criticised his own UK government and that of the United States, who accepted information on Islamic groups which they knew had been obtained under Uzbek torture.

Ambassadors in so-called friendly countries who blow the lid on grotesque abuses of human rights are rare birds. Only one precedent in recent decades springs to mind. Robert White was US ambassador to El Salvador in 1980, during that country’s state-sponsored slaughter of its own civilians. He lost his job for publicly condemning the murders, rapes and torture by a vicious right-wing regime, which was of course a staunch ally of the US. Craig Murray also lost his job. Never mind that the outrageous allegations against him were shown to be false; he was still forced out. He was not considered what is euphemistically known as a team player.

Uzbekistan is a member of the “Coalition of the Willing”, making it an enthusiastic supporter of the US/UK war on terror. It has allowed its territory to be used by coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, with whom it shares a border.

A former Soviet republic, it has been led since its independence in 1991 by Islam Karimov, a former Communist Party leader. There are no free elections and opposition parties are banned. It is widely accepted internationally, even by the UK foreign office, that the regime of this primarily Sunni Muslim country continues to use the threat of al-Qaeda-style terrorism as an excuse to ruthlessly suppress legitimate opposition to its policies.

The US state department describes Uzbekistan as the “strategic centre of central Asia”. It plays a pivotal role in the region, and the US “accordingly has developed a broad relationship covering political, human rights, military, nonproliferation, economic, trade, assistance, and related issues”. While there is a reference to the Uzbek regime’s routine use of torture, this clearly is no impediment to Uzbekistan’s membership of the coalitions which, according to the state department, “have dealt with both Afghanistan and Iraq”. Nor is it apparently any obstacle to America’s use of Uzbekistan for rendition purposes – it has been reported that several terrorist suspects have been deposited there by the US for interrogation. It was only when the Uzbek military opened fire last year on a group of defenceless protesters in the city of Andijan, killing over 600, that western powers were moved to murmur a protest. Craig Murray’s gravest sin was to go public about the fact that both the US and the UK governments were happily using information gained under torture from unfortunate Uzbeks identified – usually falsely – by the regime as terrorists. In Alan Torney’s enthralling documentary on RT’ radio last week, Murray described how he was told by the British foreign office that it was perfectly acceptable to use information gained as a result of torture so long as the UK did not actually torture people itself, or actively encourage others to do so.

Whether encouraged or not, the Uzbek regime uses rape, asphyxiation and electrocution as standard means of torture.

They also like to wield pliers to tear out finger and toenails and to immerse people in boiling liquid. There are reports of parents forced to witness the torture of their children so as to force information from them.

Murray makes the point that while waging a war in Iraq ostensibly to remove the tyrant Saddam Hussein and his appalling abuse of his own people, both the US and the UK are happily cohabiting with another regime in the area, namely Uzbekistan, whose persecution of its citizens was, and remains, just as savage.

The latest in the Craig Murray saga – and he continues to campaign against human rights abuses in Uzbekistan – is a remarkable assault on his work by the UK administration.

His riveting book, Murder in Samarkand, was published earlier this year, and was to contain official documents he obtained under the UK freedom of information legislation.

The British government responded by threatening legal action, on the basis that it owns the copyright to all such documents and refuses to allow them to be reproduced. Murray himself best sums up his experiences: “Have we come to this, that integrity in public life is now so rare that some consider me a hero just for exhibiting the most basic human decency?”

View with comments

Tribune reviews “Murder in Samarkand”

Murder in Samarkand, Craig Murray. Mainstream, 400 pp, ‘18.99

Paul Routledge

“How can we have come to this,” asks Craig Murray, once Our Man in Tashkent, “that integrity in public life is now so rare that some consider me a hero just for exhibiting the most basic human decency?”

You only have to read this important, and courageous, book to understand why. If you are a public servant, and you speak out about the moral cesspit into which New Labour has jumped ‘ not fallen ‘ then you will be hounded from your job, blackguarded in the media and pursued by the avenging furies of the security services and their lawyers.

Craig Murray paid this price for revealing the British government’s role in the use of information gained by torture, which in turn led to the expose of the USA’s “extraordinary rendition” flights” and infuriated Washington. He simply had to go, and once gone, further and better punished to discourage the rest.

It is amazing that this book ever appeared. The government’s censors have had a field day, cutting out damning details on pain of crippling litigation against the publisher. And Whitehall’s finest lawyers were wheeled out to threaten the author with breach of copyright if he disclosed sensitive diplomatic telegrams. But the great virtue about this awkward Scot, who looks like a bemused schoolteacher down on his luck, is that you cannot shut him up.

Murder in Samarkand is the result : a bludgeon by bludgeon account of the barbaric regime of President Karimov in Uzbekistan, and a Labour government’s complicity in his rule. Murray, a career diplomat with postings in Warsaw and west Africa behind him, was appointed Britain’s youngest ambassador in Tashkent in 2002 at the age of 43. He was Norfolk grammar school and Dundee University, rather than Eton and Oxbridge, and Liberal rather than service-orientated Conservative or career Labour. In retrospect, he looked like trouble from the beginning. Except that he did his job so well.

Murray found Tashkent a diplomatic quiet zone, with embassies unable, or unwilling, to influence Karimov’s corrupt, reborn-Communist government. His first act was to attend a dissident’s trial, where three hours of observing perversion of justice set him on his own course of dissent. He fired off a telegram to London condemning the regime that was Blair’s ally in the “war on terror” and demanding an EU protest. Within days, opponents of the regime were knocking at his door with horrific fresh evidence, including photographs of a man who had been boiled alive. The American ambassador cautioned him, claiming that the boiling man was “an isolated case.”

Contrarily, Murray upped the tempo with a public speech condemning the Uzbek regime’s human rights record, and a stream of telegrams disclosing “systemic” torture. His FCO managers were not amused, warning him that he was behaving like a politician, not a diplomat. Worse was to come. Murray, who was reading the MI6 material, denounced as hopelessly wrong information “from a friendly security service” gleaned from “detainee briefing.” He was sure this stuff was “hot out of the torture chambers.” But for Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the head of MI6, the material was “operationally useful”, even if they both (allegedly) lost sleep over its use.

Thereon, it was downhill all the way. The story of the FCO’s persecution of Murray is told in relentless detail. He was accused of being unpatriotic, drunk on duty, unduly fond of the local women, and a host of other undiplomatic habits. He was certainly na’ve, and enjoyed the social round, such as it was in Tashkent. Murray enlivened it with Gilbert and Sullivan, a Scottish rock band and fireworks. Recalled for interview to London, he almost died from a pulmonary embolism and was probably unwise to return to his post while the campaign to destroy him reached a climax at home. He was banned from his own office, a policy specifically supported by Straw. Eventually, practically all the charges against him were dropped, except for the heinous crime of talking about them. But they sacked him all the same, ending his “experiment in a more dynamic style of ambassadorship.”

His real crime, of course, was unwitting subversion of the longstanding US-UK intelligence sharing agreement, under which everything is swapped between the CIA and MI6. Since the American spook industry is four times bigger than ours, this is an unequal swap, and part of the bargain has to be British acceptance of information wherever it comes from. If it comes from torture, “we have to accept it in order to maintain the integrity of the agreement,” Murray emphasises..

That is the nub of the issue, and he is disarmingly frank about stating it. From a simple protest against political corruption, Murray was drawn ineluctably into a power game that could only have one ending. Within days of his controversial Tashkent speech, a top US diplomat in Uzbekistan told a visiting Danish journalist “Murray is a finished man here.”

But happily, not here at home. Murder in Samarkand is not just a harrowing, dramatic story, occasionally relieved by an impish sense of humour. It is a clarion call to all those who care about justice and human rights. No wonder they wanted to shut him up, and thank heaven they failed.

View with comments

UK: Algerian national security deportation an affront to justice and a green light to torture

From Amnesty International

Amnesty International is deeply dismayed at today’s decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) dismissing the appeal of an Algerian man, known for legal reasons as “Y”, against his deportation on national security grounds. The SIAC ruled that “Y” would not face a real risk of torture if he was returned to Algeria.

“The SIAC proceedings were profoundly unfair; they denied ‘Y’ the right to due process of law and any meaningful equality of arms making it impossible for him to effectively refute the UK authorities’ case that he was a national security risk,” Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme said.

“Y” is a torture survivor who had been granted refugee status in the UK. In 2005, he was acquitted, together with others, of all charges in connection with a purported attempt to manufacture and use ricin. He was released from custody in April 2005, where he had been since January 2003. He was later re-arrested and held pending deportation on national security grounds.

Upon hearing of today’s decision of the SIAC, three of the jurors who had acquitted “Y” in the criminal proceedings expressed their shock that despite his acquittal at the criminal trial, the exact same evidence was being used again to ‘justify his deportation’.

They told Amnesty International:

“As three ordinary members of the public we have had our eyes opened to such an unfair and unjust sequence of events orchestrated by the authorities that we feel compelled to speak out. This is contrary to anything we thought could be possible in a democratic, free society.”

“Since January 2003, ‘Y’ has been persecuted by our government beyond all realms of imagination. We were three jurors on ‘Y”s criminal trial (the ‘no-ricin trial’) and after seven months listening carefully to the evidence and arguments from the prosecution and defence, we, as a jury, acquitted him of all charges and expected that, on his release, he could begin to rebuild his life in this country.”

Amnesty International’s delegates observed most of the proceedings before the SIAC in which “Y” challenged the UK authorities’ assertions that he was a national security risk, and that he would not face a real risk of torture if returned to Algeria.

The organization considers that in the proceedings before the SIAC “Y” was denied his right to effectively challenge being labelled as a national security risk. Of grave concern to Amnesty International was the UK authorities’ introduction of, and the SIAC’s reliance on, secret intelligence that was withheld from “Y”, his lawyers of choice and the public.

“Amnesty International has extensively documented the persistence of torture of people thought to possess information about terrorism by Algerian security forces”, Nicola Duckworth said.

“Given the extensive evidence before the SIAC that ‘Y’ would face a real risk of torture if deported to Algeria, today’s decision can only be described as an affront to justice and wrong.”

View with comments

Words equal liquids to mind police

From the NorthWest Enquirer

CRAIG Murray failed to unseat Jack Straw in Blackburn at the last general election but the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan has proved something of a thorn in the government’s side since. His book, Murder In Samarkand, details human rights abuses in Uzbekistan under president Islam Karimov and criticises the British government’s support for the regime. The government has more recently fired off lawyers’ letters to prevent him publishing documents on his blog. And earlier this month Murray cast doubt on government claims about the scale and imminence of the alleged plot to blow up ten flights to the US. But the bureaucracy is exacting its revenge. Ben, a contributor to the blog Neweurasia, says he was prevented from taking Murray’s book on a recent flight from Heathrow to Berlin. ‘Is that about terrorism?’ he was asked. ‘I am afraid you cannot take this on board, sir.’

View with comments

Still No Info on Terror War’s ‘Ghost Detainees’

By Aaron Glantz in OneWorld US

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 23 (OneWorld) – The human rights group Amnesty International is appealing decisions by the United States government to withhold as secret information detailing the incarceration of so-called ghost detainees as part of the Bush administration’s self-styled “war on terror.”

The requests, which were submitted under the Freedom of Information Act with the help of the International Human Rights Clinic of New York University (NYU) School of Law, concern detainees who are–or have been–held by or with the involvement of the United States government, where there is no public record of the detentions.

Such individuals have also often been subjected to the practice commonly known as extraordinary rendition, which means they have been flown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to a U.S.-allied nation where torture is legal and have been interrogated there.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of prisoners have been victims of torture in third countries. It’s difficult to ascertain the exact number because the files remain classified.

(more…)

View with comments

Iran is the the chief beneficiary of the ‘war on terror’

A new report from Chatham House looks at Iran and its neighbours in this new era of conflict and uncertainty ushered in by the polices of Bush and Blair.

“There is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East. The United States, with Coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran’s regional rival governments ‘ the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in April 2003 ‘ but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures. The outbreak of conflict on two fronts in June’July 2006 between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, and Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon has added to the regional dimensions of this instability…

..Iranian regional foreign policy, which is often portrayed as mischievous and destabilizing, is in fact remarkably pragmatic on the whole and generally aims to avoid major upheaval or confrontation.

Iran’s core foreign policy concerns are:

‘ regional hegemony, particularly economic and cultural, within its sphere of influence;

‘ an extension of the sphere of influence;

‘ regional stability;

‘ to see Iraq unified but unable to pose a military threat;

‘ an obsession with the US but uncertainty how to deal with it.”

View with comments

The ‘Neoconservative’ Sufi Muslim Council

The Washington neo-cons, President Karimov of Uzbekistan and Jack Straw appear to be linked to a newly prominent “Muslim interest group” that supports the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and Israeli action in the Lebanon…

From Sufi Muslim Council Exposed

Who and what is the “Sufi Muslim Council”? They seem to have emerged from nowhere ‘ suddenly their spokesman is interviewed on Radio 4 and Newsnight and a Channel 4 documentary gives their views some weight. They have a new website and a new magazine. But hardly anyone knows who they are or what they stand for?

We wanted to know the answer to these questions so we set about doing some basic research. We have uncovered very worrying links between this new council and the neocons in Washington. There are also links to some of the most brutal regimes in the world e.g. the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan. We have also unearthed allegations of dodgy business dealings and vote rigging.

The Neocon Link

Just take a look at the SMC website [www.sufimuslimcouncil.org] and the influence of the neocons in Washington becomes very clear. The majority of the content is written by neocons that criticise Islamic groups ‘ ‘Wahhabis’, the Muslim Brotherhood, MCB, MAB, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaati Islami are some of the examples that come in for criticism. There are articles entitled “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Conquest of Europe”, “Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘ Islam’s Political Insurgency” and “Islamic Radicalism ‘ Its Wahhabi roots and current representation”.

We found that one of the prominent authors on the SMC website, who also writes for the SMC magazine “Spirit”, is Zeyno Baran ‘ a self confessed neocon who works for the ultra right wing Hudson Institute. She is close to the Uzbek regime and close to the oil and gas interests in Washington and Central Asia. She tirelessly does the bidding of the dictatorial regimes of Central Asia by playing down human rights abuses and encouraging western governments to enact draconian measures against Muslims. She has condemned Sheikh Qaradawi and the International Union of Muslim Scholars, amongst others. She says that Islam should play no role in politics and condemns even the mere mention of Islam in the Iraqi and Afghan constitutions.

(more…)

View with comments

Why Sustainability, not Terrorism, Should Be Our Real Security Focus

By Alex Steffen in WorldChanging.com

What really threatens us? How do we truly make ourselves safer?

The Cato Institute (a conservative thinktank) has released an outstanding paper, A False Sense of Insecurity (PDF), which makes the point that in any rational assessment, terrorism is really just not that big of a threat to the average person. For instance, about as many Americans have been killed by terrorists as have been “killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.” Whatsmore, many WMD threats are overblown and largely preventable. Indeed, with exhaustive research, the authors can conclude that:

Assessed in broad but reasonable context, terrorism generally does not do much damage. The costs of terrorism are often the result of hasty, ill-considered, and overwrought reactions.

A sensible policy approach to the problem might be to stress that any damage terrorists are able to accomplish likely can be absorbed, however grimly. While judicious protective and policing measures are sensible, extensive fear and anxiety over what may at base prove to be a rather limited problem are misplaced, unjustified and counter productive

(more…)

View with comments

The Crown Prosecution Service

Eventually we will find out something of the truth behind the alleged terror plot. The law prohibits me from commenting on the evidence: but as the police have already done so, I might say that so far nothing they said has contradicted my contention that no-one had purchased a ticket and nobody had assembled a bomb. It is also worth noting that the mother, Cossor Ali, has not been charged with conspiracy to murder, so the lurid story about her planning to blow up a plane and her baby with a bomb in a feeding bottle appears to be a fantasy.

The charges laid are extremely serious. We will wait to see what the trial brings – unfortunately, the BBC are saying that the prisoners could wait in jail for three years before a substantive trial. As with the “ricin plotters”, that is long enough that in the event of a not guilty verdict the public will have forgotten all about it and the media will be able to report it on page 22 in a single paragraph. Who doubts that if the ricin plotters had been found guilty, it would have been page 1 all over again?

Incidentally, my own straw poll indicates that most people don’t realise the ricin plot didn’t exist and the “plotters” were found not guilty. Hardly surprising when the disgraceful BBC News was today talking about the “Ricin plot” – without mentioning the not guilty verdicts – in a ridiculous scaremongering feature about “Agroterrorism”, claiming that terrorists could kill 250,000 people by introducing botulism into a milk tanker. Worth noting that the Head of News and Current Affairs at the BBC is Helen Boaden, whose brother was a New Labour candidate at the last election.

Of course, our still shiny independent Crown Prosecution Service will have impartially assessed the evidence and decided it was sufficient to go to trial – which effectively gave the CPS the power to lock these people up for three years before the evidence is tested by the defence. The CPS mission statement describes itself proudly as “an independent prosecution service”.

So, consider the statement by the Crown Prosecution Service at the police conference where the charges were announced on 21 August. I heard this on TV and sat up suddenly. I couldn’t believe my ears. I have just tracked down the quote to confirm I heard aright:

Susan Hemmings, Crown Prosecution Service:

“I was briefed in relation to these allegations before the arrest and asked to advise on some preliminary legal issues both before and just after arrest. Together with another senior CPS lawyer, I have been working with the police full time at New Scotland Yard for the last eight days.”

Source: http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/149_06.html

What? The CPS unit that took the decision was actually “embedded” with the police investigation in Scotland Yard? Was a party to the turmoil, excitement and indeed hype that has characterised this investigation?

That strikes me as very strange for the body that is meant impartially to assess the weight of police evidence and decide if there is a case for prosecution. Does anyone know if the CPS has ever physically moved itself to Scotland Yard before in any previous case?

Craig

View with comments

You really can’t fool all of the people all of the time

From The Guardian

David Cameron is on course for a possible general election win, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today that shows support for the Conservatives climbing to a lead that could give them a narrow majority in the Commons, while Labour has plunged to a 19-year low.

The Tories have gained over the last month while support for Labour has fallen heavily in the wake of the recent alleged terror plot against airlines. An overwhelming majority of voters appear to pin part of the blame for the increased threat on Tony Blair’s policy of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ministers – including Mr Blair – have repeatedly denied that there is a connection. But 72%, including 65% of Labour voters, think government policy has made Britain more of a target for terrorists. Only 1% of voters believe the government’s foreign policy has made Britain safer, a devastating finding given that action in Iraq and Afghanistan has been justified in part to defeat Islamist terrorism.

That may explain why Labour support has dropped four points in a month, to 31%, the lowest figure recorded by ICM for the Guardian since just before the 1987 election and the second lowest since the poll series began in 1984. The fall may be partly caused by Mr Blair’s absence on holiday and public unhappiness at the announcement that John Prescott would stand in. The rating is worse than Labour achieved at the 1987 or 1992 elections and worse than almost every poll result under Neil Kinnock and John Smith’s leadership.

Meanwhile the Conservatives have climbed one point to 40%, passing the confidence-boosting threshold for the first time in a Guardian/ICM poll since August 1992, in the wake of John Major’s election victory.

The findings will shock many at Westminster who had expected Labour to gain ground following John Reid’s high-profile handling of the alleged plot against transatlantic airlines. Carried out over the past weekend, following the series of terror arrests, the poll shows voters do not believe the government is giving an honest account of the threat facing Britain. Only 20% of all voters, and 26% of Labour voters, say they think the government is telling the truth about the threat, while 21% of voters think the government has actively exaggerated the danger.

A majority, 51%, say the government is not giving the full truth and may be telling less than it knows. That finding comes despite a newly introduced system of public information warnings that saw the home secretary downgrade the threat level from critical to severe.

Such distrust forms the background to a dramatic shift of support away from Labour. The poll shows former Labour voters switching to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in almost equal numbers, boosting Lib Dem support by five points to 22%.

The findings will help the party’s leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, ahead of what is expected to be a testing party conference next month. The poll follows his questioning of the prime minister’s close alliance with George Bush and could leave the Lib Dems as powerbrokers if the election produces a close result.

(more…)

View with comments

“Murder in Samarkand” confiscated by Luton airport security

From Eurasian.net

‘Is that about terrorism?’, asked the lady that examined my onboard luggage. ‘Humm, well, it contains mentions of that, but it’s about your former ambassador to Uzbekistan and more about diplomacy’, I replied politely. ‘Does it have al-Qaida in it?’ I looked a bit confused. ‘What?’ – ‘Well, I have to check this with my manager, the rest of your stuff is fine, though.’

The manager then came after a minute or two. ‘Hello Sir, can you tell me about this book?’ ‘Sure, it is about Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan.’ ‘Where, if I may ask, did you buy this book?’ – ‘Well, it is available at any Waterstones here in Britain. I just bought my copy in the Angel branch yesterday.’

‘I am afraid you cannot take this onboard, Sir.’ You must be kidding me. I just spent 20 pounds on a book that, despite arousing some controversy in the UK, should not be banned onboard a flight to Germany. I understand that the terror plot (which coincidentally seems to have an Uzbek dimension) makes for some overwrought nerves.

But to ban a book widely available in book stores in the UK is just a joke. Now, cash-strapped, I have to wait for the paperback edition to be published. Already late for the flight and raging in front of the calm airport security manager, I must have overheard that they can – in exceptional cases – post confiscated material to a UK address. I recalled that onboard the plane’

View with comments

John Reid’s Scaremongering Succeeds in Making Racism Normal

From The Guardian

The removal of two men from a holiday flight on the grounds that fellow passengers feared they were terrorists was condemned yesterday. The pair, thought to be in their 20s and of Middle Eastern or Asian appearance, were removed from a flight to Manchester from Malaga, Spain, after passengers became suspicious of their behaviour.

In the early hours of Wednesday a number of passengers on Monarch Airlines flight ZB613 left the plane, refusing to fly unless the two men were removed, causing a three-hour delay.

Passengers are reported to have become suspicious after the men were overheard apparently speaking Arabic and seen repeatedly checking their watches, although this has not been confirmed by the airline.

Muslim MP Khalid Mahmood described the incident as “hugely irrational”. “People need to get their senses back into order. You can’t just accuse anybody who’s of Asian appearance and treat them like a terrorist,” said the Labour MP for Birmingham.

“If somebody is threatening anybody it’s understandable, but when they are just travelling for their own needs it’s not. People just need to calm down.”

These sentiments were echoed by Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, of the Muslim Parliament of Britain, who described the incident as “sad and shocking”.

(more…)

View with comments

White House uses London ‘terror plot’ to drive legislation

From the Star Tribune

The White House pushes for a tough anti-terror law and orders an appeal of the decision on NSA surveillance.

WASHINGTON – A federal court’s rejection of President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, on the heels of the alleged London bomb plot, is adding momentum to the administration’s push for congressional approval of tough counterterrorism proposals, including authorizing warrantless wiretapping of suspected terrorists and restricting detainee rights.

Speaking with reporters Friday at the Camp David retreat in Maryland, Bush said, “Those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live.”I strongly disagree with that decision, strongly disagree,” he said. “That’s why I instructed the Justice Department to appeal immediately, and I believe our appeals will be upheld.”

Bush’s advisers and allies argue that passage of a measure that explicitly authorizes the National Security Agency program would answer key elements of Thursday’s ruling. At the same time, the disrupted London plot is fueling another message: that tough policies in dealing with terror suspects are necessary to combat the continuing threat of terrorism.

View with comments

Police, politics and public safety: Letters in the Guardian

Saturday August 19, 2006

By Chief Constable Ken Jones

President, Association of Chief Police Officers

Craig Murray has a lot to say about something of which he knows very little (The timing is political, August 18). The police service in this country is wholly independent of politics and the government. His suggestion that the arrests we saw last week were politically motivated is wholly false. As a one-time senior diplomat, he ought to have a better understanding of the constitutional framework within which policing operates in the UK.

The police service acts solely in the public interest against individuals or groups about whom there is reasonable suspicion or intelligence that they may be engaged in criminal acts. Those criminal acts sometimes include terrorism. The police service does not target or “criminalise” any part of any community. The suggestion that this operation was timed to generate some sort of political benefit is nonsense. The independent decision to act was made in order to ensure the public were protected. Murray must know that high-level liaison between nations facing these challenges is desirable. We are facing an ideologically motivated global threat which demands a united global response.

The police service does not “harass” any religious group. Senior police officers have questioned calls to crudely profile travellers and are leading much of the work to ensure that no one community is victimised. But there is a tiny number of people who, by distorting the core messages of Islam, pose a large-scale threat to us all. We brief our staff very carefully around issues of race, ethnicity, cultures and religions to ensure that dangerous stereotyping does not influence our actions.

We carefully assess the nature of the threat and put into place measures that will contest it. Letting terrorist operations “proceed closer to maturity” could mean that hundreds, or even thousands, might die. It seems we are damned if we act and will most certainly be damned for all time if we do not. Let us remember that those detained last week are innocent until proven guilty. We now need to give the investigators, who are police officers and staff from across the UK, the time and space to establish the truth.

Finally, global terrorism investigations are extremely complex. They involve enquiries across a number of nations. To see no charges after only seven days is hardly surprising; only last year we realised that the existing boundaries of investigation were not up to the challenges posed by global terrorism and asked parliament for a radical extension of pre-charge detention. Our core criminal justice processes were designed for a different purpose and time. They must continue to evolve to adapt to the very real threat we face.

Monday August 21, 2006

By Craig Murray, London

Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, appears appalled (Letters, August 19) that I had the temerity to suggest that the police and security services are becoming politicised. Yet in this same letter, he specifically states that the police last year requested longer periods of detention without charge, and he argues that “our core criminal-justice processes … must continue to evolve to adapt to the very real threat we now face”. Mr Jones is a policeman with a deeply political agenda. His “evolution” is a continual increase of police powers and diminution of the rights of the individual. There could be no clearer example than his letter of what it is that makes me uneasy about the politicisation of the police. It used to be their job to enforce the laws, not tell us what they “must” be.

Mr Jones complains that I don’t know the facts of the current case. Every “fact” I quoted was sourced by a reputable journalist to the police, security services or Home Office. I just reversed the original spin. I see there is no letter from the Association of Chief Police Officers attacking the hundreds of articles which have hyped the threat and effectively prejudged the accused. If police sources were not so keen to tip the wink to the press on suitcases of bomb-making material, suicide videos and improbable chemistry in plane toilets, then there would have been no need to introduce a note of scepticism.

Sorry, but I can’t forget the lies fed to the media about De Menezes, chemical-weapon vests and ricin. Lies fed by the police, up to the highest levels. I am extremely grateful for the work of the police in combating the threat of terrorism regularly since their foundation. I remember with pride those policemen and women who died doing it. Mr Jones’s association has much better staff than he deserves. But he must realise that many of us do not agree that Islamic terrorism is historically greater than other threats faced by this country. I do agree there is evil ideology out there, but it comes from Bush and Bin Laden equally.

By Ruth Knox, Liverpool

Ken Jones is quite right to state that those detained last week are innocent until proved guilty and that the investigators need time to establish the truth. Yet, almost every day reputable news organisations have led with revelations of discoveries made by these same investigators. Are we to assume that all these leaks are against official policy?

View with comments

Conspiracy plots make the world go round

By Nick Cohen, doing a nice line in ‘patriotic’ patronising and writing in The Observer

“I broke the story about the government’s apparent hounding of Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. But ever since reading Thursday’s Guardian, I’ve been wondering if the FO wasn’t provoked.

Instead of looking Islamism in the eye, Murray declares that Bush and Blair longed to distract attention from their troubles and ‘dodgy’ intelligence about the alleged airport bombers ‘gave them a chance’.

Even as a conspiracy theorist, my former protege isn’t up to much. Compare him to the bloggers who say it is an MI5 plot to make John Reid PM or the eminent commentator who assured me that the airlines were behind it. They want to ban hand luggage so they can speed up the delivery of passengers to planes, he said. Now they have the excuse to increase their profits.

Hey, what’s the matter with you? Join the dots.”

View with comments

Radio Waves: Mick Heaney: Voice of restraint

From The Sunday Times

We may live in a cacophonous world of increasingly accessible media, with blogs, podcasts and cable channels pumping out their two cents’ worth, but it is still possible to cause a stir simply by making one’s voice heard. Whether it is entirely wise to do so is another matter.

Listening to Craig Murray in the first episode of Whistleblowers (RTE R1, Thu), the most striking thing was not so much the human- rights abuses he became aware of while serving as British ambassador to Uzbekistan, but the unadorned manner in which he recounted them. If it made for compelling listening, however, Murray’s forthright testimony would cost him dearly.

As he told his tale, it became clear that the former diplomat was not a natural rebel. A Foreign Office high-flyer, he started to turn against the regime of the Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, only after attending the trial of an Islamic activist, where a witness said he had been tortured into giving evidence.

As Murray became more concerned about such abuses, he not only amassed evidence of torture and persecution, but also realised British intelligence used information gained under duress in its war on Al-Qaeda. He made clear his distaste for the Uzbek regime.

Murray’s graphic account of dissidents being boiled alive by the security forces of a strategically important ally caused unwelcome ripples in London, but it was not the most shocking part of the programme, if only because such violence forms a large chunk of our daily media diet.

More chilling was the manner of Murray’s undoing: asked to resign by his superiors, he refused, only to be confronted with 14 accusations of misconduct, from alcoholism to seeking sex for visas.

Murray’s starkly factual and unemotive recollection of the incident only served to highlight the nightmarish quality of his situation. For once, the epithet Kafkaesque was warranted.

Using his largely unmediated testimony to drive the programme was not without its perils: unable to be pressed on contentious incidents, his evidence had to be taken at face value. But if he quietly painted himself as a fearless martyr for the truth, giving Murray’s voice such free reign allowed the listener to glimpse a fuller picture of the man, both in his vanities ‘ he described his early career as ‘frankly brilliant’ ‘ and in his despair.

Such unfettered voices are the lifeblood of Flux (Mon, RTE R1), the offbeat weekly slice of radio v’rit’ that supposedly takes its cue from whatever grabs the ear of Paddy O’Gorman and Ronan Kelly, the alternating hosts.

View with comments