Monthly Archives: August 2006


Paul Routledge Gets Political on Biographies

From AbeBooks

When it comes to the slings and arrows of politics, Paul Routledge has seen it all – from Arthur Scargill’s battles with Thatcherism to the rise of Tony Blair’s New Labour. Aside from being a hard-hitting columnist, the chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror newspaper is also an accomplished author. He has penned biographies of Gordon Brown, Betty Boothroyd, Airey Neave, John Hume and Scargill as well as the Bumper Book of British Lefties. An avid reader and customer of Abebooks, Paul has recommended 10 political biographies that illustrate life in the corridors of power and far beyond.

Click here to see his recommendations

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Deadly Baby Bottles

One aspect of the alleged bomb plot which has provided a tremedous boost to the atavists, is the so-called “Baby bottle bomb”.

As the Daily Telegraph reported on August 14, “Scotland Yard are quizzing Abdula Ahmed, 25, and his 23 year old wife Cossor over suspicions that they were to use their baby’s bottle to hide a liquid bomb”.

This appalling and macabre idea is just what the rabid right needed to stoke up images of how sub-human Muslims are. Prepared to blow up their own baby! For example, John Howard, Australian Prime Minister:

“That would be an appalling reflection on the lack of humanity of that child’s parents.”

That is one of the more moderate quotes. I won’t repeat some of the stuff from US blogs.

One allegation on those blogs, that I can’t track down any original source for, is that the police found baby bottles containing residues of potentially bomb-making chemicals. This allegation has also been quoted to me in comments on this website.

Whether police really have said this, is a matter I can’t clarify. But if they have, consider this. I am looking at a bottle of Milton sterilising tablets. I, and generations of British parents, used these or similar chemicals to sterilise my baby’s feeding bottle. The instructions read thus:

Active Ingredient

Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate

Warnings

Harmful if swallowed. When in contact with an acid, releases a toxic gas.

Hydrogen peroxide is also widely sold in pharmacists and can be used for various domestic purposes including as a disinfectent.

A very high proportion of baby bottles would show traces of potentially dangerous chemicals. It means nothing.

I hope that the allegation is untrue and this young family intended no such crime. But there is nothing uniquely Islamic about infanticide. Indeed, in the last two days the news bulletins have covered prominently the stories of a British man who allegedly jumped from a balcony clutching his two children in Crete, and the inquest on a woman who threw herself under her train with her nine year old child.

Horrible? Yes. Have Muslims wreaked more horror on the World, either historically or in the last five years, than those professing other religions? No.

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Tashkent tales of terror and tippling

Rather snooty review from the Indpendent’s diplomatic editor, who I feel may have been writing with an eye to preserving her FCO contacts. Incidentally, I think “Carry on up the Khyber” is a great film.

Craig

From The Independent

By Anne Penketh

Published: 11 August 2006

The Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan has one of the world’s most vicious regimes. President Islam Karimov, a Soviet-era survivor, would be right at the top of any league table of despots, along with Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Kim Jong-Il of North Korea. Former UK ambassador Craig Murray, when he was Our Man in Tashkent, launched a one-man campaign to expose human-rights abuses in Uzbekistan. But his accusations that the Government was turning a blind eye to the use of torture brought him into conflict with support for the “war on terror”, and he was forced to resign after a smear campaign encompassing both his private and professional life that destroyed his health and his marriage. In this book, Murray tells his side of the story.

If you have already formed an opinion about the poor judgement of the kilt-wearing, self-described “boozed-up, randy Scot”, who left his long-suffering wife for an Uzbek dancer, the book will not change your mind. It is a shame, because Murray has a compelling tale about torture, skulduggery and bravery in the wilds of Uzbekistan. But the central theme risks being obscured by the revelations about his personal life. It is more Carry on up the Khyber than Murder in Samarkand.

A Foreign Office colleague is described as “the only man in the FCO who can drink me under the table”: a boast illustrated during Murray’s posting to Uzbekistan. On a typical evening’s drinking with an Uzbek official, the pair down considerable quantities of Georgian red wine before they each consume the best part of a bottle of vodka with mutual toasts. They then drive to the nearest fleshpot – “in any Western country he would have been 10 times over the drink-driving limit” – where they continue the evening with beer and yet more vodka until 4am.

Murray describes well the horrors of the US-backed Karimov regime – the death by boiling, police rapes and forced labour in the cotton fields. To his credit, his decision to confront the Uzbek authorities gained him their respect and made him a hero to the NGOs. “I was trying to change a massively entrenched dictatorship by hurling myself against it. What was the point?” Simply “that it had to be done. Think William Wallace. On the other hand, when they tortured him to death they forced his own testicles down his throat.”

This is indeed what happened to Murray, metaphorically speaking, as his diplomatic career was brought to an end. His witty and engaging narrative makes him look like the Candide of the cynical diplomatic world. In his fight against the system, the system won, despite his principled stand against New Labour’s craven alignment with the Bush administration. But spare a thought for his superiors, bombarded by e-mails and telegrams. Murray was an ambassador behaving like a politician – even, at times, like the local head of Human Rights Watch. What prospects for British diplomacy if everybody behaves like a loose cannon, whatever the moral justification?

Murray realises that, by protesting about the uselessness of intelligence obtained under torture, he had inadvertently uncovered the basis of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” programme. “That would explain the ferocity of the attacks aimed at removing me and destroying my reputation,” he says. The sad epilogue is that, since his departure, the human rights situation in Uzbekistan has worsened still further. In a major geo-political shift, President Karimov has realigned his government with Moscow – a much less demanding partner in the field of human rights.

Anne Penketh is diplomatic editor of ‘The Independent’

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Hitting a nerve

I appear to have hit a nerve with my call for a sceptical view of the alleged “bigger than 9/11” plot. Over 50,000 people so far have read the item on my own blog, and it has been quoted and reposted all over the web.

In the UK, at least, the more serious wing of the mainstream media is beginning to catch up with the idea that all is not well here.

Still, after eight days of detention, nobody has been charged with any crime. For there to be no clear evidence yet on something that was “imminent” and “Mass murder on an unbelievable scale” is, to say the least, rather peculiar. The 24th person, who was arrested amid much fanfare yesterday, has been quietly released without charge today. Breaking news, another “suspect” has just been released too.

The drip, drip of information to the media from the security services has rather dried-up. The last item of any significance was that they had found a handgun and a rifle – neither of which could have been in any use in the alleged plot. If you were smuggling undetectable liquid explosive onto a plane, you would be unlikely to give the game away by tucking a rifle into your hand baggage.

As with the murder some years ago of the uncle of the suspect held in Pakistan, it remains a possibility that there could be some criminal activity here involving a few of the suspects, which is not terrorist linked.

As the Police immediately told the press about the guns, it is a reasonable deduction that it remains true that they still have found no bombs or detonators, or they would have told us, particularly as they haven’t charged anyone yet. They must be getting pretty desperate to announce some actual evidence by now.

This brings us to one particuarly sinister aspect of the allegations – that the bombs were to be made on the plane.

The idea that high explosive can be made quickly in a plane toilet by mixing at room temperature some nail polish remover, bleach, and Red Bull and giving it a quick stir, is nonsense. Yes, liquid explosives exist and are highly dangerous and yes, airports are ill equipped to detect them at present. Yes, it is true they have been used on planes before by terrorists. But can they be quickly manufactured on the plane? No.

The sinister aspect is not that this is a real new threat. It is that the allegation may have been concocted in order to prepare us for arresting people without any actual bombs.

Let me fess up here. I have just checked, and our flat contains nail polish remover, sports drinks, and a variety of household cleaning products. Also MP3 players and mobile phones. So the authorities could announce – as they have whispered to the media in this case – that potential ingredients of a liquid bomb, and potential timing devices, have been discovered. It rather lowers the bar, doesn’t it?

This has a peculiar resonance for me. I spoke at the annual Stop the War conference a couple of months ago. I referred to the famous ricin plot. For those outside the UK, this generated the same degree of hype here two years ago. It was alleged that a flat in North London inhabited by Muslims was a “Ricin” factory, manufacturing the deadly toxin which could kill “hundreds of thousands of people”. Police tipped off the authorities that traces of ricin had been discovered. In the end, all those accused were found not guilty by the court. The “traces of ricin” were revealed to be the atmospheric norm.

The “intelligence” on that plot had been extracted under torture in Algeria – another echo here, as the “intelligence” in this current case has almost certainly been extracted under torture in Pakistan. Another police tip-off to the media was that the intelligence said that the ricin had been stored in plastic jars, and they had indeed found plastic jars containing a suspicious substance. It turned out the containers in question were two Brylcreem tubs. What was in them? In the first, paper clips. In the second, Brylcreem.

I told the story in my speech, and concluded with a ringing “So we must congratulate the government for saving us from a dastardly Islamic plot to take over the World using hair styling products.”

I fear the government may have taken me seriously!

I do not discount the possibility that there is a germ of something behind the current alleged plot. Will it be anything like the hype? No.

The hype scarcely lowers. On the flagship ten o’clock news last night, the BBC reported breathlessly on the United flight diverted from Washington to Boston last night, and its fighter escort. We had very earnest besuited security experts terrifying us about the dangers.

The extraordinary thing was that, by this stage, we knew definitely that this was a 60 year old woman with claustrophobia, who had a few loose matches and some Vaseline intensive care hand lotion in the bottom of her handbag. The facts reported were totally at odds with the whole manner of the “be terrified” report and the analysis being built on it. But that didn’t stop them.

It has, of course, worked. When did you last see Iraq on the news? Where is Liebermann’s defeat now on the news agenda?

A blog like this is much too small a player to affect the public mood. What it can do is tap into it. The extraordinary response to these posts shows that there is a very significant section of the public not prepared to buy more Bush/Blair propaganda.

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There must be a line somewhere: The Sharpner on Murder in Samarkand

From thesharpner

In August 2002 Craig Murray set off to Uzbekistan as HM Ambassador. For those of us a bit vague about the aftermath of the USSR, it’s bordered by Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan, and what’s left of the Aral Sea after the appalling ecological impact of its massive cotton industry. Alongside cotton it produces natural gas, vast amounts of minerals, and tobacco. It’s a country full of resounding place names, among them what were once called the Oxus and the Jaxartes rivers and the cities of Tashkent and Samarkand.

Murray had not been an ambassador before but he had been a diplomat for some 20 years, including a spell as head of the economics section of the British Embassy in Warsaw and most recently as Deputy High Commissioner of Ghana. He did not come from the typical FCO background: a Scot, he went to a state school and Dundee University. His staff in Tashkent was tiny: few other western nations even had an embassy there at the time.

It will be no surprise to anyone who reads Murray’s site that his book is in part a sustained attack on UK foreign policy over the last few years. Murray soon began to come to the conclusion that Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan were a brutal band of corrupt thugs, running a country where show-trials relying on ‘evidence’ obtained by torture were routine. The US and UK were backing the regime, in part as an element of the ‘War on Terror’, and pouring money into it, because it was opposed to Islamic fundamentalism, and because Uzbekistan is in a useful position for Rumsfeld’s ‘lily pad’ strategy (lots of permanent major US bases scattered over the middle east for rapid reaction), and also happen to be sitting on a lot of valuable natural resources and potential pipeline routes etc. He also argues that our Governments are, or at least were, labouring under a fundamental misapprehension: that Karimov’s regime is part and parcel with other Soviet successor regimes in eastern Europe: Walesa, Havel, and the like. It isn’t: Karimov and his ilk are the old local Communist leaders under new colours. These are men who were not at all impressed with Gorbachev.

Murray decided that one of the themes of his embassy would be standing up on human rights: in later correspondence with the FCO he was to write:

‘I think that outrage is absolutely the correct emotion at learning that someone has been tortured to death with boiling water. If your reaction at seeing photos of this is not to be outraged but to wonder precisely which UN Convention contains provision against torture by boiling water, then I am sorry. I see the head of ODIHR has called it in public ‘horrid’. I presume you think he is being a bit strong. [‘] PS I don’t know if you have noticed but I have a slight speech defect. I really can’t call anything ‘howwid’.’

(more…)

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‘Princess of Uzbeks’ cavorts in a cartoon wonderland

From The Guardian

Martial arts black belt, Harvard graduate, jewellery designer, businesswoman. Her father may be a brutal dictator, but the official list of Gulnara Karimova’s achievements is as long as your arm.

Now the glamorous daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, has added a new talent to the list with the release of her first music video. Unutma Meni (Don’t Forget Me) features the 33-year-old brunette under the stage name GooGoosha – apparently her father’s name for her – cavorting in a cartoon wonderland where she travels to a secluded castle and a tropical island in a limousine that floats through the air.

Commentators say the video – showing repeatedly on Uzbekistan’s domestic equivalent of MTV – is part of a campaign to promote Ms Karimova as a potential successor to her father, whose term of office finishes at the end of next year.

Despite the stumbling block of promoting a woman as leader in a traditional Muslim society, Ms Karimova is thought to be the only person who can protect the assets of her father’s family and cronies.

However, critics suggest the new song will do little to raise her appeal. “This is exactly comparable to the emperor Nero playing his harp and everyone having to cheer,” said Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who was sacked after exposing the Karimov regime’s torture of political opponents. “It’ll make her feel very good but she won’t gain any popularity.”

Ms Karimova first came to international attention after a high-profile divorce from her husband, Mansur Maqsudi. In 2003 a US court ruled that Mr Maqsudi should be given sole custody of the couple’s two children, Islam and Iman, then 10 and six. However, she refused an order to return them from Uzbekistan.

Ms Karimova kept $4.5m (‘2.4m) worth of jewellery, plus business interests worth approximately $60m, as part of her divorce settlement. The assets included nightclubs in Tashkent, investment holdings and a recording studio.

Uzbek media, which are tightly state-controlled, have praised Ms Karimova for charity works, dubbing her the Princess of Uzbeks. “It is characteristic of Gulnara to do everything with excellence,” said Tatyana Petrenko, a music critic.

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Germany’s Favorite Despot

By Christian Neef in Spiegel Online

See also Germany’s dialogue with the Uzbek regime: a disgrace for German democracy

While many Westerners have been forced out of Uzbekistan, the German army continues to operate a base in the border city of Termez. Oppenents of President Karimov’s despotic regime are now accusing the Germans of looking the other way.

In the Surchon discotheque, a dark basement club on the main street of Termez, the dance floor glitters in the disco lights, but it’s almost empty. Business isn’t good. A few bronze-skinned Uzbek women sit at two of the tables. Seven young men, their pale skin an obvious indication that they aren’t locals, sit at a third table. The boys are German soldiers from faraway Europe. They’re waiting for their next round of beers and hoping for more attention from the local beauties.

It’s almost 9 p.m. on a Sunday night in Termez, but the city still seems encased in the day’s heat, even down by the Amu Darya River, which forms the border with Afghanistan and its endless yellow steppes. The sun has been baking this city since Buddhists settled here more than 2,000 years ago. They were followed by the Arabs, the Mongols and their limping leader, Tamerlane, and then the colonizing forces of the Russian czar. The Soviets sent 100,000 troops to the city during their war in Afghanistan, and now it’s the German army’s turn.

The Germans have had a squadron stationed in Termez since February 2002. The base, which has 300 military staff, six transport aircraft and seven helicopters, serves as a hub for supplying Germany’s contingent to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Each soldier who takes off from the Cologne/Bonn military airport for a tour in Afghanistan has to change planes in Termez — from an olive-green Airbus to a C-160 Transall cargo aircraft. The German military has already shuttled 125,000 troops and more than 10,000 tones of freight through its base in this Uzbek oasis.

The city’s 140,000 inhabitants may have grown accustomed to the Germans, but the rest of the country is officially unaware of their presence and the Uzbek media are barred from reporting on the Germans. Indeed, judging by the current policies of the regime in Tashkent, they shouldn’t even be there anymore.

(more…)

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US gave green light to Israel: Attack on Lebanon essential precursor for military options against Iran

From Democracy Now

“In this week’s issue of the New Yorker, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports Israeli officials visited the White House earlier this summer to get a “green light” for an attack on Lebanon. The Bush administration approved, Hersh says, in part to remove Hezbollah as a deterrent to a potential US bombing of Iran. A government consultant said the Bush administration also saw the attack on Lebanon as a “demo” for what it could expect to face in Iran.”

From the New Yorker

“The Middle East expert said that the Administration had several reasons for supporting the Israeli bombing campaign. Within the State Department, it was seen as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government so that it could assert its authority over the south of the country, much of which is controlled by Hezbollah. He went on, “The White House was more focussed on stripping Hezbollah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hezbollah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy.”

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About John Reid

From Media Lens

“In the international arena, Reid, during his drinking days, fell into bad company in the Balkans with the Bosnian Serb mass-murderer Radovan Karadzic, who tops The Hague’s International War Crimes Tribunal list of wanted men. Reid has admitted spending three days in 1993 at a luxury Geneva lakeside hotel as a guest of Karadzic. “He used to talk to Karadzic, he admired Karadzic. He mistook the Bosnian Serb project as the inheritor of the united Communist ideal,” says Brendan Simms, a Cambridge academic and author of Unfinest Hour: Britain And The Destruction of Bosnia.”

The Guardian, 2 March 2002.

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The UK Terror plot: what’s really going on?

I have been reading very carefully through all the Sunday newspapers to try and analyse the truth from all the scores of pages claiming to detail the so-called bomb plot. Unlike the great herd of so-called security experts doing the media analysis, I have the advantage of having had the very highest security clearances myself, having done a huge amount of professional intelligence analysis, and having been inside the spin machine.

So this, I believe, is the true story.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn’t be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year – like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes – which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn’t give is the truth.

The gentleman being “interrogated” had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.

We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for “Another 9/11”. The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled.

We then have the appalling political propaganda of John Reid, Home Secretary, making a speech warning us all of the dreadful evil threatening us and complaining that “Some people don’t get” the need to abandon all our traditional liberties. He then went on, according to his own propaganda machine, to stay up all night and minutely direct the arrests. There could be no clearer evidence that our Police are now just a political tool. Like all the best nasty regimes, the knock on the door came in the middle of the night, at 2.30am. Those arrested included a mother with a six week old baby.

For those who don’t know, it is worth introducing Reid. A hardened Stalinist with a long term reputation for personal violence, at Stirling Univeristy he was the Communist Party’s “Enforcer”, (in days when the Communist Party ran Stirling University Students’ Union, which it should not be forgotten was a business with a very substantial cash turnover). Reid was sent to beat up those who deviated from the Party line.

We will now never know if any of those arrested would have gone on to make a bomb or buy a plane ticket. Most of them do not fit the “Loner” profile you would expect – a tiny percentage of suicide bombers have happy marriages and young children. As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity – that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA.

In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few – just over two per cent of arrests – who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered.

Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical.

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The FO KO

David Leigh on Craig Murray’s extraordinary account of his period as envoy to Uzbekistan, Murder in Samarkand

From The Guardian

There is plenty of black comedy in this frank story of the disillusionment and downfall of one of Britain’s brightest young ambassadors. It is presumably that element which has already attracted director Michael Winterbottom to his project of making it into a feature film with Steve Coogan in the title role.

Craig Murray clearly had little idea of what he was letting himself in for four years ago, when he set off with a pile of baggage on a first-class flight, as envoy to the faraway country of Uzbekistan. A bit of a bon vivant and a womaniser, he was also clever and industrious, and he knew it. One of a new unstuffy breed in the Foreign Office, from Dundee University rather than Oxford, he says he protested at being told to wear a grey tailcoat and topper for a duty call on the royals before departure. He was informed the dress code was sternly insisted on by the Palace, since an ambassador had recently committed the solecism of arriving in a linen suit. “Good God! A linen suit?” writes Murray cockily. “No wonder we lost the Empire!”

But when he got to Tashkent, Murray’s cockiness started to evaporate. As he describes it, he found himself in a milieu worthy of Graham Greene. The Americans were busy building an enormous airbase, and praising the sinister President Karimov to the skies as a reformist ally in the great war on terror. Karimov himself was exploiting US naivety while running an Asiatic tyranny on a North Korean model, with internal passports, virtual slave labour, and brutal torture of Muslim dissidents. The Americans were kept happy by a supply of colourful “intelligence” about al-Qaida activities, most of which, says Murray, was nonsense.

The new ambassador decided to attend a show trial. It was an eye-opener. He was at first intrigued by an encounter with an Uzbek lovely, and then became very ashamed of himself. “I realised this was the sister of the victim. Her eyes were filling with tears. Her brother was going to be executed and I was trying to make out her legs through her dress. I was filled with self-loathing.” He felt even more ashamed when he found his local girlfriends were resigned to being regularly raped by the thuggish Tashkent police.

Murray set about doing what he thought was the right thing. He decribes how he sent telegrams to London demanding diplomatic action. He confronted corrupt Uzbek officials. He made a dramatic public speech in front of a stony-faced US ambassador, contradicting bland American praise of the regime and becoming a local hero.

But, as he tells the story, there was just too much that Murray did not realise at the time. He did not know that Tony Blair and the then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had hitched Britain irrevocably to the White House wagon. He did not know that with the coming invasion of Iraq, any dissent from the architecture of lies used to justify it would be depicted as “unpatriotic”. He did not know that the CIA had a secret policy of “rendition” which was not merely condoning torture, but was deliberately exploiting it. And it is clear from his account that he did not realise his unhappy marriage and penchant for long-legged pole-dancers were capable of blowing up in his face.

Murray says he was briefed against by the Americans, who had the ear of No 10, and undermined by his own superiors in London. An initial attempt was made to force him to resign with false charges of alcoholism and corruption. The internal memos about this which Murray eventually obtained are quite disgusting to read, even in the heavily censored form allowed by HMG’s lawyers.

Murray temporarily collapsed under the strain, and it is not inconceivable from the evidence here that his Uzbek enemies made an attempt to poison him. He seems to have fought bravely, rescued his reputation and eventually forced the FO to pay him off, which financed his divorce. Murray does demonstrate that the men of straw have failed to silence him, for which he deserves much praise. But he has none the less been successfully defenestrated. He is now living with the young Uzbek beauty whom he fell for, and is reduced to a flat in west London. Those he took on – Karimov, Bush and Blair – remain in power.

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Bush seeks political gains from foiled plot

From Yahoo News

President George W. Bush seized on a foiled London airline bomb plot to hammer unnamed critics he accused of having all but forgotten the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, Bush and his aides have tried to shift the national political debate from that conflict to the broader and more popular global war on terrorism ahead of November 7 congressional elections.

The London conspiracy is “a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation,” the president said on a day trip to Wisconsin.

“It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America,” he said. “We’ve taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously we still aren’t completely safe.”

His remarks came a day after the White House orchestrated an exceptionally aggressive campaign to tar opposition Democrats as weak on terrorism, knowing what Democrats didn’t: News of the plot could soon break.

(more…)

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No dead Lebanese children on TV today

George Bush is just following John Reid in ensuring any trials following today’s arrests are irretrievably prejudiced.

It is a fact that only the closest Blair circle bothers to deny, that if young British Muslims are turning to terrorism, it is the Blair-Bush foreign policy of war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine that has driven them to it. The majority of British people share their outrage at our foreign policy. That is not to condone the response of irrational violence. Terrorism is plain wrong. But it is Blair who has, through his evangelical embrace of the neo-con foreign agenda, massively increased any current threat of terrorism to the UK.

But let us do what none of the 24 hour news channels are doing; draw breath and count up to ten. What has actually happened so far?

There have been, reportedly, 21 people arrested. There have been no terrorist attacks, no explosions. US sources are reported as saying that explosive devices have been found, but no news from the Police as yet.

I am reminded of the Forest Gate arrests and the notorious “Chemical weapon vest” which was threatening London and required 270 policemen and a four mile air exclusion zone to deal with. The media was shoving that out just as uncritically as it is shoving out this air attack, even though it made no sense. Anyone who knows anything about weapons knows that for a chemical weapon you want maximum dispersal – the last thing you are going to do is wrap it in fabric around a human body. And why the air exclusion zone? Were they going to throw the vest at a passing jet? The media never did ask any of those questions.

Similarly, I recall the famous ricin plot, where again police and the professional pundits said millions could have been killed. In the event, of course, it turned out there was no ricin and no plot.

And I remember Jean Charles De Menezes, the “suicide bomber”, with his “bulky jacket”, with “wires sticking out”, who “leapt” the ticket barriers and “raced” onto the tube. All lies.

So I am waiting with a little healthy scepticism to see the truth of this “al-Qaida plot” bringing “Mass murder on an unprecedented scale”.

Of course, it helps New Labour look Churchillian, and explains why Israel had to be supported in the ethnic cleansing of South Lebanon, part of the “Arc of extremism”. it is interesting that the timing of these arrests exactly today, after “months” of surveillance, was determined by the Prime Minister – the CO in COBRA, the operational command, stands for Cabinet Office.

The political timing could not have been more convenient – a junior minister had resigned over arms to Israel, and the backbench rebellion demanding a recall of parliament over Lebanon will now be containable in the name of standing together in the War on Terror. And the news agenda has been seismically shifted. The public mood is instantly tilted from sympathy for the people of Lebanon, leading to questioning of the War on Terror, to renewed fear that “Islamic fascists” are planning to kill us all.

So to recap: Blair’s crazed foreign policy has made us a genuine potential target for terrorist attack. The government manipulates and spins that threat to political advantage.

We wait for the court system to show whether this was a real attempted attack and, if so, it was genuinely operational rather than political to move against it today. But the police’ and security services’ record of lies does not inspire confidence.

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Plain speaking and hard drinking

Justin Marozzi reviews Murder in Samarkand in The Spectator

Craig Murray, formerly Our Man in Tashkent, was not your average ambassador. He put the wind up the Uzbeks with his uncompromising position on President Islam Karimov’s unspeakably grisly human rights record. This is the country that infamously boiled a dissident to death and then sentenced his mother to six years of hard labour when she had the temerity to complain about it. It is thanks to Murray’s efforts that the case was publicly aired in the first place and that the unfortunate mother’s sentence was subsequently commuted to a fine.

Upsetting Uzbekistan is one thing. The problem was that all this business was going on from 2002-4, when Washington, historically a little careless about choosing its friends around the world, was cosying up to one of its nastiest regimes. Karimov was a new-found ally in President Bush’s war on terror, providing an important airbase from which the Taleban regime in Afghanistan was defeated. Washington wasn’t happy about Britain’s man in Uzbekistan ruffling feathers. So he had to go. Britain, having mislaid its independent foreign policy, shamefully did America’s bidding.

Click to access the full article at The Spectator

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Blood on his hands

By John Kampfner in the New Statesman

Blair knew the attack on Lebanon was coming but he didn’t try to stop it, because he didn’t want to. He has made this country an accomplice, destroying what remained of our influence abroad while putting us all at greater risk of attack.

At a Downing Street reception not long ago, a guest had the temerity to ask Tony Blair: “How do you sleep at night, knowing that you’ve been responsible for the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis?” The Prime Minister is said to have retorted: “I think you’ll find it’s closer to 50,000.”

No British leader since Winston Churchill has dealt in war with such alacrity as the present one. Back then, it was in the cause of saving the nation from Nazism. Now, it is in the cause of putting into practice the foreign policy of the simpleton. During his nine years in power, Blair – and in this government it is he, and he alone – has managed to ensure that the UK has become both reviled and stripped of influence across vast stretches of the world. In so doing, he has increased the danger of terrorism to Britain itself.

Israel’s assault on Lebanon is, in many respects, as disastrous as the war in Iraq. But at least then the pre-war hubris and deceit were played out in parliament and at the UN. This latest act of folly took place suddenly, with only the barest of attempts to justify it to global public opinion. And it stems from the core Middle East problem: the decades-old conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

I am told that the Israelis informed George W Bush in advance of their plans to “destroy” Hezbollah by bombing villages in southern Lebanon. The Americans duly informed the British. So Blair knew. This exposes as a fraud the debate of the past week about calling for a ceasefire. Indeed, one of the reasons why negotiations failed in Rome was British obduracy. This has been a case not of turning a blind eye and failing to halt the onslaught, but of providing active support.

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The Ceasefire Now Demonstration – July 5th

I usually find that demos are a bit closer to the police estimate of numbers than the organisers’ estimate. But Saturday’s demo against the attack on Lebanon was really big – I was speaking over an hour into the rally, and I could see the march still pouring in.

Craig

Click here to watch Craig’s speech in central London.

Video from the other speakers is also available via Nether-World and photos and write up from The Antagonist.

Video images supplied by Ady Cousins from Military Families Against the War.

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Selling our Souls: John Sweeney on Murder in Samarkand

From Literary Review, August 2006

Murder in Samarkand: A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror

Put aside the clunky subtitle and the garland from moral pimple John Pilger ‘ the anti-Establishment Antipodean’s a hero until you meet him ‘ and what you have here is an amazing narrative, beautifully written, of one man’s war on the War on Terror.

Craig Murray was the youngest British ambassador when he was appointed to represent Her Majesty in the Central Asian tyranny of Uzbekistan. Brilliant, unorthodox, committed to championing the causes of the United Kingdom, free trade and human rights, Murray had served his country with aplomb in Poland, Ghana and in the Citadel in Whitehall, playing real-life, real-time war games against Saddam’s arms-procurement network after the invasion of Kuwait. But the rising star sizzled up like an overdone sausage when he came up against the War on Terror.

The fascination of Craig Murray’s tale of his fall from grace at the hands of the Foreign Office is that he gives so much ammunition to his enemies. He freely admits that he does hang out in dodgy bars, he does drink, he does fall in love with an Uzbek dancer (and English graduate) half his age, he does leave his (long-suffering and admirable) wife and he does have a nervous breakdown. Murray was cared for in St Thomas’s in London:

‘For the next ten days, I was on suicide watch. This involved a burly male nurse watching my every move 24 hours a day, and even following me into the loo. I can promise you, if you are not suicidal before, you will be after ten days of having a large male nurse follow you into the loo.’

But it is the honesty with which Murray reports his predicament that is striking. I do not think that he holds anything back from the reader, and that makes his indictment of the Foreign Office mandarins and then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw all the more compelling. He is an honest man, and that seems to have been his difficulty.

The core of the story is that Murray found President Karimov’s Uzbekistan a disgusting dictatorship where the government runs the heroin trade, business is a personal fiefdom of the ruler’s cronies and dissidents are boiled alive. His problem was that his honest reporting of the situation did not square with how Washington wanted to see it. The script from the White House was that Karimov was onside in the War on Terror, was fighting Muslim extremists and associates of Bin Laden, and was making significant moves towards democracy.

And Britain? The cornerstone of the Atlantic relationship is the USA’UK intelligence-sharing agreement, in which the CIA and the National Security Agency share everything (or nearly everything) with MI6 and GCHQ. The Americans pump out four or five times as much data as the Brits do, so it is a relationship from which we benefit. The problem with any intelligence system is ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If the Americans are told by the Uzbek SNB (the local, rebranded KGB) that an Al Qaeda cell is running in, say, the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, then that is reported as fact by the CIA. But Murray went to the bother of attending some of the regime’s show trials. At one, he hears an elderly farmer cry out, denying his testimony that his grandson had travelled to Afghanistan and had met Bin Laden:

”They tortured me!’ said the old man.

‘They tortured my grandson before my eyes. They beat his testicles and put electrodes on his body. They put a mask on him to stop breathing. They raped him with a bottle. Then they brought my granddaughter and said they would rape her. All the time they said ‘Osama Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden’. We are poor farmers from Andijan. We are good Muslims, but what do we know of Osama Bin Laden?”

Game over. It was this trial, and a mountain of other compelling evidence that led Murray to question the fundamental propositions behind the War on Terror. Murray’s first broadside came in his speech to the Freedom House in 2002 when he corrected the American ambassador’s drivel and said: ‘Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy, nor does it appear to be moving in the direction of democracy. The major political parties are banned; parliament is not subject to democratic election; and checks and balances on the authority of the executive are lacking”.

Murray realised that secret intelligence from Uzbekistan ‘ fed to the CIA, and passed on to MI6 and then to him ‘ was based on torture. He put it succinctly in one telegram to Jack Straw: ‘We are selling our souls for dross.’

Murray was rewarded with total disgrace. He was charged with eighteen counts of gross professional misconduct, including having sold visas for sex, alcoholism, having used the flag car as a fun vehicle, blah, blah, blah. Back in Whitehall, Murray accused his Foreign Office superiors, Simon Butt and Linda Duffield, of doing their utmost to undermine his position with the torturers. Part of me has never been able to understand Appeasement, how the British Establishment could have bent so low. Having read Murray’s story, I can now. Even so, it is a shocking read, to see how often the Foreign Office twisted facts and invented half-truths to do Murray down. Fascinatingly, no one outside bought a word of it.

The lie factory in King Charles Street was almost universally disbelieved. Virtually the entire British business community in Uzbekistan had seen for themselves just how hard Murray had worked at understanding their problems. They’d seen, too, how the Uzbek leadership treated lickspittles with contempt, and how the moment Murray started standing up for the UK and human rights, the authorities had begun to treat the British with more respect. The business community ‘ from the tobacco company to the lowliest consultant ‘ sent Jack Straw fax after fax, setting him straight.

The hacks did Murray proud, too. Fleet Street’s finest rushed off to Uzbekistan and trawled the girly bars. Yes, the ambassador did some drinking. Yes, he had one woman, Nadira (who now lives with him). But all the other allegations were false. Instead, the hacks got the real story: that torture and repression were routine, and that Murray was in trouble for telling it straight. Some of the most fascinating bits of this book concern how Murray, the insider, used Foreign Office procedure against the FO itself.

But, in the end, he was forced out, and what Murray claims were the big lies ‘ for example, that the British government opposes torture in intelligence-gathering ‘ were able to settle down, no longer challenged from within. The latest twist in the story is that the Treasury’s solicitors have been on to Murray, and his publishers, calling on them to pull sensitive telegrams from his website. They may succeed, for a limited while.

But truth will out. Craig Murray is at pains ‘ sometimes absurdly so ‘to demonstrate that he is no hero. But that doesn’t stop him from being heroic, or his book from being a bloody good read.

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‘Policies will lead to more terror’

By Daniel Bardsley in GulfNews.com

Dubai: A rebellious former British Ambassador has described his country’s foreign policy as “appalling” and predicted it will lead to more terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom.

Craig Murray, former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, called on Britain to align itself with Europe rather than the United States, saying Tony Blair was “completely out of step”.

Murray, 47, was removed from his post in 2004 after criticising the West’s support for Islam Karimov, the Uzbek leader accused of human rights abuses, among them the boiling alive of dissidents. His recent memoir of his time in Uzbekistan, Murder in Samarkand, has hit bookstores in the UAE and is being reprinted following strong demand.

In a telephone interview with Gulf News from London, Murray said: “Britain should return to being in line with European policy. European policy in the Middle East was respected. We’ve lost that respect.

“With Lebanon, it’s so obvious that it’s only the UK and the US standing in the way of an immediate ceasefire. The idea that we should prevent a ceasefire and allow the Israelis to kill as many Lebanese as possible is appalling.

“The government is completely out of step and sadly it will lead to a lot more terrorist attacks in the UK.

“We should coordinate our foreign policy with France and Germany and distance ourselves from the US.”

Murray had postings in Lagos and Warsaw before becoming Ambassador to Uzbekistan when still in his mid 40s. Within weeks of starting his job he decided that the regime was riding roughshod over human rights.

He said a trial of dissidents accused of killing a policeman and being members of an Islamic organisation was like “a Nazi show trial”. “The judge kept shouting and screaming at the defendants and making anti-Islamic remarks. It was really nasty.

“Within 24 hours I received photos of dissidents boiled to death. That was a hell of an eye opener,” he said.

Murray criticised the Uzbek regime in public and to his employers, and a string of disciplinary charges he described as “trumped up” were levelled against him.

He was cleared of the charges, which ranged from sexual misconduct to misuse of an embassy vehicle, but removed from his post after saying that British intelligence officials used information gained by the Uzbek authorities through torture. He resigned from the foreign office, which he said “destroyed my career”.

Later, he hopes to work promoting development in Africa. “I knew [the book] would be controversial. A lot of what it says is stuff the British Government really wouldn’t want to get out. That’s caused a lot of international interest,” he said, adding that a film version is planned, with Steve Coogan playing Murray and Michael Winterbottom directing.

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