Monthly Archives: October 2006


MPs to vote today on an investigation of Government policy in going to Iraq

From www.impeachblair.org

Members of Parliament today get a chance to cast vote on the need to set up an inquiry into the conduct of Government policy in relation to the war in Iraq.

The debate is secured in Plaid Cymru and SNP Opposition Day debate, and is supported by a cross party coalition of MPs. The motion concerning the debate is based on Early Day Motion 1088, ‘Conduct of Government Policy in relation to the war against Iraq’ * . The EDM and the longer version published in the House of Commons Future Business attracted 164 signatures (including 33 Labour, 60 Conservatives and 59 Liberal Democrats MPs).

Plaid Cymru’s Defence spokesperson, Adam Price MP said today:

“Three and a half years on and Iraq is mired in blood, and the shocking figures published recently show that the death toll has reached 655,000. Neither the Hutton nor Butler Inquiries addressed the question if the Parliament and country were misled into this bloody conflict. I believe that it is essential for the credibility of our democracy that we establish what combination of deception, delusion and ineptitude carried us down this fateful path.

“This debate is not about revisiting old ground ‘ it is an urgent attempt to restore the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive; and of the utmost contemporary relevance if we are to prevent such tragedies from happening again. It will probably be the first and last occasion to restore proper accountability of Government.”

SNP Leader Alex Salmond said:

“This debate offers MPs a second chance – a chance to re-establish Parliamentary accountability over an executive who has led the country into a bloody quagmire – and a last chance to change strategy and direction on the disastrous course of events in Iraq.

“If this motion carries – or indeed even if it records a substantial shift in opinion since the vote which took us to war – Mr Blair’s time in Downing Street will be numbered in days, not weeks or months.”

The text of the motion is based on Early Day Motion 1088:

“That this House believes that there should be a select committee of seven honourable Members, being members of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, to review the way in which the responsibilities of government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto, in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath.”

www.impeachblair.org

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UK Parliament to Debate Iraq War: Emergency protest called

EMERGENCY PROTEST ON THE IRAQ WAR

TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER ASSEMBLE 5PM-7PM

PARLIAMENT SQUARE, LONDON SW1

On Tuesday 31 October, Parliament will debate and vote on the Iraq war for the first time since March 18 2003. Alex Salmond, one of the MPs who initiated the debate, says: “This is the first time since the invasion of Iraq that the government can be held to account over this illegal and unwanted war.”

STOP THE WAR COALITION has called an emergency protest in front of Parliament when the debate takes place between 5pm and 7pm. MPs must end a war which has brought nothing but mass slaughter and devastation to the people of Iraq. There is no excuse. It’s what the majority of British people want. It’s what even the head of the British armed forces, General Sir Richard Dannatt, wants.

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Ghost Plane

From Newsnight

In a new book, British journalist Stephen Grey’s Ghost Plane documents his investigation into the secret CIA practice of transporting terror suspects to third countries – known as “extraordinary rendition”.

The book claims many of those prisoners subsequently suffered torture at the hands of regimes such as Syria – publicly pilloried by the Bush administration but, it says, privately colluded with in the name of defending the US.

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Torture is “a no brainer for me” – Cheney confirms that detainees were subjected to water-boarding

By Jonathan S. Landay in McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al-Qaida suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called “water-boarding,” which creates a sensation of drowning.

Cheney indicated that the Bush administration doesn’t regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it. “It’s a no-brainer for me,” Cheney said at one point in an interview.

Cheney’s comments, in a White House interview on Tuesday with a conservative radio talk show host, appeared to reflect the Bush administration’s view that the president has the constitutional power to do whatever he deems necessary to fight terrorism.

The U.S. Army, senior Republican lawmakers, human rights experts and many experts on the laws of war, however, consider water-boarding cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that’s banned by U.S. law and by international treaties that prohibit torture. Some intelligence professionals argue that it often provides false or misleading information because many subjects will tell their interrogators what they think they want to hear to make the water-boarding stop.

Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said that a law Bush signed last month prohibits water-boarding. The three are the sponsors of the Military Commissions Act, which authorized the administration to continue its interrogations of enemy combatants.

The radio interview Tuesday was the first time that a senior Bush administration official has confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding against important al-Qaida suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mohammad was captured in Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and turned over to the CIA.

Water-boarding means holding a person’s head under water or pouring water on cloth or cellophane placed over the nose and mouth to simulate drowning until the subject agrees to talk or confess.

Lee Ann McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, denied that Cheney confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding or endorsed the technique.

“What the vice president was referring to was an interrogation program without torture,” she said. “The vice president never goes into what may or may not be techniques or methods of questioning.”

In the interview on Tuesday, Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., told Cheney that listeners had asked him to “let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we’re all for it, if it saves American lives.”

“Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?” Hennen said.

“I do agree,” Cheney replied, according to a transcript of the interview released Wednesday. “And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that’s been a very important tool that we’ve had to be able to secure the nation.”

Cheney added that Mohammed had provided “enormously valuable information about how many (al-Qaida members) there are, about how they plan, what their training processes are and so forth. We’ve learned a lot. We need to be able to continue that.”

“Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?” asked Hennen.

“It’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president ‘for torture.’ We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in,” Cheney replied. “We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.”

The interview transcript was posted on the White House Web site. Interview of the Vice President by Scott Hennen, WDAY.

CIA spokeswoman Michelle Neff said, “While we do not discuss specific interrogation methods, the techniques we use have been reviewed by the Department of Justice and are in keeping with our laws and treaty obligations. We neither conduct nor condone torture.”

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US ‘arrogant and stupid’ in Iraq

From BBC Online

A senior US state department official has said that the US has shown “arrogance and stupidity” in Iraq. Alberto Fernandez made the remarks during an interview with Arabic television station al-Jazeera.

The state department says Mr Fernandez was quoted incorrectly – but BBC Arabic language experts say Mr Fernandez did indeed use the words. It comes after President George W Bush discussed changing tactics with top US commanders to try to combat the unrest.

Mr Fernandez, an Arabic speaker who is director of public diplomacy in the state department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told Qatar-based al-Jazeera that the world was “witnessing failure in Iraq”.

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No to Torture – former British ambassador to Uzbekistan speaks out against UK/US torture collaboration

From IndyMedia UK

Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan with over 20 years of foreign affairs experience, talks about torture and human righs abuses in Uzbekistan. He presented his book: “Murder in Samarkand – A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror” at the Edinburgh Independent and Radical Bookfair on Friday, 13th of October 2006, at the session on “Political Terrorism and the US Imperial Project”.

On a day when BBC News reports that a third of the world’s population supports torture in some cases, it seems important to give you the opportunity to listen to this audio, where Craig Murray talks about human rights abuses and torture in Uzbekistan.

Most importantly, he gives examples about “false-positive” outcomes of torture cases, where people consent to any charges brought forward just to stop the pain on themselves or their families members.

He also gives examples on how Britain and the US support the torture by using the extracted, often false information, to back up their success rate on the War in Terror, and by backing the abusive regime of Islam Karimov.

Go here to read the full article and listen to the interviews

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Crucial Extradition Treaty Vote Tomorrow!

From www.notoextradition.co.uk

We now have confirmation that the Commons will be voting on crucial amendments to the UK-US Extradition Treaty 2003 on TUESDAY 24TH OCTOBER 2006.

If the vote is won, this will directly affect cases of several British Citizens facing extradition to the U.S. (including that of Babar Ahmad).

Please follow the steps below and urgently contact your MP to make sure they clear their diaries to attend the vote. MP’s from all parties need to be contacted, ESPECIALLY Labour MP’s.

This will take less than 10 minutes of your time.

STEP 1: Go to www.writetothem.com and paste the paragraph below in the box. You must include your name and postal address:

I am writing to you as your constituent to urge you to vote to support both amendments to the UK-US Extradition Act 2003 (prima facie evidence and forum) when the Police and Justice Bill returns to the Commons on 24th October 2006. I would urge you to please make yourself available to vote on that day to back both amendments and to encourage your fellow MP’s to do the same. I hope that you will vote to give British citizens the same rights as the U.S Government gives to its citzens.

STEP 2: Follow up the email with a phonecall.

Ring 020 7219 6967 (House of Commons Switchboard) and ask for your MP’s office.

Give them your name and address.

Tell the staff you have sent an email and would like your MP to back both amendments to the Extradition Act 2003 and would like them to cancel any prior engagements to make themselves available to vote on Tuesday 24th October 2006.

Please pass this email on to all your contacts TODAY and circulate on mailing lists and forums so as many MP’s as possible contacted.

Thank you for your time and efforts

Yours sincerely

Free Babar Ahmad Campaign

www.freebabarahmad.com

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Aznar is gone, Berlusconi is gone, Blair has gone and now Bush must go!

On Monday, October 2nd, more than six hundred people packed into Cooper Union’s Great Hall, New York, for a meeting held by World Can’t Wait [worldcantwait.org], to respond to Bush’s new torture legislation and to mobilize for nation-wide protest on October 5th to Drive Out the Bush Regime.

Craig was one one of several speakers that also included Alice Walker, Mark Ruffalo, Olympia Dukakis, Daniel Ellsberg, Boots Riley, Malachy McCourt, Bill Goodman, Reno, Elmaz Abinader, and a special message from Sean Penn.

An extract from Craig’s speech:

“They revoke our civil rights and patronize Muslims as non-humans so that when they arrest and torture humans we accept this, so that when they tell us habeas corpus is gone we will accept this, so that when they invade Muslim countries to get their oil and gas we will accept this’we are not accepting it anymore! It is the anti-war movement in the United Kingdom that has caused Tony Blair to have to leave office. The architects of this crusade are being driven out. Aznar is gone, Berlusconi is gone, Blair has gone and now Bush must go!”

Click here to hear Craig’s speech (mp3) and go here for full details of the meeting and the other speakers.

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Iraq Deaths: Politics vs. Science

From Consortium news

By Dr. Curren Warf, a professor of pediatric medicine and a board member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility

Last week, the medical journal The Lancet released an epidemiological study concluding that 655,000 Iraqis died from war-related injury and disease from March 2003 to July 2006. This shockingly high figure has drawn attacks from the Bush administration and right-wing pundits.

Speaking as a medical doctor, I wish to set the record straight. The Lancet study is superb science. The study followed a strict, widely accepted methodology to arrive at its sobering conclusion. The study is being attacked not on scientific grounds, but for ideological reasons.

People may not realize that The Lancet is the world’s most prestigious medical journal. Prior to publication, the Iraq study was subjected to a thorough peer-review by specialists in the field of epidemiology.

Three of the study’s authors, Gil Burnham, Shannon Doocy, and Les Roberts, are doctors at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. The fourth author, Riyadh Lafta, is on the faculty of Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. Under dangerous conditions, researchers conducted a cross-sectional cluster sample survey involving a total of 1849 Iraqi households. The survey documented a four-fold increase in the crude mortality rate from the pre-invasion to the post-invasion periods and, in addition, characterized the causes of death.

The investigators followed the same methodology in Iraq that has had been used in estimating death and disease in other conflicts such as the Congo — where the Bush administration uncritically accepted their results. The public health tool they employed — cluster surveys — has been demonstrated time and again to be the best method of estimating rates of death in areas where vital statistics are not scrupulously maintained. Such bureaucratic vigilance is not the case in present day Iraq.

In a war-ravaged country, an estimate of war-related deaths based on the method of counting bodies will radically underestimate the number of people who have died. In Iraq today, there have been numerous reports of mass graves and of bodies dumped in fields, beside roads, or in the Tigris River.

These deaths are, by and large, not reported to authorities, as some of these deaths may be linked to police forces.

One must also consider the Muslim practice of burial where internment is swift — often on the same day. Therefore, relying on media reports of the number killed, morgue logs, or Iraq Ministry or U.S. military counts will not provide an accurate estimate of the death toll. We must also not discount the possibility of bias by government officials; the U.S. and Iraq have much to gain by minimizing civilian deaths.

Since the media has been unable to find a scientist critical of the study, they’ve turned to policy wonks with literally no expertise in the health sciences . Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Foundation derides the study, but her advanced degree is in international studies. Nor does Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies nor Michael E. O’Hanlon of Brookings have a health background.

At his Oct. 11 press conference President Bush asserted “No, I don’t call it a credible report.” He said he asked the generals and the generals told him it was wrong. When asked to give a precise number of Iraqi war-related deaths the President demurred, saying ” I do know that a lot of innocent people have died.”

Despite the scientific rigor of the Hopkins study, there is a danger that the unsubstantiated criticism by administration will color the public’s perceptions. In this age, where fact shares equal time with conjecture, critics have attempted to discredit the Hopkins study without specifically addressing the science whatsoever.

If the administration believes the Hopkins study to be flawed, the federal government should fund its own study of Iraqi mortality, and submit the methodology and results to a medical journal subject to independent peer review. After all the Hopkins study was funded in large part by a $50,000 grant from MIT; surely the federal government could afford such a study.

I belong to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization, Physicians for Social Responsibility. We care about the ‘ Medical Consequences of the War in Iraq.’ In fact, that’s the title of our upcoming conference to be held at UCLA this Saturday, Oct. 21. The conference is co-sponsored by the UCLA School of Public Health and UCLA Extension. Dr. David Rush, past president of the Society of Epidemiologic Research, will discuss the Lancet Iraq study. You can register here.

As physicians, we realize the horrible human cost and needless suffering the American invasion has brought on the people of Iraq. The war has also terribly harmed our own American soldiers, 2,765 of whom have been killed and 20,000 of whom have suffered disabling injuries.

At his recent press conference, President Bush brushed aside a question to quantify the human toll of the Iraq War with the comment that ‘a lot of innocent people’ have died. 655,000 is not a guess. It is the best estimate that we have to date of the human tragedy in Iraq.

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Civil War in Iraq: The Salvador Option and US/UK Policy

As the catastrophe in Iraq continues to unfold, an unresolved question remains on the role of Bush, Blair, and the US/UK military. To what extent were they passively incompetent in facilitating the decline into civil war, and to what extent were they actively pursuing policies that promoted that outcome?

The adoption of the ‘Salvador Option’ by the US in Iraq was reported and discussed from the beginning of 2005 onwards. As described by Newsweek, the Salvador Option looked something like this:

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called “snatch” operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.

US Congressman Denis Kucinich took up the issue in April of this year in a letter to Donald Rumsfeld:

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

I am writing to request a copy of all records pertaining to Pentagon plans to use U.S. Special Forces to advise, support and train Iraqi assassination and kidnapping teams.

On January 8, 2005, Newsweek magazine first published a report that the Pentagon had a proposal to train elite Iraqi squads to quell the growing Sunni insurgency. The proposal has been called the “Salvador Option,” which references the U.S. military assistance program, initiated under the Carter Administration and subsequently pursued by the Reagan Administration, that funded and supported “nationalist” paramilitary forces who hunted down and assassinated rebel leaders and their supporters in El Salvador. This program in El Salvador was highly controversial and received much public backlash in the U.S., as tens of thousands of innocent civilians were assassinated and “disappeared,” including notable members of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Oscar Romero and the four American churchwomen. According to the Newsweek report, Pentagon conservatives wanted to resurrect the Salvadoran program in Iraq because they believed that despite the incredible cost in human lives and human rights, it was successful in eradicating guerrillas…..

…About one year before the Newsweek report on the “Salvador Option,” it was reported in the American Prospect magazine on January 1, 2004 that part of $3 billion of the $87 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill to fund operations in Iraq, signed into law on November 6, 2003, was designated for the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. According to the Prospect article, experts predicted that creation of this paramilitary unit would “lead to a wave of extrajudicial killings, not only of armed rebels but of nationalists, other opponents of the U.S. occupation and thousands of civilian Baathists.” The article further described how the bulk of the $3 billion program, disguised as an Air Force classified program, would be used to “support U.S. efforts to create a lethal, and revenge-minded Iraqi security force.” According to one of the article’s sources, John Pike, an expert of classified military budgets at www.globalsecurity.org. “the big money would be for standing up an Iraqi secret police to liquidate the resistance.”…

…News reports over the past 10 months strongly suggest that the U.S. has trained and supported highly organized Iraqi commando brigades, and that some of those brigades have operated as death squads, abducting and assassinating thousands of Iraqis.

The evidence that the US directly contributed to the creation of the current civil war in Iraq by its own secretive security strategy is compelling. Historically of course this is nothing new – divide and rule is a strategy for colonial powers that has stood the test of time. Indeed, it was used in the previous British occupation of Iraq around 85 years ago. However, maybe in the current scenario the US just over did it a bit, creating an unstoppable momentum that, while stalling the insurgency, has actually led to new problems of control and sustainability for Washington and London.

So, what did Blair know of and approve in the implementation of the Salvador Option? How does he feel about it now? Maybe someone should ask him.

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US legalises Presidential right to torture

From the American Civil Liberties Union

“The president can now – with the approval of Congress – indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions. Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act.”

WASHINGTON – As President Bush signed S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law, the American Civil Liberties Union expressed outrage and called the new law one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted in American history.

To highlight concerns with the act, the ACLU took out a full page advertisement in today’s Washington Post, calling itself “the most conservative organization in America.” Since its founding, the ACLU has fought to conserve the system of checks and balances and defend the Bill of Rights.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director:

“With his signature, President Bush enacts a law that is both unconstitutional and un-American. This president will be remembered as the one who undercut the hallmark of habeas in the name of the war on terror. Nothing separates America more from our enemies than our commitment to fairness and the rule of law, but the bill signed today is an historic break because it turns Guant’namo Bay and other U.S. facilities into legal no-man’s-lands.

“The president can now – with the approval of Congress – indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions. Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act.”

The full page advertisement from the Washington Post is available at: www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/27085leg20061017.html

The ACLU’s letter on S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, is available at: www.aclu.org/natsec/gen/26861leg20060925.html

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Media Hypes Nutcase Scribblings as “Terror Plot Admission”

By Paul Joseph Watson/Prison Planet.com | October 12 2006

The British media is feverishly hyping the deranged notes of a screwball Muslim Londoner as evidence of a huge “terror plot admission” in which Wall Street and other prominent buildings were the target – despite the fact that the suspect had no means whatsoever to carry out the attack – meanwhile completely ignoring a report earlier this week where the largest haul of explosives and a rocket launcher were found at a white man’s house in Burnley.

“A man has pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder people in a series of bombings on British and US targets,” reports the BBC.

“The plans were for attacks on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank buildings in Washington, the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup buildings in New York and the Prudential buildings in Newark, New Jersey.”

According to the latest manufactured monster in the closet fairy tale, Dhiren Barot, of north London, planned to use a radioactive “dirty bomb” as well as blowing up cars in underground UK parking lots using gas cylinders and explosives.

Here’s the kicker.

“The Crown could not dispute claims from the defence that no funding had been received for the projects, nor any vehicles or bomb-making materials acquired.”

No money, no vehicles, no bombs – just some retarded nutcase scrawling absent-minded empty threats in a notebook. Should he be investigated by the police? No doubt about it. Should his “confession” of scribbling demented ramblings in a paper pad be splashed all over the top of the BBC website and head up the evening news as a major foiled bomb plot?

No. That’s outright fearmongering and artificially inflating a nothing story to feed into the public’s fear of its own shadow – greasing the skids for Blair to shred the remaining tatters of liberty and blanket the country with more shouting telescreens.

The hype surrounding this nothing story is especially vacuous when you consider that earlier in the week the “largest ever” haul of explosives was found at a house in Burnley – including a chemicals, bio-suits and even a rocket launcher. The find was briefly reported on by a handful of local town newspapers but completely blacked out by the national print and TV press.

Some charge that the BBC were complicit in burying the story.

For the full article and links go here

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Strife in Samarkand

A review of Murder in Samarkand by Iain Elliot in Times Literary Supplement

Craig Murray, the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, has written a riveting account of that period which both amuses and horrifies. It is not difficult to understand why the Foreign Office wished to sack him. His unsuitability did not really stem from the fact that the FCO mandarins are still disproportionately drawn from the Eton and Oxbridge intake, while Murray was educated in a state school and at Dundee University. Nor was it because he preferred to wear his own suit ‘ or indeed his kilt ‘ rather than hire morning dress at the taxpayers’ expense for the routine ambassadorial call on Buckingham Palace. There are Scots in all sorts of high posts, and as for petty matters such as dress codes, the FCO is much less hidebound than it once was.

Of course Murray’s lifestyle was scarcely conventional. He confesses to enjoying years of ‘wonderful, madcap booze-fuelled evenings out, full of wit and wrongdoing, and a string of mistresses’. But when his long-suffering wife Fiona, the mother of his two children, demands that he give up his ‘floozy’ Nadira (an Uzbek girl half his age whom he met in a Tashkent nightclub, and who takes her Walkman to dinner parties), he finally recognizes her unhappiness, but fails to abandon Nadira. When appointing a new secretary he shortlists a dozen candidates but admits: ‘The moment the first candidate walked in the door, she had the job. She had the most extraordinary classical beauty, a perfect face framed by long blond hair’. But the beautiful Kristina lets him down, mangling the guest list for an important Embassy dinner, and making nonsense of a diplomatic note she translates by omitting a crucial ‘not’.

Yet Murray is not the only ambassador to have strayed from his marriage vows. More seriously for the FCO, he seems to have been too outspoken and honest, about his own shortcomings as well as those of the government to which he was accredited, to do his job properly ‘ even if it is not strictly true that the first qualification for a diplomat is to be able to lie for his country. In Tamerlane’s Children, a perceptive book about contemporary Uzbekistan, the journalist Robert Rand prints a conversation with Murray, asking him at one point, ‘How do you cure Uzbekistan?’. Murray replies, ‘I think you’ve got to just get rid of the present leadership entirely. Lock, stock, and barrel’.

This may well have been the case, but it is certainly a rash remark to make to a journalist, certain to cause offence to the host regime and capable of being exploited by the Soviet-style regime should its officials wish to allege links with violent forces of opposition. Although Islamic extremists were officially blamed for bombings in Tashkent, some observers believe that these were actually carried out by government security agents, to justify measures against the religious revival and to further Uzbekistan’s membership of the coalition against terror. President Islam Karimov was First Secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party until the collapse of the USSR, when, Murray argues, he opted for national independence to maintain the Soviet system rather than to destroy it. Since then he has stayed in power, helped by a clan system, brutal police repression, and elections condemned by the world’s monitoring bodies as neither free nor fair.

Soon after he arrived in Tashkent, Murray attended the trial of dissidents on what were clearly trumped-up charges, backed by confessions extracted by torture. He resolved not ‘to go along with political lies or leave the truth unspoken’, but to give active support to those speaking out in defence of human rights. In this respect he differed from his fellow European ambassadors and the United States’ ambassador, John Herbst, who played a more passive role. Murray spoke publicly in condemnation of Karimov’s political and economic record, and sent frank telegrams back to London, distributing them more widely than the FCO Eastern Department considered advisable. On one occasion, when he pushed through police barriers to attend a meeting of opposition parties in Kokhand his car narrowly avoided being rammed by security police. He took Simon Butt,the visiting head of the Eastern Department, to meet dissidents in Samarkand. The next morning their host, a Professor Mirsaidov, found the body of his eighteen-year-old grandson, Avazov, dumped in the street outside his home.

Murray was given photographs, taken by the boy’s mother, of the corpse of Avazov, a member of an Islamic liberation party who had been imprisoned in the Jaslyk gulag. Pathologists at Glasgow University examined the photos and concluded that Avazov had been severely beaten before being killed by immersion in boiling liquid. According to Human Rights Watch and other respected international bodies, some 7,000 Uzbeks are held prisoner for political and religious beliefs. Nor is Karimov’s record better in other areas. The media are tightly controlled, and official statistics totally unreliable. Yet international bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank were prepared to support the regime on the basis of these flawed figures, despite evidence of corruption and embezzlement by the Karimov family and other ruling clans and the direct experience of Western firms defrauded by the authorities. The population of some 26 million is enslaved by the cotton monoculture (with its miserable wages and a workforce of children and students taken from their studies to help with the harvest), while the irresponsible use of irrigation canals and chemicals have caused the ecological disaster of the dying Aral Sea. Only the clan leaders have drawn any profit.

(more…)

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Army chief calls for pullout from Iraq: Rift opens between military and government

From The Independent

Tony Blair has received a public warning from the country’s most senior military commander that the British presence in Iraq is threatening disaster there and in the UK.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, who took over as Chief of Staff six weeks ago, has warned the commitment to Iraq “exacerbates” problems faced by the UK in other parts of the world. He urged Mr Blair to give up his ambition to see a liberal democracy established in Iraq and settle for a “lower ambition”, warning that British troops were not invited into Iraq and the time when they were welcome has passed.

The Times reports that the comments from General Sir Richard Dannatt that he wants his forces to leave Iraq sometime soon have met with overwhelming support on the Army Rumour Service website.

MOD Oracle has more:

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, dropped a political bombshell last night by saying that Britain must withdraw from Iraq “soon” or risk serious consequences for Iraqi and British society.

In a blistering attack on Tony Blair’s foreign policy, Gen Dannatt said the continuing military presence in Iraq was jeopardising British security and interests around the world.

In an interview on BBC radio this morning the General went even further – pleading that the army must not be broken by a continuation of government policy in Iraq.

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US and UK forces directly account for over 30% of violent deaths in Iraq

The full research paper on the latest nationally representative mortality survey in Iraq was published today in The Lancet. One point that has not received press attention, and was glossed over by the NY Times article we posted on yesterday, is the extremely high level of casualties inflicted by US forces. According to the published research:

Deaths attributable to the coalition accounted for 31% (95% CI 26-37) of post-invasion violent deaths. The proportion of violent deaths attributable to the coalition was much the same across periods (p=0?058). However, the actual number of violent deaths, including those that resulted from coalition forces, increased every year after the invasion.

Interestingly, the proportion found by this survey was consistent with that reported by the Iraq Body Count in 2005 when their media monitoring project found that 37% of civilian casualties were caused by US forces, the largest single cause of violent death. But what does 31% mean when considering the results of this new national survey?

To put it into numbers, US and UK troops have directly killed about 186,000 Iraqis since the war began. The invasion, occupation and resulting war has, overall, resulted in the deaths of about 650,000 more people than would of died if it had not happened.

Richard Horten, editor of The Lancet, writes in The Guardian on the findings of the study and the expectations of the government response.

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Is Afghanistan Britain’s Vietnam? Mass migration as civilians try to escape fighting

With some reports describing Afghanistan as Britain’s Vietnam and the UK government scrabbling to try and shore up morale in the armed forces, it is worth noting again that no figures for Afghan civilian or military casualties are being reported. What is available is an assessment from UNHCR showing that about 90,000 people have been displaced from their homes by fighting in Southern Afghanistan since July. One can guess that total casualties are, by now, probably running into the thousands.

Accounts of the fighting and video, taken from the British perspective, are available here

From UNHCR

KABUL, Afghanistan, October 3 (UNHCR) ‘ Fighting pitting government and NATO troops against Taliban combatants has forced some 15,000 families to flee their homes in three southern Afghanistan provinces since July.

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that the refugee agency was concerned about this displacement ‘ amounting to approximately 80,000-90,000 people ‘ in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand. She said it had added “new hardship to a population already hosting 116,400 people earlier uprooted by conflict and drought.”

The Taliban have been waging a relentless and costly summer campaign in the south against government troops and forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), with British and Canadian soldiers bearing the brunt of attacks.

The Afghan government has created a Disaster Management Committee in Kandahar to coordinate relief efforts. The committee is working in coordination with the United Nations, led by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

“UNHCR, as part of a joint UN effort, is providing the recently displaced Afghans in the province of Kandahar with non-food items. Together with UNICEF, distribution of jerry cans, plastic sheeting, floor mats, lanterns, family kits and blankets is under way,” said Edmond Kamina, a UNHCR official in Kandahar. These have been issued to some 3,200 families in Panjwai and Zhare Dasht districts. World Food Programme is providing food aid.

The government is currently assessing the needs of the displaced in the three southern provinces. “We are working very closely with tribal and IDP [internally displaced people] elders in order to assist the conflict-affected people, but they need more assistance to rebuild their lives,” said Rahmatullah Safi of the Afghan Department of Refugees and Repatriation.

“People have lost everything, their vineyards, orchards, schools and clinics. Some assistance has already reached them, but more needs to be done,” he said, adding that some 5,000 of the displaced families had received aid.

When the fighting escalated, Haji Abdul Majeed, 48, fled to Kandahar with his family from their home in Panjwai. “I will not return my family from Kandahar city until security has been restored,” he said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has said it is ready to assist when it is clear what is required. “We expect further displacement may take place until conditions are safe for the population to return to their homes,” Pagonis said. Some families were reported to have left Kandahar city and returned to Panjwai and Zhare Dasht during daylight, but returned to Kandahar at night for safety reasons. UNHCR has no information on population movements to other districts.

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Borat was wrong. I never saw a gay wearing a blue hat on a Kazakh bus

From The Times Online

HOW WONDERFUL that Kazakh buses are back in the news after nearly 90 years. (The last time was in 1918, when the Times man Stephen Graham used one to evacuate himself from Ust Kamenogorsk on receiving word, just a year after the event, of the Russian Revolution.) Now Borat, he of the egregious moustache and eponymous film, has given Central Asia fetishists an excuse to recall their all-time top Kazakh bus journeys in the interests of regional stability and harmonious gender relations.

I shall limit myself to three. The first is Bishkek to Almaty, a post-Soviet classic, starting in the Kyrgyz capital but heading almost immediately into the idyllic Kendyktas hills where Lenin’s henchmen butchered Kazakh nomads by the thousand but their heirs farmed placidly for the next 70 years. Next: the No 18 suburban trolleybus from outside the Panfilov cathedral in downtown Almaty, up into the freeze-dried air and surreal concrete excess of the Medeo ice rink, where steroids and the threat of party excommunication contributed to the setting of more than 150 Soviet speed-skating records. And finally, the two-day run from Semipalatinsk to Berel, near the Mongolian border, where the local herdsmen still grind up maral deer horns for sale to Chinese quacks, who claim the powder boosts fertility and relieves pain in childbirth.

On all these journeys the women sat inside the bus rather than on the roof. And though, statistically, there must have been some homosexuals among us, none wore a blue hat.

Since Borat’s film is distributed by a subsidiary of News Corporation, parent company of The Times, I can hardly accuse him of deliberate falsification. Perhaps his budget did not extend to a researcher. But in either case I don’t believe it was because of his free way with facts that Presidents George Bush and Nursultan Nazarbayev declined his invitation to a screening in Washington last week. The presidents were simply too engrossed in each other’s company because they have so much in common.

Both run big, beautiful countries with long, snow-capped mountain ranges and vast, irradiated nuclear test sites. Both operate world-class spaceports. Both depend for much of their countries’ economic dynamism on energetic ethnic minorities (Latinos in the US; Russians in Kazakhstan). Both have to grapple occasionally with indigenous tribes making tiresome allegations of past genocide and mass expropriation, and both appear to govern from within cocoons of advisers too scared to tell them the truth about the world outside.

In Mr Bush’s case, this is the conclusion we are invited to draw from Bob Woodward’s latest book, State of Denial. In Mr Nazarbayev’s, he is an unreformed ex-Communist autocrat whose daughter is one of the country’s richest oligarchs and whose son-in-law seriously suggested morphing the Kazakh presidency into a monarchy.

One truth Mr Nazarbayev has yet to learn is that for oil-rich backwaters seeking a higher global profile, all publicity is good publicity. You read it here: foreign tourism to Kazakhstan will spike as a result of the Borat project. The challenge for Mr Nazarbayev’s underlings at the Tourism Ministry in his desolate new capital of Astana will be to turn some of that spike into repeat custom.

A few of the new visitors will fall headlong for the sheer exoticism of the only country in the world with two disappearing inland seas (the Aral and Lake Balkhash) and a swath of steppe the size of Wales earmarked for the exclusive purpose of receiving falling debris from space launches at Baikonur.

Others will need more encouragement, and koumis may help. This is fermented mare’s milk (not urine, pace Borat, aka Sacha Baron Cohen, BA Hons, Cantab). And though revolting, koumis is strong. But the real test of Kazakhstan’s welcome to the world will be its people. Can they laugh at being traduced, or will they sulk?

The Kazakh Ambassador to London has said ‘We take it as a comedy.’ Good sign. Let’s hope he keeps his job. Because our own record in the only remotely analogous case that comes to mind is not so positive. Three years ago Craig Murray, our ambassador to Kazakhstan’s odious neighbour, Uzbekistan, had a sense-of-humour failure about Britain condoning torture there. His fate? The Foreign Office fired him.

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