Monthly archives: November 2006

Live in Bologna

As part of the The Premio Alta Qualit’ delle Citta? human rights awards, an event called Lessons of Value (pdf) is taking place at the University of Bologna, in collaboration with the Municipality of Bologna and the Centro San Domenico. The three finalists, David Grossman, Craig Murray, and Laura Perna will be addressing students and citizens on Wednesday 29th November 2006 at 10.30 a.m., University of Bologna, Aula Magna Santa Lucia.

The ceremony for the award will take place on the same day at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, live on Raisat Extra at 8.30 p.m.

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Russia’s New Cold War

By Neil Mackay in the Sunday Herald

Murray reported what he calls “this blatant attempt to recruit me” to British security officers at the embassy….To this day, Murray is unsure whether the offer of sex with the Russian girls was an attempt to bribe him into working for the Kremlin or whether it was the set-up for a blackmail sting which would have coerced him into working for Russian intelligence.

TO DISSIDENT Russian intelligence officers now in exile or in hiding around the world and British intelligence operatives, July 9 this year was a seismic date. On that day legislators in the Duma – the Russian state parliament – unanimously approved new laws which allowed Russia’s Federal Security Service to hunt down and kill enemies of the state anywhere on the face of the Earth.

One British intelligence source said: “This marked a blatant return to the bad old days of the cold war when the KGB thought it could act with impunity anywhere it pleased.”

These so-called “Hunter-Killer” powers also curtailed the right of the Russian media – already cowed and under the control of the Kremlin – to report on these operations. However, the enactment of these new laws only put on a legal footing powers which Russian intelligence had been using extra-judicially for years.

In Chechnya, the assassination of enemies of Russia is now so common that it scarcely bears comment, and in 2004 two Russian agents were arrested and sentenced to death in Qatar for the killing of exiled Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian team hunted him down and planted a bomb in his car. The Qatari court ruled that the killing was sanctioned by “the Russian leadership”. The men were not executed but sent back to Russia following promises from the Kremlin that they would be imprisoned. Rumour has it that they were decorated for the assassination operation.

Akhmed Zakayev, a friend of Alexander Litvinenko and a former field commander in the first Chechen war who later became the deputy prime minister of Chechnya, says the killing of Litvinenko proved to the British people that Putin was “destroying democratic freedoms in Russia and beyond”.

Zakayev, who beat an attempt by Russia to extradite him from the UK, added: “Putin is exporting his terror tactics in Chechnya to the UK and to London streets.” Pointing out that Litvinenko had recently been granted British citizenship following his flight from Moscow after exposing criminal activities by Russian intelligence, Zakayev said: “Putin is now carrying out acts of terror against British citizens. Britain should see this as an act of terrorism against this nation.”

British intelligence estimates that at least 30 Russian spies are operating in the UK. Most are from the GRU, Russian military intelligence, and the SVR, the overseas intelligence service equivalent to MI6. Most are based at the Russian embassy and have diplomatic status. As well as carrying out “traditional” espionage activities such as gathering military, political and industrial secrets, they are also believed to be focusing on Russian dissidents and Chechen rebels who are living in exile in the UK.

British intelligence sources are fearful of the UK’s ability to tackle the gathering threat from the Kremlin. Counter-espionage – monitoring the actions of foreign spies in the UK – now accounts for just 6% of MI5’s budget. This drastic reduction in resources since the days of the cold war is down to MI5 being recalibrated to tackle the al-Qaeda franchise. The director of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, told parliament’s intelligence and security committee that “there’s not less of it foreign espionage about, but we are doing less work on it”.

MI5 has stated that at least 20 foreign intelligence services are “operating against the interests of Britain … and the greatest concern is aroused by the Russians”. MI5 has also said that the number of Russian intelligence operatives in the UK has not declined since the Soviet era.

Putin has put spying at the heart of his foreign policy since his rise to power in 2000. The UK is a key target because of the country’s status as “American ally number one”, Britain’s role as a key leading member of Nato and due to the fact that so many of Putin’s enemies are now living in exile in the UK.

MI5 has issued bulletins to staff and other security and intelligence services asking them to keep track of the movement of Russian diplomats thought to be engaged in spying. One bulletin said that Russian intelligence posed a “substantial” threat to the UK. It also told recipients to keep a look out for Russian diplomatic car licence plates.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, has had first-hand experience of the continuing attempts by Russia to spy on Britain. In 1996-97, he was first secretary to the British embassy in Warsaw, Poland, when Russian intelligence made a clumsy attempt to recruit him using sex as the lure.

He was due to attend a friend’s stag night at an Irish bar in the centre of Warsaw but because of work commitments arrived two hours late. The barman informed him that his friends had moved on to a strip joint nearby. “When I arrived at the strip club,” says Murray, “this Russian guy jumps up and calls me by my name and says I know you drink malt whisky, can I get you a Glenfiddich?’. With him were two beautiful Russian girls dressed in their underwear. He told me he was with a Russian trade delegation and said there was a limo outside and that I could take the girls to a house in the suburbs. I declined, made some small talk, finished my drink and then left.”

Murray reported what he calls “this blatant attempt to recruit me” to British security officers at the embassy. They showed him a photo album of known Russian spies in Warsaw. “Unsurprisingly, my friend from the trade delegation’ was in the book,” Murray adds. “It was an astonishingly up-front and unsubtle approach.” To this day, Murray is unsure whether the offer of sex with the Russian girls was an attempt to bribe him into working for the Kremlin or whether it was the set-up for a blackmail sting which would have coerced him into working for Russian intelligence.


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The Premio Alta Qualit’ delle Citta?

I am in Italy all next week where I have been kindly nominated for an award – I don’t expect to win it, but I have to admit it is very pleasant to have some recognition for my efforts against torture.

You can see the website of the award here, and you can even vote between the finalists. Laura Perna seems like a wonderful woman. As you navigate around the site, unless you speak Italian you have to keep clicking the “English” button in the top left hand corner.


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German courts to pursue Rumsfeld for war crimes?

From Frontline

Rumsfeld, while resigning, still insisted that the Iraq war was a winnable one and that very few people understood its real nature. A few days after his resignation, a court in Germany prepared to hear a lawsuit charging him and other senior officials, including former Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, with having played a role in the abuses in the Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere. The plaintiffs are 11 Iraqis and a Saudi, who said that U.S. interrogators tortured them. The lawyers for the plaintiffs said that Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the U.S. military commander of Iraqi prisons at the time, will testify on their behalf. German law provides “universal jurisdiction”, which allows for the prosecution of war crimes that have taken place anywhere in the world.

More details available from Time

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News from Afghanistan

Tony Blair has just completed his foreign visit to Afghanistan where, during talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, he said Afghanistan’s progress was remarkable. The Afghan President also commented on the sucesses acheived, including the return of refugees. But what do aid agencies, actually working on the ground have to say about the current situation?

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) issued a statement on the 3rd October:

UNHCR is concerned about the increasing number of people internally displaced in southern Afghanistan as a result of recent hostilities between government forces, NATO and insurgents. Since July, an estimated 15,000 families have been displaced in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand. This fresh displacement adds new hardship to a population already hosting 116,400 people earlier uprooted by conflict and drought…

…We expect further displacement may take place until conditions are safe for the population to return to their homes. Some families were reported to have gone back from Kandahar city to Panjwai and Zhare Dasht during daylight, but to have returned to Kandahar city at night as they felt it was too insecure to stay overnight. UNHCR has no information on population movements to other districts.

On the 27th October the international red cross (ICRC) chose to warn all parties to the conflict, including British and US forces, about infringments of international law and rising civillian casualties.

ICRC deplores increasing number of civilian victims

Geneva (ICRC) ‘ Hostilities have intensified in southern Afghanistan over the past two weeks between the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) on the one hand and the armed opposition on the other.

As a result, there is serious concern regarding the situation of civilians caught in the middle of the fighting. Aerial bombardment and ground offensives in populated rural areas, together with recent suicide attacks and roadside bombs in urban areas, have significantly increased the number of innocent civilians killed, injured or displaced.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) once more calls on all parties to the conflict to respect the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL).

IHL requires the parties to a conflict to maintain a distinction between fighters and civilians at all times. It also requires the parties to exercise constant care in the conduct of military operations and prohibits attacks directed against civilians or civilian objects. All parties to the conflict must at all times take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and their property from the effects of attack.

All the wounded must receive adequate medical treatment and captured fighters must be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law.

In view of the growing influx of casualties in the south of Afghanistan, the ICRC has sustained its support of Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital. In addition, the organization has replenished its own emergency stocks of essential household items so that it can help civilians affected by the hostilities. It is providing this assistance in conjunction with the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

ICRC delegates will continue to monitor the situation closely and stand ready to assist and protect civilians, visit and register detainees, and provide health care and vital supplies in response to any urgent needs.

So why, in these situations, are we regularly fed the official government line with so little critical analysis? Part of the answer may lie in one of the common myths of liberal democracy; the imparital nature of the BBC, which is neatly dissected on ZNet.

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Against Islamophobia

A video of Craig’s speech at the recent conference on

‘Islamophobia and the war on terror’ can be viewed here

Over 650 delegates from across Britain, representing dozens of organisations, filled the People’s Assembly on 18 November 2006. The Assembly brought together peace and anti-war groups, trade unions, faith groups, community groups, political parties and other representative organisations. They came to discuss how attacks on Muslims are linked to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the anti-war movement can counter those attacks.

Further details on the event are available from Stop the War

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A petition more serious

From the Ceasefire Campaign:

“Dear friends

Over the last few days, almost 50,000 of us have supported the call for a new plan for Iraq! Thanks to you, our Iraq ad ran this week in major newspapers in London and Washington, DC, calling for a new diplomatic role for the international community and the withdrawal of Coalition forces from Iraq. Click below to see the ad and add your voice of support:

If you have not yet joined our call for a new direction in Iraq, please consider doing so at this crucial moment. Coalition governments are beginning to accept that there is no military solution, but they haven’t settled on what an alternative diplomatic approach looks like. With hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths already in Iraq, we cannot afford to miss this chance to demand a new course. Your voice could make a difference over the coming week.”

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Missing presumed tortured

By Stephen Grey (author of Ghost Plane) in the New Statesman

More than 7,000 prisoners have been captured in America’s war on terror. Just 700 ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Between extraordinary rendition to foreign jails and disappearance into the CIA’s “black sites”, what happened to the rest?

Sana’a, Yemen. By the gates of the Old City, Muhammad Bashmilah was walking, talking, and laughing in the crowd – behaving like a man without a care in the world. Bargaining with the spice traders and joking with passers-by; at last he was free.

A 33-year-old businessman, Bashmilah has an impish sense of humour; his eyes sparkled as he chatted about his country and the khat leaves that all the young men were chewing. But when I began my interview by asking for the story of his past three years, his mood shifted. His face narrowed, his eyes calmed, and he stared beyond me – as if looking directly into the nether world from which he had so recently emerged.

For 11 months, Bashmilah was held in one of the CIA’s most secret prisons – its so-called “black sites” – so secret that he had no idea in which country, or even on which continent, he was being held. He was flown there, in chains and wearing a blindfold, from another jail in Afghanistan; his guards wore masks; and he was held in a 10ft by 13ft cell with two video cameras that watched his every move. He was shackled to the floor with a chain of 110 links.

From the times of evening prayer given to him by the guards, the cold winter temperatures, and the number of hours spent flying to this secret jail, he suspected that he was held somewhere in eastern Europe – but he could not be sure.

When he arrived at the prison, said Bashmilah, he was greeted by an interrogator with the words: “Welcome to your new home.” He implied that Bashmilah would never be released. “I had gone there without any reason, without any proof, without any accusation,” he said. His mental state collapsed and he went on hunger strike for ten days – until he was force-fed food through his nostrils. Finally released after months in detention without being charged with any crime, Bashmilah was one of the first prisoners to provide an inside account of the most secret part of the CIA’s detention system.

On 6 September, President George W Bush finally confirmed the existence of secret CIA jails such as the one that held Bashmilah. He added something chilling – a declaration that there were now “no terrorists in the CIA programme”, that the many prisoners held with Bashmilah were all gone. It was a statement that hinted at something very dark – that the United States has “disappeared” hundreds of prisoners to an uncertain fate.


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One more war crime

By Nick Egnatz in nwitimes

The esteemed British Medical Journal Lancet has just published a new study, compiled by a team of physicians from Johns Hopkins University and Iraqi doctors, on civilian deaths in Iraq. The study estimates 600,000 additional civilian deaths because of violence since we invaded 3 1/2 years ago.

The president pooh-poohs the study, saying, “The methodology is pretty well discredited.” One wonders if a president whose only veto in six years was to prevent federally funded stem cell research, who does not believe in global warming and has attacked the rampant spread of HIV-AIDS in Africa with an abstinence-only program knows the meaning of the word “methodology.”

Cluster sampling is the methodology used, and it has been used around the world to measure deaths from tsunamis, earthquakes, famines and other disasters. Did President Bush question the number of deaths from the tsunami, earthquake in Pakistan or the genocide in Darfur? They all used similar methodology, with the exception there was probably not the attention to detail used in the Iraq study.

The president’s policy was voiced by General Tommy Franks’ machismo, “We don’t do body counts.”

The Geneva Conventions, which under previous administrations were considered the gold standard for international behavior, call for invading armies to use the utmost care to minimize civilian casualties. Not even attempting to count them would seem to qualify as just one more war crime for this sorry bunch.

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The State Without

I was first alerted to the new BBC flagship drama The State Within by a friend who pointed out some of the BBC publicity to me. It concerned a character in the series, a former British Ambassador, who the BBC described thus:

‘James Sinclair. An outspoken critic of President Usman and the human rights abuse he encountered in Tyrgyzstan. As a result he was recalled and subsequently fired from the job of Ambassador. Seen as an embarassment to the UK government, who support Usman and have many commercial and strategic interests in the country. Now determined to turn Western public opinion against Usman. And to force both the UK and US administrations into withdrawing their support for him.’

Now if you substitute the very real Uzbekistan of President Karimov for the fictional Tyrgyzstan, you get a description of me precise in every detail. Uniquely so – there is nobody else that description remotely fits.

There are other coincidences ‘ the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan when I was Ambassador was named Usmanov. James Sinclair is an anglicised Scot like me. I live in Sinclair Gardens. Sinclair’s wife has the common Uzbek name of Saida. I have an Uzbek partner. Like me, his tipple is neat Scotch (not as common as you might think).

Both ‘Tyrgyzstan’ and Uzbekistan are in Central Asia; both have major US airbases threatened by a change of allegiance of the dictator. Both are described by the US and UK as ‘an ally in the War on Terror’ and ‘A backdoor to Afghanistan’. Both have perpetrated a large scale massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators.

Which was fine by me. I like the series, and James Sinclair is well played. I have received scores of emails from viewers, mostly complete strangers, commenting on the series, often asking me about its accuracy.

So I was pretty surprised to hear that the BBC were not just denying that the character was based on me, but denying it vehemently, as though it were an appalling accusation. A journalist had inquired, and received urgent rebuttals from both the Press Department and a producer.

Some of the things which the BBC asserted were simple nonsense. They claimed that many Ambassadors had resigned over human rights, not just Craig Murray. In fact, the only other example is David Gladstone about twenty five years ago ‘ and he wasn’t in a ‘stan’. The BBC even denied knowing that I had written my memoir, Murder in Samarkand. That is very strange, because the BBC had it in manuscript and I had formal meetings with BBC Drama over the film rights..

So what do I think of the series? On occasions the director is over-impressed by his own slickness. Rapid cutting between five second scenes accompanied by urgent percussion undermines some rather good writing, which builds up its own pace without such clich’. The atmosphere is nothing like that of any Embassy. FCO house style is much more ponderous. Nor do we sit in rooms whose walls are inexplicably all made of glass, surrounded by scores of flickering screens.

But that is to carp. This is important television. It touches on some of the most profound themes of our worrying times. In three episodes we have seen persecution of Muslims, attacks on civil rights, US support of dictatorships, false flag War on Terror operations, out of control private military companies, distorted intelligence and a very powerful statement against the death penalty.

Since resigning, I have spent the last two years in drafty halls speaking to small audiences about just these issues, and despairing as to how you reach a mass audience in these days of desocialised consumers sitting in front of their televisions. This series does it.

Bewildered as to why the BBC was denying the obvious connections, I spoke with a senior BBC contact. They sounded about as nervous to speak with me as my FCO friends, but told me that The State Within had terrified the BBC top brass because of its attack on the special relationship and the war on terror. They dreaded the government reaction. An edict on the line to take had therefore gone out to all, including the actors. The State Within is purely entertainment, with no political meaning and has no relationship to any real people, places or incidents.

But it has. The plot of The State Within begins and ends with a terrorist bomb blamed on the ‘Islamic Movement of Tyrgyzstan’, which turns out to be perpetrated by others entirely. In Murder in Samarkand I detail bombings blamed by Colin Powell on the real Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. British Embassy investigation proved these not to be what they seemed.

Getting my book published involved tough negotiations between the publisher and the FCO, determining what could be published without the government taking legal action. My conclusions on who was behind those bombs were scrubbed out. But I managed to slip past the censors: ‘it is instructive to read Graham Greene’s great novel The Quiet American and acquaint yourself with the historical truth behind it.’ Greene’s novel hinges upon a real event ‘ a terrorist bomb planted by the CIA and blamed on the Viet Cong.

In fact the world of The State Within is more real than you might imagine. There may yet be a story twist to please the conservatives. But already the BBC has produced something brave, relevant and timely, worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Edge of Darkness.

They are just too scared to admit it.

Craig Murray

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The State Within

The State Within is currently showing on BBC tv. A diplomat’s equivalent of Spooks? It even has its own game where, as a British ambassador you try and use your Line of Influence to shape events in favour of the government.

It goes without saying that none of the characters or events have anything to do with recent history. Or do they? Click here to read a veiw on the script that you definetely won’t find on the BBC!

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BBC reopens Kelly case with new film

The winds of change continue to blow…

From Times Online

THE BBC is risking a new confrontation with Downing Street by launching an investigation into the death of David Kelly, the scientist at the centre of the storm over the ‘sexed up’ dossier on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.

It is reopening the case less than three years after its management virtually imploded with the resignations of Greg Dyke, the director general, and Gavyn Davies, its chairman, in the wake of Lord Hutton’s report into the affair.

The corporation is filming a programme about the alleged suspicious circumstances surrounding Kelly’s death in an Oxfordshire wood. It has told officials who carried out a post-mortem and toxicology tests on Kelly’s body that it ‘wants to quash conspiracy theories’ about the death. But it has interviewed independent doctors who point to unexplained discrepancies in the results of Kelly’s post-mortem. They suggest that neither the wound to his left wrist nor the drugs found in his body was sufficient to kill him.

Via Blairwatch

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The rules of the game – play to the tabloid gallery

A new report has been relaeased by the Joseph Roundtree Trust entitled “The Rules of the Game: Terrorism, Community and Human Rights”

It describes some of the deficiencies in the UK gvernment’s current strategy against terrorism.

‘The key to successfully combating terrorism lies in winning the trust and cooperation of the Muslim communities in the UK. However, the government’s counter terrorism legislation and rhetorical stance are between them creating serious losses in human rights and criminal justice protections’they are having a disproportionate effect on the Muslim communities in the UK and so are prejudicing the ability of the government and security forces to gain the very trust and cooperation from individuals in those communities that they require to combat terrorism.’

The full report (pdf) can be accessed here

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EU likely to roll back Uzbekistan sanctions


The EU is likely to drastically scale down sanctions against Uzbekistan at the upcoming EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on 13 November, as Europe seeks to establish a long-term energy and security foothold in Central Asia.

The sanctions – which consist of an arms embargo, a visa ban on 12 Uzbek officials and freezing high-level bilateral talks – were imposed after last May’s massacre in Andijan, but elapse automatically on 17 November unless renewed by a consensus of all 25 member states.

Uzbekistan has not met any of the conditions stipulated in last year’s EU resolution – such as setting up an independent inquiry into the shooting of at least 180 civilians in Andijan – with European politicians and NGOs agreeing that human rights abuses have worsened in the past 18 months.

But Germany is suggesting cutting sanctions to an arms embargo only, EU diplomats say, after reports from the seven EU embassies in Tashkent said sanctions have achieved nothing except pushing Uzbekistan closer to Russia.

“The sanctions would probably be dropped sooner or later with no political gain for the EU, but now there is still an opportunity to sell them for some kind of closer cooperation,” one EU official said. “Everybody wants to be politically correct, but the [German] calculus is quite persuasive.”

France and Poland are also sympathetic to Germany’s mini-sanctions idea, but the decision still remains open with the UK pushing for the EU to take a hard line. “That’s the only leverage we have,” a British diplomat said. “It would be the wrong political signal at the wrong time.”

The UK’s integrity on Uzbekistan is under a question mark, however, after the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, testified to MEPs in April that Uzbek authorities have tortured terrorist suspects on London’s behalf.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament on 26 October gave a mixed message, calling for the EU to keep the arms embargo and extend the visa ban list to president Islam Karimov, but also saying sanctions have “not produced positive results so far” and need “review” in light of any future Uzbek concessions.

The Uzbekistan gambit

German diplomats, the Finnish EU presidency and the European Commission will meet with Uzbek officials in Brussels on 8 November, with Tashkent expected to offer the EU a regular human rights dialogue and to bring forward the abolition of the death penalty from 2008 to 2007.

German foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier is visiting Uzbekistan this week to see what the Uzbeks might put on the table at the 8 November meeting, following a visit by the EU’s Central Asia special envoy, Pierre Morel, the week before.

But the EU official quoted above said speedy acceptance of any concessions on face-value would be “a fig-leaf for a Bismarck-style realpolitik” with member states wary of a media backlash from NGOs such as the International Crisis Group (ICG) if sanctions are dropped “for free.”

Berlin already attracted bad press on Uzbekistan after giving special permission for ex-Uzbek interior minister Zokirjon Almatov to visit Germany for medical treatment last November, just days after his name was put on the visa ban list.

The EU’s strategic interests in Uzbekistan include potential new gas supplies and security cooperation for NATO’s anti-Taleban operation in Afghanistan as well as wider intelligence gathering efforts in the “war on terror,” with Germany keeping a military air base in Termez, near the Uzbek-Afghan border.

Uzbekistan’s regional weight also makes it key to Berlin’s plan to extend the European Neighbourhood Policy – an enhanced EU political and economic integration package – to Central Asia under the German EU presidency next year.

Gas and terrorism

Tashkent is reputed to be sitting on 1.86 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves – enough to power the whole of the EU for four years – and controls the biggest population, the second biggest economy and second biggest army of the Central Asian states.

“If we do not build the Trans-Caspian pipeline [linking the EU to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan via the Caspian Sea] we should be aware that this gas will flow to China,” energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs recently told EUobserver.

But analysts warn Europe could be overestimating both the size of Uzbekistan’s gas reserves and its willingness to fall in with EU needs. “Everyone in the region is laughing at the EU, because whatever gas there is has already been sold to Gazprom,” ICG expert Alba Lamberti said.

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UK Iraq policy a ‘rank disaster’

From BBC Online

…the measure of success in foreign policy should be “minimisation of suffering” and “if that is your measure, our policy has been a rank disaster in the last few years in terms of blood shed. By that measure that invasion has been a much greater disaster even than Suez,”

A high ranking British diplomat, who quit over the war with Iraq, has called policy in the region a “rank disaster”. Carne Ross told MPs the intelligence presented to the public about weapons of mass destruction was “manipulated”.

He also added that “the proper legal advice from the Foreign office on the legality of the war was ignored”. Mr Blair has always defended the war’s legality and the Butler inquiry said there was no evidence of “deliberate distortion” of intelligence on WMD. During his 45-minute evidence session Mr Ross also attacked the “politicisation” of the diplomatic service, and claimed promotion depended on agreeing with Mr Blair.

Mr Ross, who said he had been a friend of weapons scientist Dr David Kelly and had a hand in drawing up one of the government’s weapons dossiers, said he accepted the prime minister was ultimately responsible for foreign policy. But he added: “Policy making in the run up to the Iraq was, I think, extremely poor in that I don’t think the proper available alternatives to war were properly considered.

“I think the presentation of intelligence to the public on weapons of mass destruction was manipulated and I think that the proper legal advice from the foreign office on the legality of the war was ignored.”

‘Creeping politicisation’

Mr Ross, who was head of strategy for the UN mission in Kosovo, and also played a leading role in devising policy on Iraq and Afghanistan, said decision-making power was concentrated in the hands of too small a group. And there was a “political element at work in promotions to the most senior levels of the foreign office”. He said he had also noticed a growing tendency for officials “to tell ministers what they wish to hear in order to advance one’s own individual prospects”.

He told MPs: “There is a kind of subtle and creeping politicisation of the diplomatic service that in order to get promoted you have to show yourself as being sympathetic in identifying with the views of ministers and, in particular, the prime minister.

“Secondly, and this was the case in the Conservative government before Labour took office, decision-making powers have become increasingly concentrated in Number 10… the Foreign Office has become subsidiary to Number 10.”

On Iraq, he said the measure of success in foreign policy should be “minimisation of suffering” and “if that is your measure, our policy has been a rank disaster in the last few years in terms of blood shed”.

By that measure that invasion has been a much greater disaster even than Suez,” he added.

Mr Ross said Foreign Office officials had been split over the invasion of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Government hangs on to its right to declare war without parliamentary involvement. The Guardian reports that the government was accused yesterday of giving a “temporising and woolly” response to an inquiry by an all-party committee of peers into the role of parliament over the deployment of British forces overseas.

Lord Holme, chairman of the Lords constitution committee, said the government’s response to its report, Waging War: Parliament’s Role and Responsibility, demonstrated “a complete failure on the part of the government to give any real consideration to our key recommendation – that the role of parliament in the deployment of forces outside the UK should be established in a new convention”.

The government says in its response: “The ability of the executive to take decisions flexibly and quickly using prerogative powers remains an important cornerstone of our democracy”. However, it adds: “Whilst the government could in theory deploy the armed forces overseas without the support of parliament, it would be almost impossible to identify a set of circumstances which would allow the government to act without parliamentary support.”

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Review: Murder in Samarkand

From neweurasia

I know what you were thinking: ‘It’s about time for another post about Craig Murray, because we haven’t had enough of those.’ Well you are in luck, because I just read his new book, Murder in Samarkand, and am about to ‘ somewhat reluctantly ‘ share my thoughts on it.

But first I should note that, according to Mr. Murray, there are currently no plans to release the book in the States. Luckily, American readers can buy it on the UK Amazon site, although I wouldn’t recommend it as in-flight reading.

Love Murray or hate him, the book is an interesting read that anyone interested in Central Asia or the War on Terror should be familiar with. If you’ve been living in a cave, Craig Murray is the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan during 2002-2004. He was eventually fired from his post by the Foreign Office, allegedly because of his personal indiscretion, but he argues that he was sacked because of his stance on human rights issues and opposition to the Iraq war. Murder in Samarkand is his side of the story.

The Good

For people who have not had the luxury to spend a great deal of time in Uzbekistan, this book is a wonderful way to obtain information one doesn’t necessarily get from academic journals or news reports. Murray relays the rumors and oral history directly from the mouths of people he meets, including torture victims, KGB agents, and government officials. Naturally all of this information must be taken with a grain of salt, but Murray is fairly up front about how he came by the stories he is told.

I was impressed by Murray’s defense of the accusations leveled against him. He often backs up his points with citations referencing websites on which he posts actual classified transcripts he went to pains to obtain, but was not allowed to publish for fear of legal action.

The book is obviously not a comedy, but there are parts that are hysterical. For instance, in one scene Murray repeats word-for-word Karimov’s ‘paranoid’ speech, complete with a translation from BS into English. I have heard others recount these infamous, rehashed speeches, but Murray describes it in particular detail and directly from the horse’s mouth:

[President Karimov] ‘The greatest misfortune in the history of the Uzbek people is what happened in what you call the Great Game. Unforunately, The British were never able to make any progress stowards Central Asia, and their efforts to do so met with some very historic defeats’

Subtext: your country doesn’t really cut that much ice around here.

‘ and so forth.

Finally, Murray is remarkably candid about his personal life. He seems to hold nothing back about his affair, the end of his marriage, nights spent at strip clubs, etc. There is a flip side to this honesty, however, which will be my first point in the next section.


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Whitewash revisited

The author of the Hutton Report is making a forlorn attempt to salvage his professional reputation by publishing a defence of his judgement, some 2 years after the enquiry. Blairwatch provides a useful reminder and critique of the task facing this rather shaky pillar of the establishment.

The Hutton Inquiry was convened in 2003 with the terms of reference to “…urgently to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly.”

David Kelly had been an employee of the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MoD), an expert in biological warfare, and a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. Kelly’s discussion with BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan about the British government’s dossier on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq led to a major political scandal. Days after appearing before a Parliamentary committee investigating it David Kelly was found dead.

The public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death, ruled that he had committed suicide, and that Kelly had not said some of the quotes attributed to him by Gilligan. One of the many inconsistencies of the Hutton report is that evidence provided to the enquiry by BBC journalist Susan Watts confirmed that Kelly had indeed had serious doubts about the “45 minutes” claim published by the British government, and that he considered the Number 10 press office to be responsible for the inappropriate insertion of this claim into the published dossier on WMD.

Lord Hutton and the UK Government obviously have no problem with paradox!

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