Monthly archives: February 2007

European Parliament Report Raps the CIA

From Time

The CIA probably doesn’t mind the occasional bitter valentine. But on Feb. 14, the European Union sent a humdinger when its Parliament approved a controversial report castigating Britain, Germany, Italy and 11 other European countries for their alleged complicity in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. With critics calling the U.S. practice of secretly transferring terrorism suspects from one country to another the equivalent of outsourcing torture, the E.U.’s final report alleges that the CIA operated more than 1,245 flights in European airspace between 2001 and 2005 and accuses several countries of “turning a blind eye” to those flights, which “on some occasions” were used for rendition. The 76-page communiqu’, which caps a yearlong investigation of flight data from the E.U.’s air-traffic agency, doesn’t confirm the existence of secret detention facilities but says those temporary prisons “may” have been located on U.S. military bases in European countries.

While the European Parliament doesn’t have the legal power to impose sanctions against E.U. countries found to have violated human rights by cooperating with the U.S. secret detention program, it can try to prod more member nations into starting criminal investigations. As one of the authors, European Parliament member Giovanni Fava, put it, “This is a report that doesn’t allow anyone to look the other way.”


Italy On Feb. 17, an Italian court indicted 26 Americans, most of them CIA agents, on charges of kidnapping Egyptian imam Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, who was seized in Milan in 2003 and taken to Cairo, where he was allegedly tortured. The first criminal trial involving rendition is set to begin in June, but Italy has already said it will not seek extraditions.

Germany German prosecutors on Jan. 31 issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents alleged to have abducted Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, while he was on vacation in Macedonia in 2003. Al-Masri was flown to Afghanistan, where he was allegedly held for five months in a secret prison and then released in a remote part of Albania.

Sweden The E.U. report, which alleges the Swedish government was in cahoots with the CIA, could rekindle a 2005 parliamentary investigation that concluded U.S. agents broke Swedish laws in 2001 by subjecting two Egyptians–who were secretly flown from Stockholm to Cairo–to “degrading and inhuman treatment” and by exercising police powers on Swedish soil.

Portugal On Feb. 5, after a European Parliament deputy presented Portugal’s Attorney General Fernando Pinto Monteiro with evidence that dozens of CIA planes had made stopovers in his country, he opened a criminal investigation into CIA-operated flights allegedly using Portuguese airports to illegally transport terrorism suspects.

See also:

Rendition cases test trans-Atlantic relations

European Parliament publishes draft report on Government involvement in extraordinary rendition

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Craig Murray: Our man in Dundee

From Education Guardian

Being a bloody-minded whistleblower is the ideal qualification for a rector, the ex-ambassador tells John Crace

A one-bedroomed flat in Shepherd’s Bush isn’t many people’s idea of a former diplomat’s des res. And it probably isn’t Craig Murray’s, either. But after a bruising few years, which have seen him forced out of his job as ambassador to Uzbekistan by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for failing to toe the British line on intelligence obtained under torture, come close to bankruptcy, when he started a legal challenge against his dismissal, and navigate his way through a tricky divorce, he’s happy to settle for what he can get.

You wouldn’t blame him for seeking out a quiet life – and by contesting this Friday’s election for the post of rector of Dundee University against a former Scottish rugby international, Andy Nicoll, it might look as if Murray had already got his slippers half on. After all, what could be more suitable for an ex His Excellency than an honorary position that requires little more than dressing up in fancy clothes from time to time, eating the odd formal banquet and smoking an after-dinner Havana? If Lorraine Kelly has been able to handle the job for the past two and a half years or so, then it should be a doddle for Murray.

Looking after students’ interests

This isn’t quite the way Murray sees it, though. “Being rector may be unpaid, but it should be more than a glorified PR non-job,” he says. “I was head of the student union when I was at Dundee in the early 1980s, so I know what a rector is meant to do. The post was originally established so that students had an elected representative to look after their interests in the running of the university; this function has rather been neglected in recent years as the administration has been left to the principal. But I intend to be much more hands-on.”

In other words, he’s planning to do exactly what he did at the Foreign Office: ask difficult questions and be bloody-minded. Murray gives a half-smile. “If necessary,” he says cautiously. So take that as a yes. Dundee University is going through tough times; it’s running a ‘1.8m deficit and the principal, Sir Alan Langmeads, has put forward a cost-cutting plan that includes up to 100 redundancies, the closure of the modern languages department and shorter opening hours for the library.

Murray doesn’t much care for it and neither, he reckons, do many others. “I can’t really see how introducing new layers of bureaucracy and cutting academic provision is in the university’s best interests,” he says, “and I believe that many students feel too powerless to influence policy and that academics are scared about speaking up because they are worried about losing their jobs. If I could be a rallying point – the rector is the third most powerful university post – then maybe we could have a proper democratic debate about the best way forward.”

With no full-time job at present – he doesn’t count writing a book as a proper career – Murray describes his occupation as “dissident”. Not that he looks much like your archetypal dissident. He’s a little tired and distant around the eyes, but that’s the only outward sign of a life in conflict. Even so, dissident is not as wide of the mark as you might think.

Murray grew up in Norfolk, where his father was stationed at an RAF base, and his childhood appears to have been the usual unremarkable mix of home and school.

Except Murray hated his school with a passion. “The Paston was an old-fashioned grammar that was trying its best to be an independent school,” he says. “It felt as if the teachers were still fighting the second world war, and once a week we were all made to dress up in military uniform and become cadets. Either I skipped school or refused to take part, so I was frequently suspended. Anyway, the overall result was that I did little work and managed to screw up my A-levels spectacularly.”

Things improved when he went up to Dundee – “it was the only university that would have me; I got in through clearing” – but though he emerged four academic years and two student officer sabbatical years later with a first in history, he still couldn’t find a job.

“You’d have thought that a decent degree and time spent as head of the student union might have been of interest to someone,” he laughs, “but I must have applied for more than 100 jobs and only one firm even wrote back to me. It was the early 80s, there were about three and half million people unemployed and I was a bit desperate, so I took the fast-stream civil service exam as a bit of a joke.”

Things became less funny when Murray not only passed the exam but sailed through the two-day selection panel. “I then had to work out what I wanted to do,” he says. “I’d never had any great desire to travel or see the world – I only discovered what a pizza was during a trip to see a girl-friend in Chicago when I was 21 – and I only put down the diplomatic corps because it seemed marginally more glamorous than anything else on offer. I couldn’t face the idea of joining the Department of Health and Social Security or the Inland Revenue; it would have been like admitting I was really dull and had no friends.”

Murray was a bit of an outsider from the start in the Foreign Office. “It likes to boast about how it has broadened access,” he says, “but it’s a complete nonsense. When the FCO talks about graduate entry it actually means to all levels of the service, and you virtually need a degree even to empty a wastepaper basket there these days. Of the 22 people in my high-flier intake, only two of us didn’t go to Oxbridge and only I didn’t go to a public school.”

Even so, he proved himself to be a safe enough pair of hands and, after successful junior postings in Poland, Nigeria and Ghana, he was offered the top job as ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002 when he was in his early 40s. Post 9/11, the former Russian republic wasn’t the diplomatic backwater it once had been and most FCO insiders reckoned Murray was headed for the top: a safe tour of Uzbekistan and a stint as a European ambassador, before bowing out with one of the plum jobs and a knighthood, was the general forecast.

It all started to unravel within weeks of his arriving in Tashkent. “President Karimov was making a big deal of a forthcoming terrorist trial,” Murray says, “so I thought I would go along to watch. It was all going to script with the accused admitting that his nephews belonged to al-Qaida, when the man burst into tears, saying it was all untrue and that he’d been tortured into a confession. I was close enough to touch him in court and I could tell he was speaking the truth.”

Murray didn’t need to go digging for more evidence: as he had shown an interest in these abuses by turning up in court, dissidents from all parts of the country came to the embassy to tell their stories. To his amazement, he soon realised there was a distinct overlap between the confessions that had been extracted under torture and the security intelligence that was being circulated by the CIA.

No hero

“You have to realise I never set out to be a hero,” he insists. “I was never a great campaigner for human rights. In many ways, I’d always been just as compromised as any other diplomat. When I was working on the South African desk of the London office I had had to send out letters saying we believed that the African National Congress was a terrorist organisation. I didn’t think that for a second and nor did anyone else I was working with, but we did it because it was the price of an impartial, depoliticised civil service.

“The closest I had ever got to any form of stand was by refusing to implement a government directive to persuade the Poles to reduce the size of the health warnings on cigarette packets to conform with EU law. But the situation in Uzbekistan was very different. This was about torture and it seemed very black and white to me. It still does; the only surprise was that it didn’t seem to be a moral issue for other members of the government and the FCO.”

Within a few months, Murray was getting a telegram from the FCO suggesting he was “focusing too much on human rights issues” and, when this had no effect, he was told outright that Britain was entitled to use intelligence obtained under torture providing it wasn’t the Brits who were doing the torturing. “It was legal, it was policy and I was to shut up,” he says.

But he didn’t, and in August 2003 he was recalled to London from a family holiday in Canada. “I was told that if I resigned from Uzbekistan I would be given the embassy in Copenhagen,” he continues. “It would have been a huge promotion, but I refused on principle. I was then told that I had a week to resign or I would face 18 charges, including being an alcoholic, selling British visas for sexual favours and stealing from the embassy.

“All the charges were fabricated, but there was nothing I could do to defend myself, as I was also told I wasn’t allowed to discuss the charges with anyone or call anybody as a witness. The FCO would conduct its own investigation and let me know the outcome – which was never going to be in doubt.”

Murray returned to Tashkent, but within days was flown back to the psychiatric ward of St Thomas’s Hospital in London. “I was in a complete state of collapse,” he says. “I could barely speak or move and I doubted anyone would believe my story. Fortunately the psychiatrist said to me, ‘You don’t need me, you need a good lawyer’ and proceeded to get in contact with Gareth Peirce [the human rights lawyer who defended the Birmingham Six].”

From that point on, things began to look up for Murray. He was cleared of all the allegations, except, bizarrely, for the one of discussing the others with another person – “technically, they were right as I did discuss it with my secretary, but as they were found to be false…” – and he was given a substantial financial settlement in return.

But he did still lose his job. Which is how Murray really comes to be in Dundee this week. And what if the students vote for Nicoll instead? “I’ll be disappointed,” he says, “but at least there’s not a salary riding on it.” So how is he managing for money? “The book didn’t sell as well in hardback as I had hoped, but I’ve done well out of the film rights. They were initially bought by Michael Winterbottom – and he’s still making the movie – but he’s flogged the rights on to Paramount.”

His role will be played by Steve Coogan. Is he worried about being turned into a joke? “No. Winterbottom’s got a good track record and, besides, some of the story is quite amusing anyway.” Nice to know someone can still see the funny side.

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‘Time to Talk’

By Paul Reynolds in BBC Online

With Iran defying the Security Council over its enrichment of uranium and the United States threatening further pressure, there are signs of organised grassroots opposition emerging to any military attack.

A pressure group in Britain has urged a diplomatic solution. There are stirrings among religious leaders and members of parliament. And three senior retired US military officers have said that they “strongly caution against the use of military force”. They have called on Britain to play a “vital role in securing a renewed diplomatic push”.

‘Counter-productive and dangerous’

The pressure group, called Crisis Action, brings together trade unions, charities and Christian and Muslim organisations. They include the Amicus, Unison and GMB unions, the Oxford Research Group, the Foreign Policy Centre, Pax Christi, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Parliament. The group’s document is entitled ” Time to Talk”.

It says: “The consequences of any possible future military action could be wholly counter-productive as well as highly dangerous. Diplomatic solutions to the Iranian nuclear issue must be pursued resolutely.”

One of its spokesmen is Sir Richard Dalton, who was British ambassador in Iran until March 2006, though he is not a signatory to the document and differs on one significant aspect. But he agrees that the military approach is not the way forward.

“There is no legal basis for an attack,” he said. “The negotiating road is hard but could be improved if Iran was offered a regional security assurance and the United States became more directly involved to reduce the issues between themselves and Iran.” However he did not agree with the suggestion in the Crisis Action document that the Security Council demand for a suspension of enrichment by Iran as a pre-condition for talks is a “fundamental” obstacle.


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Candidate Slams University Cuts

By Graeme Cleland in the Dundee Courier

One of the leading candidates to become Dundee University rector has heavily criticised proposed cuts to the institution’s staff and courses to claw back a ‘1.6 million defecit.

Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, has spoken out againt the plant that could see town planning and modern languages courses axed – along with up to 100 staff. Mr Murray echoed concerns raised by the UCU that an artificial financial crisis had been created by a campus development programme that has seen millions spent on new buildings.

“I am very worried about the university’s desire to cut staff and cut the languages department,” he said. “I’m not at all sure the financial situation justifies it.

“I have been studying the figures and we do not need job loses, and certainly not in courses where the university interacts with the community such as with modern languages.”

When announcing plans for cut-backs the university suggested there would be “significant cost reductions and efficiency improvements” affecting the library, the estates service and research and innovation services. The university is also planning to increase income from sources such as overseas students and postgraduate students to try to turn a 1% budget defecit (‘1.6 million) into a 3% surplus by 2010 to 2011. That will require a change in the difference between spending and income totalling ‘6.85 million

Mr Murray suggested excessive amounts of money had been spent on unneeded layers of bureaucracy and administration rather than university teaching resources. He said he also believed the large outlays on recent building programmes undertaken by the university distored its financial situation and were being used as an excuse to enforce changes.

“It seems there is no need for these cuts, and I velieve the reason they are being pursued is part of an agenda rather than financial prudence.

“Only the smallest restructuring of the university’s debt would make the savings required to meet the targets set”.

Staff, students and the UCU have already vented their anger. Many are worried the changes could affect the university’s links with the local community as well as hampering its ability to attract students. Staff and students are planning to fight the proposed cuts ahead of the February 19 university court meeting, which will decide on the way ahead.

However, university management have insisted the capital investment in buildings and equipment over the past four years has been fully justified. It also highlighted the fact research income was high but was not growing as quicky as it had, and its financial status was not sustainable for the long or medium term.

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