Daily archives: July 29, 2007

On Being Sort Of Alan Partridge

Michael Winterbottom has been talking about Murder in Samarkand

Arlington, Va.: Hi Michael! I’m a big fan of yours as well as Steve Coogan’s. I loved “24 Hour Party People” and “Tristram Shandy” (and I’m fairly obsessed with everything Alan Partridge). I saw that you’re going to be reunited again for “Murder in Samarkand,” but I was wondering if you two have any comedies in the works as well?

Michael Winterbottom:”Murder in Samarkand” is hopefully going to be funny. It’s a black comedy about torture in Uzbekistan. Steve will play Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who spends a lot of time in bars and at dancing clubs. It’s sort of Alan Partridge or Tony Wilson, trying to prevent the British government from using information they’ve obtained through torture.


If I wasn’t so easy-going, I might be a bit alarmed. But A Mighty Heart seems to show that the US public doesn’t want a serious exploration of the “War on Terror”, no matter how critically acclaimed.


My hope for Murder in Samarkand is that the film might be the MASH or Catch 22 for our generation, helping cement a growing popular cultural consensus on the stupidity of the “War”. That would be worth my coming over personally as an idiot.

Never understimate humour as a political weapon.

View with comments

Duck! Here Comes More Whitewash!

I have just got round to reading the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Extraordinary Rendition http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/publications/intelligence/20070725_isc_final.pdf

This really is the most laughable cover-up job I have ever seen. The committee does venture that some things might have happened which were – well perhaps morally difficult. It even in one sentence goes so far as to hint that the United States might have been a bit naughty:

“What the US rendition programme has shown is that these ethical dilemmas are not confined to countries with poor track records on human rights – the UK now has some ethical dilemmas with our closest ally.”

But fortunately, nobody actually did anything wrong and the phrase “No evidence” repeats again and again like a mantra. Nobody ever saw any evidence. British intelligence officers interrogating detainees in the rendition programme never saw any evidence of torture. The police never saw any evidence of rendition flights in the UK. Nor does the committee think that anybody should have looked to see if they could find any evidence – of course the police and security services are too busy protecting us from those dreadful terrorists to worry about the odd British Muslim being tortured by the Americans.

The Committee also fails to address the straightforward question of whether we do or whether we do not obtain intelligence from torture. It dances around the subject with equivocations like:

“These issues are not easily resolved. Intelligence and security services, here and abroad, rarely divulge information on their sources when sharing intelligence with foreign liaison services. The location, circumstances or treatment of a detainee (or even the fact that the source is a detainee) would not usually be shared.”

So there you have the basis of a defence: “We had no idea the Algerians had tortured him to get the information, your Honour.” Except that the statement above from the report is a direct lie. You very often know it is a detainee, and can easily discover from your liaison something about his circumstances, including torture, if you ask. If you’re a good enough liaison officer you’ll find out without asking. The details the Committee claim we “Don’t know” are in fact deliberately sanitised out by the Security Services before the intelligence report is issued, to give Ministers plausible deniability of knowing the information came from torture.

The Committee however have a second line of defence. Torturing people is OK anyway because it saves lives. Take Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

“When he was in detention in 2003, place unknown, he provided [The pseudonyms of] six individuals…who were involved in AQ activities in or against the UK. The Americans gave us this information… These included high profile terrorists – an indication of the huge amount of significant information that came from one man in detention in an unknown place.”

In fact, KSM confessed under years of torture to an incredible amount of stuff, much of which could not possibly have been true. The Committee give a lot of space to the “Torture Works” arguments put forward by our security services, but fail to address – or even to meniton – the counter argment that torture gets you not the truth, but what the victim thinks will make the torturer stop. A few hundred years ago we would have succesfully been making KSM confess to communing with the Devil in the form of a cat. That wouldn’t make it true.

My breath is taken away by the moral cowardice of the committee in putting forward the argument that we need intelligence from torture, while pretending not to know if people are actually tortured or not. I could have given them irrefutable evidence that we do have a policy of obtaining evidence through torture – which I presume is why they did not call me to give evidence. I am named in the Report as having given evidence to the European Parliament Report on Extraordinary Rendition, but they make no mention at all of what my evidence was. They then dismiss the European parliament report of having “No real evidence”.

It is a matter of genuine sorrow to me that I have never given evidence in this country to the events outlined in Murder in Samarkand. I was called to give this evidence to both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, but our own parliament – including all three major parties – regard it as far too embarassing. Acknowledging our involvement in torture is inconvenient, because politicians would then have to support or oppose it. Everyone prefers that the security services do it, with government approval, while we all pretend it isn’t happening.

This was the result when I tried to submit evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee:

Dear Mr Murray,

The Committee considered your e-mail at its meeting yesterday, 15 March. As you requested, it was made available to all members.

The Committee decided not to receive the communication as evidence.

Steve Priestley

Clerk of FAC

View with comments