Daily archives: August 6, 2007

Life After Scandal (2)

I commented on the BBC’s first class production of Robin Soans’ excellent and thought provoking play, Life After Scandal.


I didn’t like the portrayal of my character; not in the script, which used my own words, but in the acting. What follows is a further comment I added, but I thought should be brought up to the top of the blog.

I heard it again this morning because Nadira was listening for the first time. I am now a bit more annoyed by the silly voice – like Charles Hawtrey with a lisp. The words were genuinely my own, and devalued by the petulant and childish voice in which they were delivered.

I think partly what annoyed me was that I do indeed have a congenital speech defect, and there is always a tendency to portray anyone with a speech defect as slightly ridiculous. Just because you cannot pronounce properly does not mean that your words do not have serious intent. I don’t mind the defect being reproduced, but not as evidence of unseriousness.

I can’t pronounce r or th. The condition is known as disarthria (which must have been some doctor taking the….) I also can’t distinguish between beer, bare and bear.

People often think that not pronouncing r is an affectation. When I try the result is just a mess, and I often have embarassing conversations where people can’t understand me. My name is particularly unlucky in the circumstance. It would not be at all natural for me to change the mess of my attempted r into a w, but if I did so people would perhaps understand better what I am trying to say. Roy Jenkins was always accused of his w for r being a deliberate affectation, and I suspect it was only in that sense, that it was the nearest sound he could consciously make that people readily understood.

I don’t mind now, but I was horribly conscious of this as a teenager and young man. I think it was the remembrance of the constant mickey-taking, some kindly meant, that made me so sensitive to my portrayal in this radio version of the play.

That aside, the play really is good. Here’s the link again:


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CIA Torture Results

One of my repeated arguments with the FCO was that torture is not just immoral. but fouls up the intelligence stream with highly dubious material. In my Ambassadorial telegram to then Secretary of State Jack Straw of 22 July 2004, I made the following points:

We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror…

In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of this practice…

I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN Convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the then CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think that there is any doubt about the fact…

..this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, and they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

I do urge you to read the full telegram if you have not already done so:


I think my next point about the Butler inquiry showing the intelligence services prefer their material sensational, was a particularly good blow.

The New Yorker has pioneered in reporting on extraordinary rendition, and the latest effort by Jane Mayer refers to Khalil Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed to every crime that he or his CIA torturers had ever heard of, including the murder of Daniel Pearl:

A surprising number of people close to the case are dubious of Mohammed’s confession. A longtime friend of Pearl’s, the former Journal reporter Asra Nomani, said, ‘The release of the confession came right in the midst of the U.S. Attorney scandal. There was a drumbeat for Gonzales’s resignation. It seemed like a calculated strategy to change the subject. Why now? They’d had the confession for years.’ Mariane and Daniel Pearl were staying in Nomani’s Karachi house at the time of his murder, and Nomani has followed the case meticulously; this fall, she plans to teach a course on the topic at Georgetown University. She said, ‘I don’t think this confession resolves the case. You can’t have justice from one person’s confession, especially under such unusual circumstances. To me, it’s not convincing.’ She added, ‘I called all the investigators. They weren’t just skeptical’they didn’t believe it.’

Special Agent Randall Bennett, the head of security for the U.S. consulate in Karachi when Pearl was killed’and whose lead role investigating the murder was featured in the recent film ‘A Mighty Heart”said that he has interviewed all the convicted accomplices who are now in custody in Pakistan, and that none of them named Mohammed as playing a role. ‘K.S.M.’s name never came up,’ he said. Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. officer, said, ‘My old colleagues say with one-hundred-per-cent certainty that it was not K.S.M. who killed Pearl.’


Meanwhile, the rats are deserting the sinking ship. Now that Iraq is such a disaster that nobody now argues that life for ordinary Iraqis is better than it was five years ago, everyone is anxious to pretend that they were against the war all the time, really, honest. Even the security services are now sending out weasel signals through their pet journalists.

Security Correspondents are amongst the worst denizens of the media, because they are so dependent on the security services feeding them tidbits to retail that they are terrified of offending them. Frank Gardner of the BBC is an especially bad example. His “This is a mock-up what a terrorist chemical weapon vest at Forest Gate might look like” was possibly the worst bit of journalism I have ever seen.

Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian is another such. When I was astonished to wake up one day and see that the British government had published a totally fake map of the Iran/Iraq border, in relation to the sailors captured by the Iranians, and that the media were buying the fake map, I phoned Richard Norton-Taylor. I was offering a major scoop, free. He didn’t want to know.

So I published on this blog – and had 60,000 hits, and the entry repeated all over the web.


The Mail then published an expanded version, and got a great reaction. I genuinely believe that making it public knowledge that our map was fake, helped to put Tony Blair back in his box and allowed diplomacy to get the captives released.


All of which was ignored by Norton-Taylor because he preferred to side with his security service contacts. It is worth noting that every time I was brought on the the BBC to say the map was a fake, the government put up against me “Sir” Alan West, who told a load of patent lies about the boundary on the government’s behalf, including the extraordinary lie that the Iran/Iraq maritime boundary had been settled by an agreement beyween the UK and Iran. I am quite sure that a number of questions about that impossible assertion occur to you reading that now. Not one of those questions occurred to any BBC “Journalist” interviewing Sir Alan.

At the time, Sir Alan was presented as a retired Admiral and independent expert. Just a few weeks later he now re-emerges as a much higher paid liar as our Minister for Locking Up Bearded Men Without Trial. I may have got the offical title a bit wrong, but the appointment of an unelected military man as a minister in charge of “Domestic security” is a development so sinister I cannot believe the lack of concern shown by the media. But then of course, it is the fiefdom of their security correspondents.

Which brings me back to Norton Taylor. MI6 are now using him to claim that they were against the Iraq war all the time, and were overruled by that awful Bush and Blair:


I have no doubt they were against the war, in the sense that they would rather we hadn’t done it. But did they refuse to compile the dossier on Weapons of Mass Destruction, which they knew full well was untrue? No, and John Scarlett who actually compiled it is now head of MI6. They threw themselves wholeheartedly into the disastrous “War on Terror”, embraced torture and the other new techniques, and lapped up the extra funding and prestige it gave them. Did MI6 ever give plainly worded advice to the Cabinet that they were against the war? No – in fact they permitted the Cabinet to be fed the opposite impression. Has a single member of MI6 resigned over the War? No.

I am not unhappy to see rats leave a sinking ship. But to try to pretend they were never on board…

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“Shewhomust”‘s Review of Murder in Samarkand

I do love discovering reviews of Murder in Samarkand by real people. Not that formal MSM reviewers aren’t real, but it is really pleasant to get the views of people who just bought a copy, and this is one of the wonderful things the internet makes possible.

Anyway, this is a review by someone who goes by the Nomiker “Shewhomust”, presumably after the Rider Haggard character.

Craig Murray: Murder in Samarkand

Spoiler: it was the government who did it. And now we’ve got that out of the way, I can talk about Craig Murray’s book without worrying about premature disclosure.

Oh, and a disclaimer: those who know me will not be surprised to hear that he had me on his side as soon as I read the epigraph:

We travel not for trafficking alone;

By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:

For lust of knowing what should not be known

We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Like many of its readers, I came to the book already knowing that Craig Murray was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan between 2002 and 2004, was horrified by the corruption and brutality of the regime there, defied the British government to say so, and found that their response was not to examine his allegations but to attack him personally. I anticipated a grim and worthy read, after which I would be a better informed, if not a better, person; and grim it certainly is. My mind shies away from the photographs of dead bodies, with their smashed skulls and flesh boiled from the bones, and considers instead the less dramatic oppression of everyday life, the lack of law, the systematic corruption, the destruction of any economy the country may have, the influence of drugs barons and warlords.

Depressing reading, but not as bleak as it might be, for Murray is good company. His blog (syndicated to LiveJournal) is a mixture of press clippings and general news, but his personal entries are lively and entertainingly written. But I digress: he quotes a Sunday Telegraph article about rival screenplays for a proposed film of his book. The unsuccessful contender was David Hare:

Hare saw it as an essentially tragic tale and wrote a completely serious script, but it swiftly became clear that the film’s director, Michael Winterbottom, did not share his vision. He wanted to turn it into a farce, starring his old chum Steve Coogan.

Murray seems entirely happy about both interpretations, equally pleased with his stirring speeches, his rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan and his snappy one-liners: when, at the height of the SARS epidemic, a member of staff of the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – the text is peppered with initials, but a key is provided) e-mails to ask whether she should wear a face-mask at a forthcoming conference, he e-mails back: “I don’t know – how ugly are you?” This is not what I normally understand by the adjective “diplomatic”.

Tragedy, comedy, romance – but the narrative also uses the familiar crime fiction device of the unreliable narrator. By this I mean not that I doubt Craig Murray’s version of events, but that I was constantly aware that there were things he was not telling us. The elephant in the room is this: what caused this career diplomat to throw away his remarkably successful career? Or, if the answer to that question is too obvious, by what process did he decide that this was the battle he was prepared to fight to the death? No process of realisation is described, no gradual decision; instead the story proceeds a step at a time, I did this and then I did that. It is like reading fiction, interpreting the motives of a fictitious character, and although it feels impertinent to be speculating about a real person in this way, it restores an element of suspense, of uncertainty: I knew how the story turned out but I did not, after all, know what this would mean for the hero.

Impossible to round this off into a neat conclusion: do I summarise the book as a ripping yarn, and present myself as shallow and trivial? Or do I emphasise the appalling nature of the subject matter, and deter potential readers? Better not…


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