Daily archives: April 23, 2009

Sky Doesn’t Get the Blogosphere

At 7pm Sky give us a news broadcast intended to link in with the news media, promoting their own website and referring to news in the blogosphere. It really is quite painful to watch; it is like your grandmother trying to be very trendy.

They are having a discussion between “bloggers” on the budget, the standad of which is childish at best. As usual, they have invited so-called bloggers to represent the parties – one Tory, one New Labour and one Lib Dem.

The problem is that minor party hacks don’t get any more interesting just because you call them “bloggers.” And it misses the entire point of he blogosphere. Political blogs are increasingly popular because they are not controlled by the political relationships and demands of media proprietors, or by control of other power structures. They offer unconstrained thought, information and debate, and one of the main constraints they escape is the cold dead hand of British party politics.

Sky’s gesture towards the blogosphere is undermined by complete lack of imagination.

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Lord Jones and Kalashnikovs

Lord Jones of Cheltenham has sent me his telling of the story recounted in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo about our seeing off the security service raid on the independent radio station in Accra. It differs from mine in some details, the most important of which is that we were actually with Graham Elson on this occasion as Roger Gale was working up country.

I confess that I am always pleased to have other eye-witness accounts of the many incidents in my books where dangerous people point guns at me. David Hare told me he had spent some of his time in Uzbekistan verifying the truth of some of the more physical enounters in Murder in Samarkand, like my attempt to shield Kristina in the car crash, and had clearly been somewhat surprised to find I really did that stuff.

The truth is I was petrified much of the time – including in the following incident, as told by Lord Jones:

Craig Murray arrived at our hotel on eve of poll with news of a melee up north in Ho, or maybe Hohoe. We readily agreed to accompany him to the local radio station Joy FM to find out what had happened. You tend to be very gung-ho on these missions and the thought that the evening might turn violent was not one which entered my head. Joy FM’s sister station Love FM confirmed the disturbance and told us that fourteen people had been arrested, one of them an opposition candidate. Craig asked what Joy FM intended to do with the news. ‘Well,’ said the young, bright broadcaster,'”Rawlings is giving his final Presidential broadcast on TV. We will make the trouble the main item on our news bulletin at 8 pm which is to be followed by a phone-in programme on the election.’ We watched the presidential broadcast. It was obviously pre-recorded with cuts when Jerry Rawlings started to get agitated. The whole thing was pretty disjointed but I gained the impression that he did not relish the concept of his party losing power.

The 8 o’clock radio bulletin followed and then all hell broke loose. There was a disturbance at the door and a group of uniformed and heavily armed large men appeared, each carrying what I am assured were Kalashnikov weapons. They were from the Bureau of National Intelligence. The leader instructed the young man in charge to stop broadcasting. Then Craig stepped in.

Craig Murray is not the tallest man in the world although the leader of this group of invaders was certainly a candidate for that title. Bravely Craig looked this man in the eyes and calmly said ‘You know I am Craig Murray the Deputy British High Commissioner.’ ‘Yes, Mr Murray, we know who you are.’ ‘Yes well what you may not know is that these three gentlemen have been invited by your government’ he paused jabbing his finger at (but not touching) the chest of the large man and repeating ‘YOUR government’ with emphasis, continuing ‘to observe these elections to make sure they are free and fair, and this person’ pointing at me ‘is a Member of Parliament from the House of Commons in London.’ At this every single member of the group pointed their Kalashnikovs at me. I kept as calm as you can in these circumstances. As Craig continued I was aware of a bead of sweat forming on my brow and slowly making its way down my forehead and left cheek. ‘Now,’ Craig continued, “Are you telling me and are you telling them and in particular are you telling him’ pointing at me again (I wished he wouldn’t keep doing that), guns still at the ready, lots of trigger fingering going on, ‘that you are going to close down this radio station? Because if you do, these gentlemen, including this important Member of the British Parliament’ pointing again ‘may decide to report that these elections have NOT been free and fair.’. He paused. ‘And it will be all YOUR fault’ jabbing finger again ‘YOUR fault’. Silence reigned for some moments. The guns were still pointing at me. They were very large. I gave outward signs of being calm. What was going on inside is a different matter. Another bead of sweat formed and made its way down the other side of my face.

Graham Elson tried to be helpful. I suggested they might like to go back and get further instructions as there had obviously been a mistake. After what seemed like an age, accompanied by more trigger fingering, they turned on their heels and left. After perhaps a minute we went outside to make sure they had really gone. They had left, but had stopped at the end of the road. We thought they might be about to take a pot shot at us from there, but when they saw us they got back into their vehicles and drove off. Joy FM stayed on air. ‘Thanks Craig,’ I commented. He chuckled. ‘You look like you need a drink,’ he replied perceptively.

Now if we had not been there, that radio station would have been closed down and the 2000 Ghana elections might have joined a long list of African elections which went wrong. Diplomats, MPs and others often get a bad press. All I can say is that Craig Murray is one of the most effective diplomats I have ever met and that like others I have known, the mission to observe this election was certainly no ‘jolly’.

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David Hare on the Flinching Milliband

David Hare made an a thought provoking speech at the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression awards. Worth reading, and not just because I get a mention:

But hypocrisy and double standards on the left now seem over-shadowed, dwarfed, obliterated by endemic, instituional hypocrisy on the right or, to put it another way, in government. Better, I think, to be a champagne socialist than a suppository-wielding, water-boarding capitalist.

In Howard Brenton’s play Weapons of Happiness, one character looks puzzeled at another and declares: ‘You really are something of a perpetual absence, old man.’ I’m afraid this line of dialogue always pops into my mind when I catch a glimpse of our present Foreign Secretary David Milliband, a kind of flinching, nocturnal badger of human rights. Again, it’s difficult to recall that the Brown government arrived covertly flagging discontinuity. It was, we were told, full of people who in an epic act of loyalty had been willing to hide their misgivings about the supine antics of the Blair period. While nobody was going as far as to offer what Robin Cook was moved from office for suggesting ?”?” an ethical foreign policy ?”?” nevertheless there was, again, the feeling that a renewed defence of democracy might involve some public restating of absolutes. Do I need to observe no such restatement has followed? More accurately, nothing has followed, except reversion to tribal diplomatic loyalties, the old half-truths and half-lies rolled out on behalf of dodgy allies. In the last two editions of the New York Review of Books you may read Mark Danner’s authoritative accounts of systematic use of torture by the CIA. Humiliation, beatings by use of a collar, sleep deprivation, suffocation by water, kickings, confinement in a box, shackles, prolonged nudity. Strange: we await the appropriate moral outrage from Whitehall.


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Scottish Parliament Motion on UK Complicity in Torture

Bill Wilson MSP has put down the following motion in the Scottish Parliament:

Short Title: UK Government’s Admission of Complicity in Torture

S3M-03949 Bill Wilson (West of Scotland) (SNP): That the Parliament

considers the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s recent report on human rights in which the UK Government tacitly admits to using “intelligence possibly derived through torture”; further notes Craig Murray’s statement that the names of sources are omitted from intelligence reports so that it cannot be proven that torture was used in producing that intelligence; believes that the report therefore negates the UK Government’s supposed condemnation of torture and that when it uses evidence obtain from practices such as immersing victims in boiling water, as used in Uzbekistan, or taking them to the point of drowning , as extensively practised by the United States of America under the euphemism of waterboarding, then it is as guilty as the government or agency that carries out the torture, and is of the opinion that torture does not protect lives but simply ensures that the victim provides whatever “evidence” is required by the torturer and that the use of torture can only increase hatred and violence, not reduce it

His office have put out the following press release:

UK Government’s admission of complicity in torture highlighted in Scottish Parliament

Dr Bill Wilson, an SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, today lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament highlighting a recent human rights report by the Foreign and Commonwealth office that contains a tacit admission the UK Government uses evidence obtained through torture.

Dr Wilson commented: “The UK has a long and appalling record when it comes to human rights. The latest revelation is of a piece with its support for Indonesia’s genocidal Suharto regime, its treatment of the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, its earlier support for sanctions against Iraq and its later invasion of that country, and its support for Israel, despite the latter’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory and its brazen flouting of the human rights of Palestinians and various opponents of its brutal policies (not least the brave Jewish Israeli youngsters thrown into prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli Defence Force!).

“The UK Government’s weasel words cannot disguise its effective support for torture. As my motion makes clear, this undermines any pretence the UK might have to higher ethical ground. How can the UK effectively combat terrorism when it condones atrocities committed by its so-called friends and allies? The bitterness and hatred stoked by this hypocrisy is surely considerable.

“Furthermore, it’s nonsense to suggest that tortured people will say anything other than what they think their interrogators want to hear. If you are taken to the point of drowning and believe that the only way you can save yourself is to say that X, Y and Z are members of Al Qaeda, then you would likely do so, regardless of the truth.

“Perhaps the worst aspect of torture, however, is that those who have taken part in it are driven to justify what they have done. Of course they want to believe that the cruelty they have been guilty of produced useful information, and so they are likely to go to great lengths to deceive both themselves and others in this regard. Having justified it, then, they will persist in practising it.

“Torture is always wrong in my opinion, and the ‘ticking bomb’ argument a dangerous myth. The criminals complicit in torture, who can be found at the highest levels of the UK Government, must be held accountable. ”

My analysis of the FCO’s stunning admission to receiving intelligence from torture is found here:


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