Worse Than Expenses Fiddles: British Ministers Complicit In Torture 11

This is the uncorrected transcript of my evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

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I believe these excerpts give the key points in my evidence:

Q77 Chairman: To summarise where we are, we were not directly involved in torturing anybody in Uzbekistan, but effectively there was a chain that ended up with you in Tashkent via the CIA and MI6 in London. It is not like the allegations we have received regarding Pakistan, for example, where basically we are in the prison cell asking the questions and somebody may have been tortured. This is a much more remote chain of circumstances. Your argument is that because Uzbekistan is a country where torture is almost a way of life in that country evidence was being obtained by the CIA indirectly from the Uzbeks and then supplied to MI6 and the sum totality must have been known to ministers. Although we were not directly involved through that chain that is sufficient in your view to create an allegation of complicity by the UK in torture in Uzbekistan?

Mr Murray: I would agree with that.

Q78 Chairman: That is a summary of your case?

Mr Murray: I would add one point. My case is that because as an ambassador I was fortunately a member of the senior civil service and I was arguing against this I was able to be given high-level policy direction and be told that ministers had decided we would get intelligence from torture. The fact that ministers made that decision was the background to what was happening in Pakistan, for example. It is not that MI5 operatives were acting independently; they were pursuing a policy framework set ministerially.

Q79 Chairman: So, ministers specifically used the words “torture”, “evidence from the CIA” and “no questions: turn a blind eye”?

Mr Murray: Ministers certainly had before them and read my telegrams which said that this was torture and detailed the type of torture involved.

Q80 Chairman: What you just said was that ministers said it was okay to use torture?

Mr Murray: No; I think I said that ministers said it was okay to use intelligence from torture.

Q81 Chairman: Therefore, the inference is that it is not just turning a blind eye or “ask no questions, tell no lies”; it is specific knowledge?

Mr Murray: Nobody argued to me once that the Uzbek intelligence we were discussing did not come from torture; everyone accepted that it came from torture and the question was whether or not we accepted it. Nobody said that it was not actually torture.


Mr Murray: That is a reasonable way to express it. The telegrams that I wrote at the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003 were expressed quite specifically in terms of my concern that British government ministers were acting illegally by receiving this material under UNCAT. My telegrams said that the secretary of state might be acting illegally by being in receipt of that material.

Q77 Dr Harris: Can you clarify why you think they described those telegrams as unwise? You do not quote but say that they reported in that conversation that such sensitive questions were best not discussed on paper.

Mr Murray: It is always difficult to answer why somebody said something. You can say what they said, but obviously I am not inside their minds.

Q78 Dr Harris: Did you ask why?

Mr Murray: I would like to put this to you: two telegrams were sent by a British ambassador stating that the secretary of state might be acting illegally. I did not receive any written answer to those two telegrams. It would be extremely unusual for a Foreign Office ambassador to write back on any serious policy problem and not receive any reply from the department. To send two telegrams which actually allege illegality by your own secretary of state and not get a written refutation is quite extraordinary. Instead, I was summoned to a meeting at which I was told that these things were better not put in writing. I was able to get the Sir

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11 thoughts on “Worse Than Expenses Fiddles: British Ministers Complicit In Torture

  • dreoilin

    For what it’s worth: I wrote to both Channel 4 News and the BBC, complaining about the lack of coverage of your evidence before the Parliamentary Joint Committee. Not that they bothered to answer me.

    I was thinking that we should have started an email campaign complaining to the media, just as we did to put pressure on the committee to hear you in the first place. But it’s too late now.

  • dreoilin

    Those pricks should be forced to watch such torture through one-way mirrors. I guarantee they’d all puke and run away. And as for being waterboarded themselves — an expenses row is torture to them, for god’s sake. Puny people. That’s what they are. Puny people with too much power.

  • Anonymous

    The commitee appear to be unduly hung up on the difference between authorising torture and collecting information gathered from the use of torture.

    I wonder why.

    The peodophile defense of ” I didn’t molest any children , I just collect the photos” has no legitimacy, doesn’t work and doesn’t fool anybody.

    The commitee must know this.

    So again, why are they exercising themselves in trying to make this distinction?

  • mary

    The Editor of the British Medical Journal, Fiona Godlee, writes today:-

    Rules of conscience

    Fiona Godlee, editor, BMJ

    [email protected]

    How often this week have we heard the phrase “but I was only following the rules” as details of MPs’ expense claims were splashed across the media? They may have been following the rules but we expected something better: that they would follow their consciences.

    Just obeying the rules has long been insufficient for doctors. The judges at Nuremberg made clear that obeying commands from superiors didn’t remove personal accountability. Doctors couldn’t deviate from their ethical obligations even if a country’s laws allowed or demanded otherwise. The World Medical Association is meeting as I write. Its most noteworthy contribution has been the drafting of the Helsinki Declaration on Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects. Both this and the World Medical Association’s International Code of Ethics contain the crucial statement that a doctor’s or investigator’s conscience and duty of care must transcend national laws.

    So deeply ingrained is this ethic in health care that it’s surprising, even shocking, to find that the same code isn’t shared by psychologists, at least in the United States. As Kenneth Pope and Thomas Gutheil explain (doi:10.1136/bmj.b1653), the American Psychological Association has taken a series of decisions in recent years that seem more about politics than professionalism and have put psychologists seriously at odds with other health professions. After the 9/11 attacks, the APA changed its ethics code to allow members to set aside ethical responsibilities if the law requires them to do so. And in 2005 the APA agreed to allow members to take part in the interrogation of detainees, something that is rightly forbidden by medical associations.

    Some won’t be shocked. They will agree with the APA that psychologists don’t have the same duty of care as doctors and that their skills can be usefully applied to developing and monitoring interrogation techniques. After all, the APA calls interrogation “a psychological endeavour”. Recent disclosures have shown that psychologists helped to develop methods that the Red Cross has called “tantamount to torture”.

    As Pope and Gutheil explain, the APA has squared its collective conscience by excluding detainees from its list of vulnerable groups, which includes people with diminished capacity to consent, research participants, subordinates, and employees. One ethicist I spoke to was reminded of how German doctors, who before the second world war had the most enlightened rules on the protection of humans involved in research, classified Jews and other detainees as non-human and therefore not eligible for ethical protection.

    Ethical standards are also being fudged at the US Food and Drug Administration. As Michael Goodyear and colleagues explain (doi:10.1136/bmj.b1559), trials performed outside the United States will no longer have to conform to the Helsinki Declaration even though they will be used to support licensing of drugs in the United States. Instead they will be regulated by the Good Clinical Practice guidelines: not an aspirational ethical code but a manual describing existing procedure for industry sponsored trials. This double standard could give the impression that the FDA “is more interested in facilitating research than respecting the rights of people who are subjects of research”.

    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1972

  • jives

    Many thanks,most sincerely,for all your past and continuing efforts in this arena Craig.

    You put them all to shame.

  • OrwellianUK

    Interesting that the more minor revelations of MP’s expenses are being promoted in the media, rather than the much more important issue of Torture Policy which is being studiously ignored.

    It’s rather like Chomsky’s study of Watergate in which he revealed that the reporting of the scandal surrounding one member of the Elite (Nixon) who had stepped out of line with those who put him in power was favoured, while the much more significant revelations of COINTELPRO (a domestic spying, subversion and assassination operation) were suppressed.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Mary, I just read the above article in the BMJ, it’s very powerful, thanks for sharing it. The cover of this week’s BMJ is very striking, too, red and black, that image from Iraq of the hooded figure standing on the box. It’s hardly surprising that some contemporary psychologists would be involved in torture nor that the APA would facilitate their participation thereof, many of them have been involved in advertising for decades. Same dynamic, really. There has been much written on, for example, Counterpunch about this over the past few years. It’s shocking.

  • avatar singh

    more than that the british newspapers and editorials are complicit in torture.


    today this rubbish paper called indepdent wrote in editorial maoning about charge agasint burmese opposiotion leader -she was charged because an american solder missionary and mercenary illegally entered her compound by swimming and was given sheler.

    the same editorial says that obama is right in not publishing the torture pictures as it woudl serb=ve no purpose(ie. not implicate the war criminals bush blair and cheney) but also because it woudl cause antiamericanism and be agasint american troops-the same troops re4sponsibel for the torture.

    such is the standard of british rubbish journalism.

  • Tony

    Well done on your evidence, Craig. I also complained to a number of media websites about lack of coverage.

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