Thanks for all the messages of support, encouragement and rude exhortation. In the process of pulling myself together, and hopefully this blog will get campaigning again in about a week.
I am afraid that the result of Norwich North by-election has severely dented my appetite for blogging. When I put my views to the electorate and asked for their support, I could hardly have been more comprehensively rejected. I was convinced we could get a respectable vote of 7% in Norwich North and have something to build on.
I am not interested in the smug self-satisfaction of believing I have access to a knowledge or analysis denied to the “ordinary” people. Nor do I think that people in the UK have lost their capacity for sensible judgement, or that political discourse needs to be dumbed down to try to achieve a wide appeal. The fact is that Norwich North showed that no significant minority of the general populace has any interest in what I have to say.
So the urge to give comment and information on the sick farce of the Afghan elections, the extraordinary and cynical charade over the Lockerbie “bomber”, or even the hope destroyed in University admissions this year, has been nullified by an awareness that what I think is of no account.
It is not a case of feeling sorry for myself. It is a long overdue hit of realism. I have frequently complained, for example, that the damning evidence I gave on the British government’s complicity in torture was almost totally ignored by the mainstream media. The reason is that the media is not manipulative, it is merely making a shrewd and correct commercial decision that almost nobody cares.
There are moments that change lives. I was fairly stoic at the Norwich North count. I was then struck by a catharsis. After the declaration of results, the candidates made their speeches from the platform. When it came to my turn, Chloe Smith walked off the platform and stood in front of me and the media pack noisily formed around her. The officials started chatting among themselves about what they were doing at the weekend. I was left in the position of having to make the customary comments to a noisy room in which most backs were turned on me and only a very few were politely pretending to listen.
I cannot get out of my head the idea that my blogging is but the virtual equivalent.
In Afghanistan, the last week has seen the passing of the symbolic 200th British fatality and desperate preparations for the looming elections.
I see Hillary Clinton is coming under attack for more remarks made on her Africa tour.
I am not a great fan of La Clinton, but I agree 100% with her pointing out that electoral fraud happens in the US too. The UK as well – anybody who thinks we don’t have electoral fraud should try standing against Jack Straw in Blackburn.
There is an execellent interview with former head of the Pakistani intelligence service, General Hamid Gul, here. He makes some very strong points. It is undoubtedly true that it is warlords in the US-backed Karzai government who control 90% of the world heroin trade, and that the trade has expanded to its highest ever levels under coalition control. It is undoubtedly true that US foreign policy in the region is dictated by the desire to access Central Asian oil and gas. It is also undoubtedly true that the US works closely with Mossad and with India in Central Asia, and that many of its attacks appear calculated to stir up rather than ease conflict.
Turning the focus of our discussion to the Afghan drug problem, I noted that the U.S. mainstream corporate media routinely suggest that the Taliban is in control of the opium trade. However, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Anti-Government Elements (or AGEs), which include but are not limited to the Taliban, account for a relatively small percentage of the profits from the drug trade. Two of the U.S.’s own intelligence agencies, the CIA and the DIA, estimate that the Taliban receives about $70 million a year from the drugs trade. That may seem at first glance like a significant amount of money, but it’s only about two percent of the total estimated profits from the drug trade, a figure placed at $3.4 billion by the UNODC last year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has just announced its new strategy for combating the drug problem: placing drug traffickers with ties to insurgents ?”and only drug lords with ties to insurgents ?” on a list to be eliminated. The vast majority of drug lords, in other words, are explicitly excluded as targets under the new strategy. Or, to put it yet another way, the U.S. will be assisting to eliminate the competition for drug lords allied with occupying forces or the Afghan government and helping them to further corner the market.
I pointed out to the former ISI chief that Afghan opium finds its way into Europe via Pakistan, via Iran and Turkey, and via the former Soviet republics. According to the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, convoys under General Rashid Dostum ?” who was reappointed last month to his government position as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Afghan National Army by President Hamid Karzai ?” would truck the drugs over the border. And President Karzai’s own brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been accused of being a major drug lord. So I asked General Gul who was really responsible for the Afghan drug trade.
“Now, let me give you the history of the drug trade in Afghanistan,” his answer began. “Before the Taliban stepped into it, in 1994 ?” in fact, before they captured Kabul in September 1996 ?” the drugs, the opium production volume was 4,500 tons a year. Then gradually the Taliban came down hard upon the poppy growing. It was reduced to around 50 tons in the last year of the Taliban. That was the year 2001. Nearly 50 tons of opium produced. 50. Five-zero tons. Now last year the volume was at 6,200 tons. That means it has really gone one and a half times more than it used to be before the Taliban era.” He pointed out, correctly, that the U.S. had actually awarded the Taliban for its effective reduction of the drug trade. On top of $125 million the U.S. gave to the Taliban ostensibly as humanitarian aid, the State Department awarded the Taliban $43 million for its anti-drug efforts. “Of course, they made their mistakes,” General Gul continued. “But on the whole, they were doing fairly good. If they had been engaged in meaningful, fruitful, constructive talks, I think it would have been very good for Afghanistan.”
Referring to the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, General Gul told me in a later conversation that Taliban leader “Mullah Omar was all the time telling that, look, I am prepared to hand over Osama bin Laden to a third country for a trial under Shariah. Now that is where ?” he said [it] twice ?” and they rejected this. Because the Taliban ambassador here in Islamabad, he came to me, and I asked him, ‘Why don’t you study this issue, because America is threatening to attack you. So you should do something.’ He said, ‘We have done everything possible.’ He said, ‘I was summoned by the American ambassador in Islamabad’ ?” I think Milam was the ambassador at that time ?” and he told me that ‘I said, “Look, produce the evidence.” But he did not show me anything other than cuttings from the newspapers.’ He said, ‘Look, we can’t accept this as evidence, because it has to stand in a court of law. You are prepared to put him on trial. You can try him in the United Nations compound in Kabul, but it has to be a Shariah court because he’s a citizen under Shariah law. Therefore, we will not accept that he should be immediately handed over to America, because George Bush has already said that he wants him “dead or alive”, so he’s passed the punishment, literally, against him.” Referring to the U.S. rejection of the Taliban offer to try bin Laden in Afghanistan or hand him over to a third country, General Gul added, “I think this is a great opportunity that they missed.”
Returning to the drug trade, General Gul named the brother of President Karzai, Abdul Wali Karzai. “Abdul Wali Karzai is the biggest drug baron of Afghanistan,” he stated bluntly. He added that the drug lords are also involved in arms trafficking, which is “a flourishing trade” in Afghanistan. “But what is most disturbing from my point of view is that the military aircraft, American military aircraft are also being used. You said very rightly that the drug routes are northward through the Central Asia republics and through some of the Russian territory, and then into Europe and beyond. But some of it is going directly. That is by the military aircraft. I have so many times in my interviews said, ‘Please listen to this information, because I am an aware person.’ We have Afghans still in Pakistan, and they sometimes contact and pass on the stories to me. And some of them are very authentic. I can judge that. So they are saying that the American military aircraft are being used for this purpose. So, if that is true, it is very, very disturbing indeed.”
The full interview ranges more widely and is well worth reading. I was unaware that Gul had been banned from the UK and US. But I am unsurprised. I can tell you from direct inside knowledge that the UK/US view is that the ISI is riven with Al-Qaida sympathisers. This suspicion is directed at Pakistanis who are in fact not in any way Al-Qaida sympathisers, but simply ask sceptical and critical questions about the “War on Terror”.
The demonisation of such people again tends to create the very conflict and anti-Western feeling which is pretended to be the concern. In fact conflict, which the US sees itself as in a position ultimately to win militarily, tends to be the aim. General Gul evidently feels that destabilisation of Pakistan is a US strategic goal. That is certainly increasingly the result of US policy, but I doubt it is acknowledged, even internally, as an aim.
For those who missed it,the featue on Ikram is here, though I suspect only for today.
It is worth watching, particularly for confirmation that the Tashkent “bombs” were false flag incidents – which was a major point in my time in Tashkent. My investigation which established this is covered at length in Murder in Samarkand. Nonetheless both the British and US have continued to use these fake al-Qaida linked bombings to justify our sypport for Karimov.
This is important, as they were knowingly lying, the Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre (JTAC) having officially accepted my analysis of events, and informed me so by diplomatic telegram to Tashkent. Hazel Blears (unsurprisingly) was liar in chief:
BBC 2 Newsnight have been working for three months now on the claims of Uzbek security service defector Ikram Yakubov.
I think finally the piece will be broadcast tonight, although there have been several postponements already. For me Yakubov’s most interesting evidence is that he accompanied a CIA man to an interrogation, and the CIA man was actually in the room during the torture of a detainee, rather than just handing over questions to the Uzbeks.
But I think the Newsnight piece may be focusing on the probable murder by Karimov of Richard Conroy, the British acting Head of the UN mission in Uzbekistan. I cover this at length in Murder in Samarkand, but could not prove what informants were telling me. Yakubov claims to have knowledge from inside the security services.
I was interviewed by Newsnight for the piece, over a month ago. I presume some of this will be included. It remains a remarkable fact that Yakubov has not been debriefed by MI6, because the Uzbek security services are regarded as allies by the UK. The last thing the government wants is any official record of CIA involvement in torture (the intelligence from which will have been shared with MI6), or of Karimov’s ivolvement in the Andijan massacre, or in the death of Richard Conroy.
Yakubov has been granted political asylum in the UK, but last week he telephoned me to say he was being turfed out of his government provided accommodation and is now homeless.
Head of MI6 Sir John Scarlett has come out saying the UK is not complicit in torture. I can tell you from direct personal knowledge that the man is a lying.
That is, of course, hardly news. Scarlett was responsible for the dossier on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, which was a tissue of lies from beginning to end. Any sane journalist would treat him with ridicule and opprobrium as one of the most notorious liars in British history. Instead they afford him undue respect.
Not one of the government’s reponses has addressed the irrefutable evidence I gave to the Parliamentary joint committee. The extraordinary thing is that all the meetings I discussed were minuted and the minutes exist in the FCO. I released official documents referring to those meetings. If I were lying, the government would only have to release the minutes. This they refuse to do.
This is almost the first morning I have had time to sit down and really pay attention to a morning’s play in the Ashes. So far it has been pretty disastrous for England.
The last ball of the 20th over, Cook left a ball from Johnson that passed four inches outside his off stump. He is the only batsman who has shown any kind of judgement. Strauss, Bopara and Collingwood were all out playing at balls well outside the off stump which they should have left alone in the first few overs of a test match. That England’s top order should have some idea where their off stump is, seems to me not too much to ask of well paid professionals.
The Australian bowling has had the discipline which the English batting lacks. It has not been brilliant, and there has been little movement off the seam and little swing. The wicket looks like a belter and the skies are clearing completely. England should have been giving Australia’s four man attack a very hard day.
It is very difficult not to go into grumpy old man mode, and opine that an excess of childish cricket formats have lobotomised Test match temperament out of the English batsmen.
Cook has gone while I am typing. We have to hope that Stuart Broad’s career is going to follow the example of Bob Woolmer, who started as a bowler who could bat a bit, and ended up as a genuine Test opener.
Several people have emailed me to call my attention to this article in The Nation, which is well worth reading – I particularly recommend you to follow the links and read the affidavits themselves.
A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”
These remain allegations, though they are consistent with a general picture of Blackwater and its operations. Mercenaries are, after all, killers for hire. They are paid murderers, no matter how they try to glamorise themselves. That their leaders are ruthless individuals is a matter of course. Sadly, bringing anyone associated with the rape of Iraq to justice is viewed as undesirable by both the Democratic and Republican establishments, so I expect Mr Prince is safe to enjoy his money, his passion for killing and his neo-Templar fantasies.
Bill Clinton is to be congratulated on getting the two US journalists released from North Korea. The downside, of propaganda photos for Kim-Jong-Il, is worth it.
For British people, there is a contrast with our own government’s longstanding indifferent attitude to the plight of British prisoners and hostages abroad. I recall particularly the British men who were falsely imprisoned and tortured into confession by the Saudi government, which was seeking to cover up Islamic extremist bombings. The UK not only did not help them, but acted to protect their Saudi torturers against reprisals.
But I am also reminded of other photos of Clinton with a very dubious character which appeared recently.
Just why Clinton is posing with the appalling Gulnara Karimova is unclear. But it might well relate to the continued efforts by the Obama administration to improve relations with President Karimov of Uzbekistan. As reported here in March, the US has signed new treaties with Uzbekistan, on use of the country for land transit to US forces in Afghanistan.
President Obama’s Central Asian policy will prove the disaster which undermines the achievements of his administration. The surge in Afghanistan will not bring military victory, and rhe radicalisation in Pakistan increasingly spreads into urban populations. To compound this, Obama is now repeating Bush’s error of backing the vicious regimes of Soviet elites in the “Stans”
The long term evils of the drive for short term military gain in Afghanistan will haunt the West for generations.
The parliamentary joint committee on human rights has this morning published its report on UK complicity in torture. The headline is a call for a full public inquiry on the subject.
The most salient fact in the entire report does not feature prominently. Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson both refused to appear before the committee to answer the damning evidence given by witnesses, myself included.
Arguably, if we had a proper system of parliamentary accountability, the JCHR inquiry would have itself been the public inquiry they want. For ministers simply to refuse to appear speaks volumes for the government’s evasiveness on torture, and determination that the truth should not come out. The greatest danger of this is that individual MI5 and MI6 officers are under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for collusion with torture. We will end up with the Abu Ghraib result, with minions being jailed, while the politicians who authorised the torture policy get off scot free.
Not that I believe a public inquiry will achieve much – it will be yet another whitewash, like the John Chilcot Iraq “Inquiry” entirely consisting of safe establishment yes-men. But it would be a step on the way to public acknowledgement of the role of Straw and Blair in bringing back torture as an accepted tool of governance in the UK.
The Committee report might have been expected to be scathing about Johnson’s and Miliband’s refusal to give evidence. In fact the report spends far more time attacking me for the vigour of my efforts to give evidence:
Mr Murray was a convincing witness when he appeared before us and his allegations are supported by some documentary evidence. His credibility has not been enhanced by his somewhat bizarre dealings with the Committee, however. When he first approached us about giving oral evidence we asked him for a written memorandum, which is standard practice for select committees. His response was to publish a story on his blog entitled “Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Commission Struck By Cowardice” which alleged that we were consulting party whips about how to deter him from giving oral evidence.40 This
was entirely untrue, as our subsequent decision to ask him to give oral evidence, despite his
comments, demonstrated. In May, Mr Murray published further comments on his blog,
suggesting that our Chair was a “stooge” of the Uzbek regime and had somehow been
implicated in his dismissal as UK ambassador.41 Again, these comments are entirely
without substance and may only serve to damage Mr Murray’s credibility and reputation.
I have to say this smacks of desperation in an effort to discredit evidence which the Committee admits was both “Convincing” and backed by documentation. Whoever drafted this also uses the old tricks of misrepresentation. I never said the Committee was “Consulting party whips”. I said that New Labour whips were leaning on New Labour members of the Committee not to hear my evidence – that I know for certain is true. I tried to give the same evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2005 and was refused. The JHRC took three meetings spread over a month deciding whether to hear me. If we had not brought pressure, I should be quite clear that I do not believe that they would have called me.
As for Committee chair Andrew Dismore, I stand by my posting about Dismore, his links to the Uzbek Embassy and the speeches he has made in Parliament on Uzbekistan promoting the Uzbek government line.
I believe it was wrong of Dismore not to mention his links to the Uzbek Embassy in chairing the evidence session I gave. Interestingly the Committee’s carefully worded paragraph does not actually deny Dismore’s links to the Uzbek Embassy.
It amazes me that the Committee spent so little energy in decrying the refusal to testify of Johnson and Miliband, to cover up a policy of torture, and so much energy attacking me for comments about the committee on my blog. What a bunch of self-regarding political pygmies they are.
In fact, despite the de rigeur attack on Craig Murray’s credibility, my testimony forms part of the very weft of the whole report. Remove the sideswipe at me, and it is a very good report. In particular, no amount of rubbishing me could wish away the existence of the Michael Wood letter to me, giving the FCO’s legal endorsement of the use of torture material.
I leaked this classified document by publication to the internet over four years ago. It was instantly posted and mirrored by thousands of sites around the World, making it impossible to keep it secret. But this report published today is the first official acknowledgement of the existence of this document and first official attempt to come to terms with what it means. It also, of course, shatters the government’s argument that I am making it all up (a line Jack Straw still regularly deploys).
The Committee made excellent use of the Michael Wood letter:
Other key unpublished documents are copies of the relevant legal advice given to the
Government about the relevant human rights standards concerning torture and complicity
in torture. As we mentioned above, there is already in the public domain the
memorandum from the Senior Legal Adviser to the Foreign Office, Michael Wood, dated
13 March 2003, which says:
Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that
his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on
Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe
that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.
I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing
is Article 15 which provides [for the inadmissibility in evidence of any statement
which is established to have been made as a result of torture.].
This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement
established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as
89. We accept, as Professor Sands pointed out in his evidence to us, that this short memo
responding to a specific query should not be treated as a formal, fully reasoned legal advice.
However, we are concerned that this response from the Foreign Office’s most senior lawyer
makes no mention of the requirement in Article 4(1) UNCAT that States criminalise
“complicity or participation in torture”. As Professor Sands commented: “In a formal and
limited sense Mr Wood’s response is correct, but it seems not to address the issue in the
round. … there may be circumstances in which the receipt or possession of information
that has been obtained by torture may amount to complicity in torture, within the meaning
of Article 4(1).”
90. The memo from the Foreign Office Legal Adviser raises a number of important
questions. As Professor Sands also said in his evidence, it may well be that Sir Michael
Wood, other lawyers or the Law Officers address the meaning and effect of Article 4 of
UNCAT in other more reasoned opinions, but this memo does not address that and
therefore “it does not give a complete answer.”125 We do not know whether other, more
reasoned advices were given to ministers or to the intelligence and security services. It is
important, in our view, to ascertain whether the Government was ever advised as to the
possibility that systematic reliance on information which may have been obtained under
torture risks at some point crossing the line into complicity in torture for which the UK
would be responsible under the relevant legal standards.
While a public Inquiry would be useful, I believe the major part of the truth about our ministerially approved policy on the use of torture could simply be revealed by releasing the minutes of my meeting of 7 or 8 March 2003 with Sir Michael Wood, Linda Duffield and Matthew Kydd at which I was told of the policy. The top copy includes a manuscript note which makes plain that Jack Straw had ordered the meeting and gives his views. I suggested that the Committee call for this minute, but they do not seem to have done so.
A final point worth mentioning is the continued UK media blackout. I have given 17 media interviews on the Committee’s report so far. including to CNN, but they have almost all been foreign. Only LBC radio in the UK has interviewed me. Neither do I exist in any of the press reports except a brief mention in the Herald.