An FCO source warns me this morning that a vicious rearguard action is being fought within the FCO, to ensure that any government inquiry excludes my evidence and does not consider whether there was a policy of complicity with torture. Rather the security services wish it only to look at individual cases like Binyam Mohammed and assess compensation for them. The cover-up that these individual cases were accidents would be maintained.
I have now obtained under the Freedom of Information Act the final documents in the Tashkent series. These show beyond doubt that there was an official policy of obtaining intelligence through torture. I was, to the best of my knowledge, the only senior civil servant to enter a written objection to the policy of complicity with torture.
The picture built up by these documents is overwhelming and undeniable evidence of a policy of complicity in torture, even despite the censorship by government. The censorship has removed all mentions of the role of the CIA in procuring the torture intelligence from the Uzbek security services, and passing it on to MI6. Protection of the CIA appears to be the primary aim of the censor.
I set out below transcripts of the documents with a link to each document beneath.
TO IMMEDIATE FCO
OF 170345Z DECEMBER 02
INFO IMMEDIATE UKMIS NEW YORK, UKMIS GENEVA, UKDEL VIENNA
FOR PUS AND MICHAEL WOOD
FOR HEADS OF MISSION UKMIS NEW YORK, UKMIS GENEVA AND UKDEL VIENNA
SUBJECT: RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE PROBABLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE
This is useless, immoral and I believe illegal.
2. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture van Boven recently visited Uzbekistan. As a result of his investigation he described the use of torture by the Uzbek authorities as “widespread” and “systemic”. This accords with our own description of it as “endemic”. Suspected Islamic radicals are particularly often tortured – with increasing frequency to death.
3. I doubt the situation is much better in other Central Asian states. CENSORED
What safeguards are in place to ensure that we are not receiving, and potentially exposing Ministers to, intelligence obtained under torture?
5. Two thoughts occur. CENSORED
6. I would be grateful for the opinion of Sir Michael Wood on the legality in both international and UK domestic law of receiving material there are reasonable grounds to suspect was obtained under torture, and the position of both Ministers and civil servants in this regard.
TO IMMEDIATE TASHKENT
OF 241445Z DECEMBER 02
INFO IMMEDIATE UKMIS NEW YORK, UKMIS GENEVA, UKDEL VIENNA
YOUR TELNO 147
FROM WILLIAM EHRMANN (IN PUS’S ABSENCE)
SUBJECT: DEYOU: INTELLIGENCE PROBABLY RECEIVED UNDER TORTURE
I have consulted Michael Wood.
2. No-one is in any doubt that torture is endemic in Uzbekistan, as van Boven’s report testifies. Your suggestion that intelligence is extracted under torture is disturbing.
4. I do hope that this reassures you. If not, perhaps we can have a discreet conversation in the margins of the FCO Leadership Conference.
Manuscript Note: Matthew Kidd, CENSORED
Grateful for views from both CENSORED and Legal Advisers.
To Routine FCO
TELNO Misc 01
Of 220903 January 03
INFO ROUTINE UKMIS NEW YORK, UKMIS GENEVA, UKDEL VIENNA
FOR WILLIAM EHRMAN
Your relno 323
RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE PROBABLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE
1. Thank you for TUR. I apologise for not findng you at the Leadership Conference, but I had decided to drop this. What seemed to be a major concern seemed not a problem to others, and this caused me some self-doubt.
2. However I see that the Economist of 11 to 17 January devoted its front cover, a full page editorial and four whole pages of article to precisely the question I had raised. Reading a newspaper on the flight back here 12 January, I was astonished to find two pages of the Sunday Mail devoted to exactly the same concerns. Back in Tashkent, I find Human Rights Watch urging the US government not to extradite Uzbek detainees from Afghanistan back to Uzbekistan on the same grounds. All of which emboldens me to think I am in good company in my concern. These stories all quote US sources as indicating that the CIA is accepting intelligence obtained under torture by “allied” governments. As I already explained, I too believe that to be most probably true here.
You accept that torture of detainees in Uzbekistan is widespread. Redacted.
I can give you mounds of evidence on torture by the Uzbek security services, and I have et victims and their families. I have seen with my own eyes a respected elder break down in court as he recounted how his sons were tortured in front of him as he was urged to confess to links – I have no doubt entirely spurious – with Bin Laden. Redacted.
6. I am worried about the legal position. I am not sure that a wilful blindness to how material is obtained would be found a valid defence in law to the accusation of having received material obtained under torture. My understanding is that receiving such material would be both a crime in UK domestic law and contrary to international law. Is this true? I would like a direct answer on this.
8. The methods of the Uzbek intelligence services are completely beyond the pale. Torture including pulling out of fingernails, electrocution through genitals, rape of dependants, immersion in boiling liquid – is becoming common, and I weigh those words very carefully. CENSORED.
DG DEFINT 1
From: Linda Duffield
Date: 10 March 2003
cc: Michael Wood, Legal Adviser
Matthew Kidd CENSORED
SUBJECT: UZBEKISTAN; INTELLIGENCE POSSIBLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE
1. Michael Wood, Matthew Kidd and I had a meeting with Craig Murray (Me, British Ambassador to Tashkent) to discuss his telegram (Tashkent Telno Misc 01).
I said you had asked me to discuss this with Craig personally in view of the sensitive nature of the issues involved.
2. Craig said his concerns had been prompted by a presentation to the Uzbek authorities by Professor Korff (OSCE Adviser) on the UN Convention on Torture. Craig said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the Convention to receive or to possess information obtained under torture. He asked for clarification on this. Michael Wood replied that he did not believe that possession of information was in itself an offence, but undertook to re-read the Convention and to ensure that Craig had a reply on this particular point.
3. I gave Craig a copy of your revised draft telegram (attached) and took him through this. I said that he was right to raise with you and Ministers (Jack Straw) his concerns about important legal and moral issues. We took these very seriously and gave a great deal of thought to such issues ourselves. There were difficult ethical and moral issues involved and at times difficult judgements had to be made weighing one clutch of “moral issues” against another. It was not always easy for people in post (embassies) to see and appreciate the broader picture, eg piecing together intelligence material from different sources in the global fight against terrorism. But that did not mean we took their concerns any less lightly.
5. After Michael Wood and Matthew Kidd had left, Craig and I had a general discussion about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and the difficulties of pushing for a Resolution in Geneva, which we both agreed was important.
6. In conclusion, Craig said that he was grateful for the decision to discuss these issues with me personally. At the end of the day he accepted, as a public servant, that these were decisions for Ministers to take, whether he agreed with them or not. If it ever reached the stage where he could not accept such a decision, then the right thing to do would be to request a move. But he was certainly not there yet. He had fed in his views. You and Ministers had decided how to handle this question. He accepted that and would now go back to Tashkent and “Get on with the job”.
7. I think it was right to see him. I am not sure this is the end of the issue (or correspondence), but it was a frank and amicable discussion and Craig appears to be making efforts to balance his work on human rights with other FCO objectives. We shall, of course, be reviewing these again once he has produced his post objectives for the upcoming year.
Director Wider Europe
Last night the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw) read a copy of your minute of 10 March reporting your conversation (in the company of Michael Wood and Matthew Kidd) with Craig Murray.
The Foreign Secretary agrees with the PUS that you handled this very well. He has asked me to thank you.
(Assistant Private Secretary to Jack Straw)
14 March 2003
FROM: Michael Wood,
Matthew Kidd, WLD
UZBEKISTAN: INTELLIGENCE POSSIBLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE
1. 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 Convention to receive or possess information obtained under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.
2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing is article 15 which provides:
“Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made”.
3. This does not create any offence. I woud expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.
Signed M C Wood
Nobody can, on a critical reading through the above documents, doubt that there was a deliberate and considered UK government policy of receiving intelligence from torture, and that it had the support of Jack Straw.
The large scale censorship of the documents does not succeed in obscuring this. My favourite bit of censorship is from para 5 of my first telegram above:
“Two thoughts occur. CENSORED”
Quite right, of course. There is nothing so dangerous as one of my thoughts, but two? Thank God the government have censored and protected the public from me.
This blog has passed the 100,000 unique visitors in a month mark in June. It certainly works as a motivator. I remember being happy when we were getting 10,000.
I don’t have any difficulty in believing that the FBI really have discovered a colony of Russian sleeper spies in the United States.
Spying is an industry. Most of its activity is pointless, counter-productive and misdirected. Those employed in it have the strongest urge to strengthen and perpetuate their own industry. They are, worldwide, shielded from public scrutiny of their efficiency, and it is easy to persuade politicians to dole out more and more funds. Politicians are flattered to see papers marked “Top Secret” and their vanity is stoked by knowing about things happening that the public is not allowed to know about. It gives them a feeling of power.
But the extraordinary question is why the FBI would, after years of surveillance, pull the plug exactly now? A spy ring you have under complete surveillance and whose communications you have decoded is the most valuable asset imaginable. Simply think what could be learnt of Russia’s intentions towards the US from decoded instructions to these agents over the years. Think what “traitors” may have been revealed, with whom agents may have been asked to make contact. Why on earth would this priceless asset be thrown away?
Of course, for the long term future of their industry, spies are heavily dependent on the perception of an “enemy”. Perhaps there was concern that the perception of a viable enemy was slipping, so anti-Russian public and political sentiment needed to be stoked. Spies, of course, are not the only ones whose livelihood depends upon poor relations with an “enemy”. Obama’s pursuit of arms reduction negotiations with Medvedev is worrying the defence industry, Now what might cause domestic political problems for arms reduction negotiations with Russia?