Lib Dem Ministers Complicit in Torture 132

Nothing has changed. Under the Lib/Con coalition, MI6 continue to receive intelligence obtained through torture abroad, and Lib Dem ministers will be seeing intelligence obtained from hellish torture chambers in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and numerous other capitals.

That was plain from yesterday’s speech by MI6 head John Sawers – despite the near unanimous complicity of the mainstream media in forwarding the smokescreen of anti-torture spin.

But it is a thin smokescreen indeed. These are Sawers’ key words:

“Suppose we received credible intelligence that might save lives, here or abroad. We have a professional and moral duty to act on it. We will normally want to share it with those who can save those lives.”

Sir John said the UK’s security service had a duty to ensure any partner service would respect human rights but admitted this was “not always straightforward”.

He said: “Yet if we hold back and don’t pass that intelligence, out of concern that a suspect terrorist may be badly treated, innocent lives may be lost that we could have saved.

“These are not abstract questions just for philosophy courses or searching editorials, they are real, constant operational dilemmas. Sometimes there is no clear way forward. The more finely-balanced judgments have to be made by ministers themselves.”

Now parse that very carefully. It says we do receive intelligence from torture, and we know we do. It says this happens all the time – “real constant

operational dilemmas” – and that the decisions to receive intelligence from torture have specifically been approved by ministers. That means Lib Dem ministers are complicit in this policy.

As a former member of the FCO senior management structure I can tell you for certain that Sawers’ speech will have been cleared with William Hague and with Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem so-called human rights minister, who as I pointed out just yesterday made a speech on foreign policy to the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool devoid of any liberal sentiment and almost devoid of any reference to human rights.

The policy of obtaining – constantly, as John Sawers says – intelligence from torture abroad is precisely the same as that I protested about under New Labour, which protest led to the end of my career. Everything in the documents I have published is precisely consistent with the policy Sawers enumerates now.

The truth about torture is poor Mr Avazov, who was boiied alive (quite literally) in the Jaslyk torture chambers in Uzbekistan.


It is the old man I met who had his children tortured before his eyes until he admitted false family ties with al-Qaida. It is the woman raped with the broken bottle, It is the lady who lived opposite me whose father was blinded as a political prisoner, and who was held down while a truck was run over her legs. All of that and thousands more did not stop the government, despite my profound objections as Ambassador, from accepting intelligence from the Uzbek torture chambers via the CIA.

John Sawers relies on the “ticking bomb” fallacy – the idea that torture happens to real terrorists and they give precise timely information to avert an imminent threat. That is a Hollywood scenario. There has never ever been a real life example that meets the ticking bomb cliche.

We encourage torture, we create a market for it, by accepting its fruits. The regimes who pass us this intelligence know we accept it, and they feel supported and reinforced in their abuse of human rights. Why would they take Western rhetoric seriously on human rights when they know we lap up the products of their torture chamber?

Remember the torturers are not altruists but agents of very nasty regimes. The information passed to us by those regimes is not for our good, but for the good of those regimes – and normally to convince us that the opponents of those regimes are all terrorists, whether true or not. In Uzbekistan, every bit of intelligence we could verify from the Embassy, eg on terrorist training camps in named locations in the hills, turned out to be untrue. Yet the intelligence services lapped up the Uzbek information because it greatly exaggerated the strength of al-Qaida in Central Asia, thus providing a spurious justification for our support of Central Asian dictators, whose help we wanted for our Afghan policy and for access to their hydrocarbons.

Torture does not get you the truth. It gets you what the torturer wants to hear. People will say anything, as their arm is held in boiling liquid, to make the pain stop. The regimes who do this do not hold truth as a high priority.

The torture material regularly received by the UK government is from countries where the vast, overwhelming majority of the people tortured are not terrorists at all but merely dissidents from abhorrent regimes. I speak from first hand knowledge.

Sawers sets up a number of Aunt Sallies. We do not torture ourselves or ask for people to be tortured. We do not hand people over to be tortured – but he omits to mention that the CIA, who share all intelligence with MI6, do. His speech is ridden with hypocrisy and should be deplored.

I was most happy to have had the chance to speak in the Lib Dem conference debate on UK complicity in torture. If Jeremy Browne had an honest bone in his pusillanimous body, given the policy he is following in office, he and other Lib Dem Minsters would have opposed the motion. Instead they are pursuing a directly opposite policy hidden behind precisely the same obfuscations used by New Labour.

I accuse Nick Clegg of complicity in torture. I am beginning to wonder whether the man has any connection to liberalism at all.

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132 thoughts on “Lib Dem Ministers Complicit in Torture

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  • Courtenay Barnett

    Duplicity at its best compliments of Sawyer and co. – M16:-

    “He said his organisation faced “real, constant operational dilemmas” to avoid using intelligence which had been gathered by torture.”

    ( Read: we don’t like it and see it as abhorent….but)

    He also said secrecy was “not a dirty word” and played “a crucial part in keeping Britain safe and secure”.

    ( So, we will accept the torture information, and turn a blind eye, on the pretext that it serves a useful purpose of ensuring “safety” but we can’t tell you about it – because it is a “secret”.)

  • Njegos

    Hey, has anyone noticed the silence of Loser Larry of St. Louis?

    What’s wrong Larry? Is the photo making you puke? Didn’t you know who your government is in bed with?

  • somebody

    Terrrrrrrrr alert. John Reid lives. An expert (not Frank Gardner this time) has just said ‘Al Quida* go in for mass murder. This is something different.’

    The word Yemen is being mentioned endlessly. Live pictures from Newark and Philadelphia and E Midlands Airport.

    Be prepared for some USUKIs nonsense in the offing.

    *I can’t spell Alki Ada today

    PS It was not a bomb we are told. A suspicious package was found on a flight from Yemen to Chicago which stopped off at E Midlands airport. A toner cartridge us being spoken of!!

  • Joe

    It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The torture does not simply benefit the brutal regimes, it benefits the British government and the back-room boys in White Hall because it provides ‘evidence’ for the ‘reality’ of a ‘terrorist threat’. This phony threat is then used to consolidate government control over the British people. The exact same strategy is being used, on an even larger scale, by the CIA.

  • Charles Crawford


    Hmm, torture and vile regimes again. Let’s recall one vast example.

    I have just returned from a Mass of Reparation in Buckinghamshire recalling the fates of thousands of Slovenes who were sent back to Slovenia by British forces as WW2 ended, to be murdered en masse by Tito’s communists. A young officer Harold Macmillan featured prominently in that horrifying episode.

    It still is not clear what motivated the British officers involved. Although it is impossible to believe on the facts of what happened, maybe they genuinely thought that they were doing the right thing – Tito had been fighting the Nazis, as had Stalin. Churchill indeed famously sat down with Stalin, one of the greatest killers and villains in history, to negotiate post-war political issues. Was he wrong to do so?

    In all your voluminous writings on the subject of torture as you rail against the status quo, you rarely if ever tell us what you think Western governments actually ought to do.

    Your own record as HM Ambassador in Uzbekistan was at best ambiguous. You boast in your book about how many Ministers from this regime you entertained at taxpayers’ expense. You seemed to think that by patient (and as necessary firm) diplomatic means you could get them to change their ways or at least pursue UK commercial interests. But above all you engaged with them as they were. What would you have advocated in the way we dealt with Uzbekistan had the Iraq invasion NOT happened?

    This is exactly what Sir J Sawers said yesterday. When it comes to protecting the public HMG needs to engage with people and regimes we all dislike, perhaps especially with people and regimes we dislike. What’s your precise alternative?

    What would you DO if you were a LibDem Minister who is given a GCHQ intelligence intercept from a foreign regime reporting a likely terrorist attack in London based on interrogating a suspect? You fear that that suspect has been tortured by the regime. Do you nonetheless decide to do nothing, in effect ordering the UK police and MI5 not to act on that report (or even try to verify it)? If that terrorist attack which we might have prevented happens, and 50 people are killed, what is your political and personal responsibility then?

    Just for the record, the way you ‘parsed’ the Sawers speech is trivially dishonest. You say: “It says we do receive intelligence from torture, and we know we do. It says this happens all the time – “real constant operational dilemmas” – and that the decisions to receive intelligence from torture have specifically been approved by ministers. That means Lib Dem ministers are complicit in this policy.” Literally none of that follows from what Sir John said. Feeble.

  • tony_opmoc


    Keep At It Craig.

    You are a Fucking Hero.

    I will now try and ban myself again from your website, so I don’t post complete bollocks when I am pissed…

    I think I did it in my hosts file last time…But I had to re-install it – cos I had been hacked to fuck and had $10,000 + $1,000 + $100 stolen…

    I eventually got all the money back, and can’t believe it was an amateur job.

    An amateur would have stolen odd amounts.


    This made me really fucking angry, and I think America is now lost to The Fascists…

    I will fuck off now



  • somebody

    From the ‘blogoir’ of the pretentious Charles Crawford.

    Sir John Sawers, Chief Of MI6

    The Limits of Diplomacy, Civilisation and its Enemies, The Art of Diplomacy, Democracy = Hard Choices, Speech and Other Writing

    28th October 2010

    Disclosure note: John Sawers and I have known each other since we worked together in South Africa in the twlight years of apartheid.


  • Suhayl Saadi

    Charles Crawford, it is ongoing systemic policies pursued by big powers over many decades that actually create and fuel wars and extremism. This dynamic is in the interests of the wealthy elites of which the arms industry is an important part – but there are many other, sometimes competing, sometimes aligned, interests in the complex architectures that swirl around and that often remain subject to insufficient governance. It’s fine for you to posit a tactical situation – namely that ‘we have to deal with the situation as it is’ – but when ‘we’ have had a large part in creating that situation and when ‘we’ profit enormously from its continuation, perhaps it would be more apt to direct the critical spotlight at strategic matters.

    Of course, the bare truism is, the affairs of/ between states are amoral. The rest is a necessary persiflage and/or the machinations of tactical advantage.

    The pursuit of narrow self-interest by these elites simply creates larger problems for the future – surely the history of C20th (and of most other centuries) teaches us this. They don’t give a damn, of course. Ordinary people are fodder to them.

    Portraying the British Empire as having a clean pair of hands – wrt WW2, etc. – is also somewhat disengenuous.

  • Roderick Russell

    Truly these are horrible pictures and one wonders how western governments can have anything to do with the perpetrators of such revolting tortures. As Craig says ?” “Nick Clegg – I am beginning to wonder whether the man has any connection to liberalism at all.”

    Yet is this fair to Mr. Clegg; are not most politicians equally culpable? When push comes to shove, how many politicians do you know who will put principle before self interest?

    It seems to me that most politicians as a class of people have an uncanny ability to sift information and quite genuinely ignore that which is inconvenient to themselves. Some might call this character trait hypocrisy. Yet I think politicians have a talent for fooling themselves as much as they lie to their electorate. George Orwell defined this so succinctly: DOUBLETHINK ?” “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    A former Uzbek intelligence officer who claims President Islam Karimov personally ordered massacres.

    “When I worked inside Karimov’s government, I’ve seen a lot of illegal things, terrible things, horrible things,” the 27-year-old Yakubov tells RFE/RL. “How they are creating accusations [against] people; how they are killing, murdering people, simple people, simple believers in Islam; how they are creating fear among the population.”

  • Anonymous

    I am in full agreement with Charles Crawford, no matter how cruel and unjust the torturers are, if there is some hypothetical chance of them helping us avoid attacks from terrorists, we should secretly cooperate with them.

  • technicolour

    Double think: Charles Crawford protesting on the one hand that Craig’s analysis of the speech is wrong (and ‘feeble’) while simultaneously arguing the case for it.

    What if, indeed. I would have expected a former diplomat to argue for a government policy of *never* accepting information gained from torture. The people I know still inside the system would be pretty grateful for one, certainly.

  • nextus

    Re Charles’s contrived hypothetical torture ‘intelligence’ dilemma, Sawers said:

    “If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we’re required by UK and international law to avoid that action. And we do, even though that allows the terrorist activity to go ahead.”

    So he’s not quite as sanguine as Charles about torturing people on a pretext, at least in public.

    “Sometimes there is no clear way forward. The more finely balanced judgments have to be made by ministers themselves.”

    Even with the fear-mongering and obfuscation, Sawers is admitting that the UK is supposed to be answerable for its actions, even where ‘national security’ is at stake, and that ministers must bear responsibility for decisions which are not mandated by policy. But they never do. That’s where the secrecy cloak comes in handy. Although it’s ostensibly designed to protect good sources, it also conveniently covers up bad ‘intelligence’ and misjudgement. So we all get to thank the government for protecting us from things like sugar, shampoo and toner cartridges, while the torturers who tipped us off about the threats are reassured that their twisted practices will never be exposed. And the ministers who bear responsibility for these tough decisions are beyond reproach, because it was all in the national interest.

    The moral reasoning is so contorted we really should be deeply concerned about the kind of people running the country … people like the compliant LibDems.

  • Charles Crawford

    Come on, Craig commenters, you can do better than this.

    Try reading John Sawers’ speech, not just Craig’s lame interpretation of it. Craig oddly does not cite this passage:

    “Torture is illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances, and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

    If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we’re required by UK and international law to avoid that action. And we do, even though that allows the terrorist activity to go ahead.

    Some may question this, but we are clear that it’s the right thing to do. It makes us strive all the harder to find different ways, consistent with human rights, to get the outcome we want.”

    So there it is. MI6 do what you want. They err on the side of allowing terrorist activity to proceed. Happy now?

    By the way, talking of torture I attended the three funerals of the Polish victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings:

    And I worked hard on the ground to support all sorts of anti-apartheid township activists in South Africa to help end apartheid, as did John Sawers. There I met the relatives and friends of people murdered and tortured by the apartheid regime and ANC/SACP alike.

    Just don’t take Craig’s self-publicising lamentations as the only serious evidence available of British diplomatic engagement with these issues at the moral and operational sharp end.

  • writerman

    I feel for Craig, and I hope that doesn’t sound patronising. To see many of one’s most closely held hopes… the hope of substantive change… dashed, isn’t particularly amusing. The idea that people one trusted, like the LibDem leadership, where really false, and just lkke everyone else in mainstream politics, once they achieve positions of power and responsibility; is dishartening conclusion to come to. I suppose it breaks one’s heart in a way.

    The fundamental problem with the Libdems is that when they were distant from real power, they had the ‘luxury’ to say an awful lot about a lot of things, and none of it really mattered. It was, a free ride for them.

    Perhaps there really is something about power that does corrupt people. Compromise, and realism, seem such reasonable concepts, yet they can hide a mulititude of sins, and corpses.

    The reason these politicians seem to use the same language and appear so similar, is because… they are so similar, when they accept the titles and contrainsts of their alloted roles in the state apparatus. They don’t really change the nature of the state, the nature of the state changes them, and for obvious reasons.

    In my opinion we are seeing the systematic dismantling of liberal, bourgeois, democracy; much of the blame should be laid at the door of the liberal class, who haven’t challenged the drift towards totalitarianism sufficiently. Now that the traditional working class has been crushed by the restructuring of the economy, the liberals are going to find that’s it now their turn, only now they are going to find themselves very alone facing a harsh word that now sees them as expendible and irrelevant too.

    This sounds fatalistic. It’s not meant to be. I think we are moving towards a new form of ‘fuedalism.’ A radically reconfigured society and economy. One of the key concepts in fuedalism was fear and the necessity of finding a protector that, for a price, was willing to do the protecting. This was the ‘social contract’ that existed between the military class of knights and the peasantry.

    This reminds me of the current state of affairs between our military protectors and the threat of terrorism, a neo-fuedal bargain raising its head. Coupled with the retreat of the wealthy behind their castle walls, one can see the outline of a very different form of society waiting over the horizon.

  • Clark

    Charles Crawford,

    you ask Craig for his alternative, but he has already demonstrated it in Uzbekistan. Just think of how much pressure could be brought to bear, if all the diplomats from the countries that supposedly oppose torture stood up for truth and principle, as Craig did, and were supported by their governments in doing so.

    If dictators torture their citizens, and our government support the torturers, do you think that makes terrorist recruitment more or less likely? Which should concern us more, one hypothetical ticking bomb, or the number of potential bomb makers?

  • nextus

    Err … Charles, I think you’re missing the point about spin and doubletalk, dear. Craig is teasing out clues that they don’t in fact mean what they say. The speech is riddled with implicit contradictions.

    But it’s good to see you were supporting worthwhile causes back in the days when you were mentally sharp.

  • Clark

    Charles Crawford,

    our posts crossed. Your argument might have some credibility if we saw US / UK governments clearly opposed to torture, but we see the opposite – Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition flights, Abu Ghraib, Craig sacked and smeared, etc.

    A decision needs to be made. States must be told that we will no longer accept the “confessions” that they extract under torture. Anything less amounts to an undisclosed POLICY of approval.

  • MJ

    “They err on the side of allowing terrorist activity to proceed. Happy now?”

    Err, no. The passage you quote is the bit that was shown on every channel; we heard it, no need to read it. It’s what’s known as a soundbite, to keep everyone happy. In the meantime the torture continues and there’s no sign of it stopping.

    writerman: spot on. Thanks.

  • Alfred

    It is not terrorism that justifies torture, but torture that validates the terrorist threat, and it is the terrorist threat that provides the justification for wars of aggression and the trashing of age-old civil rights. The threat, we are to understand, is so extreme that our benevolent leaders have no choice but to be reliant on evidence from the torture chambers of tyrants.

    But the leadership of western democracies is not only evil, it is incompetent. We are witnessing an economic collapse engineered by a global financial oligarchy, and the collapse cannot be averted by replacing the Tweedledees by the TweedleDems (or by inciting the rabble to riot because, Vodafone, a British-based multi-national has done what any competently managed company must do, which is to minimize its tax liability).

    The real issues to which attention must be directed are: loss of national sovereignty, mass unemployment, deindustrialization, destruction of scientific and technological competence, and the destruction of ancient rights and freedoms.

    Real solutions are: the reassertion of independence; a guarantee of employment at a living wage to every adult prepared to work and a new Bill of Rights (

    Sovereignty and independence for Britain will require withdrawal from NATO and the EU and the removal of foreign military bases from British soil.

    Employment for all can be guaranteed by some version of a reverse income tax, which makes it worthwhile to obtain employment at any wage down to a penny an hour. That way, those who are now fed, housed and clothed at public expense, will be usefully employed at an expense to the public that is no greater and likely much less than at present. In Britain, workers will then be fully competitive with those in Asia, entrepreneurs will have the competitively-priced workforce necessary to rebuild those great industries in which Britain once led the World, and scientists and engineers will again find opportunities to apply their knowledge and ingenuity.

    A modern Bill of Rights must reaffirm the right of habeus corpus, guarantee a free press, criminalize torture and complicity in torture, constrain government secrecy and make enjoyment of the freedom of information as simple as searching the Web. All government business is public business and should be available with few exceptions public scrutiny.

  • Clark


    “…the nature of the state changes them”.

    Macrocosm determines microcosm. The politicians are bent to the will of the system, just as cells are bent to the functioning of an organism. The problem appears to be structural – you can replace many of the component people, but the problem remains.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    I think that eventually, as wages rise elsewhere, it will even out. Chinese workers already demand highre pay – strikes, etc. – so China has been outsourcing to Vietname et al for some years. I really wish the UK had kept its steel, shipbuilding, mining, etc. I think the UK needs to really seriously invest in manufacturing/ high tech sector and do what Brits have always been good at – pioneering, inventing, etc. – but BACK those people insetad of suppressing them so they have to go to the USA/ Canada, etc. to allow their inventions/. ideas to be fully exploited (in the positive sense). We need to reduce our reliance on the service sector and esp. on the City of London/ Wall St. This takes time. Skill loss is difficult to claw back. But it can be done. It requires the will and the action by politicians at the highest level. A different philosophy and a different set of allegiances than is possessed by those Tweddledums whom you mentiomed.

  • Clark


    In the case of sonic attack survival means

    “Every man for himself”

    Statistically more people survive if they think only of themselves

    Do not attempt to rescue friends, relatives, loved ones

    You have only a few seconds to escape

    Use those seconds sensibly or you will inevitably die

    Think only of yourself

    Think only of yourself

    Do not panic

    Think only of yourself

    Think only of yourself

    Michael Moorcock, Hawkwind, 1981.

  • Alfred

    Good grief, Suhayl, how can you be against the right of every adult to employment at a living wage?

    “I think that eventually, as wages rise elsewhere, it will even out.”

    Yeah, this will happen when the west is ruined and our industrial and technological competence has been destroyed.

    Twenty years ago, when Jimmy Goldsmith warned of the destruction of western industry through globalization, Asians wages were three percent of those in the West. Now they’re all of 4 or 5%. In the Chery car plant, workers receive 68 US cents an hour. Now they’ve reorganized, GM are probably still paying over $50.00 an hour including fringe benefits.

    “I really wish the UK had kept its steel, shipbuilding, mining, etc.”

    But how could they in a free trade world where Indians work for essential noting, by our standards.

    “I think the UK needs to really seriously invest in manufacturing/ high tech sector”

    What would be the point? The Chinese have ten, twenty, thirty times as many brains working for a fraction of what our scientific and technical sector workers are currently paid. BYD, who make more than half the World’s lithium ion batteries have a research campus with ten thousand engineers. They recruit many of the best from the best of China’s great technological universities. These very bright young people live on a company campus and work very long hours. Mr. Wang, the company’s CEO lives on campus. Of those hired, half are let go by the end of their first year.

    There’s no way a western nation can compete with that without massive tariffs, or subsidies. A negative income tax is the most rational approach, it does not cost, it saves money, while it leaves entrepreneurs and markets to work unfettered.

    As for “those people insetad of suppressing them so they have to go to the USA/ Canada, etc. to allow their inventions… ”

    LOL. The real US unemployment rate is 22% and is particularly high among those with science and technology degrees.

    “Skill loss is difficult to claw back. But it can be done.”

    Not unless you can offer those with skills a job.

  • Alfred


    “Statistically more people survive if they think only of themselves

    Do not attempt to rescue friends, relatives, loved ones

    You have only a few seconds to escape…”

    That’s why we need a guaranteed right to work. It ends the panic and fear that makes it possible for a totalitarian monster to crawl from the gutter.

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