Diplomacy, Dictatorship and the Uses of Torture 126


There is a major profile of me in the latest Der Spiegel.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,724471,00.html

It is slightly overdrawn in its desire to paint a contrast between Ambassador Neuen and I, but is not unfair. Where it is wrong is its easy acceptance of the false dichotomy: is it better to suck up to a dictator and gain quiet influence over him, or to take a moral high stand but have no influence?

The mistake is in believing that crawling to a dictatorial regime makes them respect you. In fact the diplomatic cringe posture only enhances the super bloated ego and confidence of power of Karimov and his minions. They perceive diplomatic circumspection as weakness, and they despise the weak.

Remember, the senior officials of the Karimov regime have not encountered a single person — except Karimov himself – who dared to speak to them roughly, for decades. Almost everyone they meet, they have the power to have killed. Let me say that again so it sinks in. Almost everyone they meet, they have the power to have killed. They do have people killed, not infrequently.

The example given in the Der Spiegel article of forcing diplomats to wait for three hours in baking 105 degree heat – quite deliberately – for a ceremony to start, is not a major thing in itself, but is a demonstration of contempt.

By taking a different, robust and forceful approach, I shocked the Karimov regime and I simultaneously gave them world exposure they really didn’t like. In consequence I had far more influence with them – they hated me, but could not ignore me. When the British government moved to remove me, every single British company in Uzbekistan wrote to Jack Straw to protest, stating in terms that I was the most effective Ambassador for British interests. You will find the letters in Murder in Samarkand.

British influence evaporated when the British government made plain to Karimov I did not have their support for a strong line. Britain has had no influence ever since. On your knees is not a position of influence.

Diplomacy is also on my mind with relation to torture. Two former British Ambassadors, Brian Barder and Charles Crawford, have both attacked my analysis of the recent speech of John Sawers, head of MI6. Sawers’ speech was a defence of torture thinly disguised as a condemnation of torture.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2010/10/lib_dem_ministe.html#comments

I will not waste much time on Charles Crawford, whose efforts are less of a blog and more a public exhibition of Attention Deficit Disorder. But Brian Barder is in an altogether different class, and his views merit further consideration.

http://www.barder.com/2934

Brian makes an argument that I have juxtaposed quotes from Sawers’ speech which were not actually next to each other. He claims that Sawers does not say that we receive intelligence from torture, or that Ministers have approved it.

Brian is talking total rubbish, To quash these accusations of misrepresentation, this is an unedited extract from Sawers’ speech:

“We also have a duty to do what we can to ensure that a partner service will respect human rights. That is not always straightforward.

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 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.”

There is no doubt that this means that we receive intelligence from torture by other security services, and that this is decided by Ministers. It can mean nothing else. Especially if you consider the background given here.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2010/06/proof_of_compli.html

Of course, Sawers carefully does not use the “T” word here and only uses it in a passage condemning torture, passed to and swallowed by our complacent media. That is precisely the dishonesty which so annoys me.

The curious thing is that both Brian and Charles, like Sawers, are enthusiastic supporters of the argument that we ought to get intelligence from torture by others. As Brian says:

“For the record, there is no legal, moral, ethical or practical ban on scrutinising information, and where appropriate acting on it, regardless of the way it has originally been obtained or is suspected to have been obtained.”

Let us state the points where I agree with Brian. I accept that MI6 does not torture people. I accept that MI6 does not specifically hand over people to be tortured, request that detainees are tortured, or observe torture.

But Brian completely fails to take account of the UK/US intelligence sharing agreement. Under this. MI6 and the CIA share all intelligence. The Americans do all the things in the above list. Waterboarding and other physical tortures are just one part of the American arsenal. Under extraordinary rendition, hundreds were knowingly delivered up to torture. I have received direct eye witness evidence of CIA staff physically present at torture sessions in Uzbekistan. As Brian knows, MI6 will have received every US intelligence report received from all this activity. And there are numerous examples of MI6 staff assisting the CIA in getting suspects into the extraordinary rendition system. As Brian knows, the human intelligence reports circulating Whitehall are perhaps three to one CIA not MI6 sourced – but the CIA reports in London have been processed and issued through MI6. How does this affect the “Clean Hands” claims Brian accepts from Sawers.

But the fatal flaw in Brian’s – and Sawers’ argument is the frankly pathetic notion that, by regularly and gratefully receiving intelligence from dictatorships which they obtained by torture, we do not condone or encourage torture. Brian hides behind the “ticking bomb” argument that falsely posits that intelligence from torture is rare and relates to an instant and preventable threat. Brian has simply not answered this entire section of my article:

“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.”

PerhapsBrian would like to answer it now.

Lastly, I am genuinely very saddened to see Brian joining in the smears against me with this:

The author of this scurrilous piece is in some danger of being taken seriously, being (as he constantly reminds us all) a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who has achieved a certain fame through having insisted, I believe wrongly, that he was sacked from the Diplomatic Service for criticising the practice of torture by the Uzbek authorities and for having repeatedly denounced his own government for receiving, and sometimes acting on, information from the Americans but originating with the Uzbeks, some of which may well have been obtained by torture. He certainly did both these things, with characteristic gusto, but he was eased out of the Diplomatic Service ?” to put it politely ?” for other reasons.

Forget politeness Brian. I have no doubt you have been fed poison from some FCO related source. The best thing with poison is to spew it up.

A final point. The main object of my original post was to start some debate within the Lib Dem blogosphere. Yet no Lib Dem blogger has come forward to defend our ministers. I am not sure many activists currently see some of them as worth defending.

If after reading Brian’s harrumphing you need an antidote, there is an excellent article on Sawers’ pro-torture diatribe here:

http://www.septicisle.info/index.php?q=/2010/10/stepping-out-of-shadows-while-wanting.html


126 thoughts on “Diplomacy, Dictatorship and the Uses of Torture

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  • dreoilin

    “The US has a history of advocating these practices. Given Britain’s close relationship with the US, Britain should be scrutinised for its complicity. This is particularly pressing in light of work by Darius Rejali which shows that numerous states, Britain and America included, have collaborated in the development and diffusion of torture practices, particularly those that leave no permanent physical marks. There are clear hints of torture being institutionally condoned by Britain, through the presence of MI5 agents in the interrogations of British citizens, later transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and the abuse of detainees in Iraq.

    “Strikingly similar techniques to those advocated in the leaked manuals were used by the British against IRA suspects in the 1970s. Known as the “five techniques”, (sleep deprivation, hooding, subjecting to noise, food and drink deprivation, and “wall standing” or stress positions), they were deemed inhuman and degrading, and therefore illegal, by the European Court of Human Rights. The British government outlawed them, declaring that “the ‘five techniques’ will not in any circumstances be reintroduced as an aid to interrogation”. Yet the new manuals show they are again a feature of British military practice. In a sleight of hand, by stating that “Torture is an absolute no no”, the manuals imply that these inhuman and degrading techniques are, somehow, legitimate. They fail to remind their staff that under British and international law, these techniques are absolutely prohibited.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/nov/03/british-troops-use-torture

  • nextus

    dazed & confused: “Incidentally, with regard to the discussion on Andijan, I would be interested to be pointed in the direction of any published sources Uzbek and Nextus have for their conclusions about the motivation of the Chinese and Russians in the area.”

    “The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia” by Lutz Kleveman (London: Atlantic books, 2003; 2nd edn 2004)

    It obviously doesn’t cover the Andijan massacre, but it does give the political background to it, in particular the historic power struggle between the superpowers for natural resources and pipeline routes. The book is essential reading, at only 7 quid. Consult Kleveman’s summary in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2003/oct/20/oil

    Matteo Tacconi’s article of the same title on the ResetDoc site gives a more up-to-date analysis. (I’m sorry I can’t give direct links due to blogware restrictions.)

    For the politics surrounding the Andijan event itself, read George Monbiot’s web article “Tony Blair’s New Friend”. An excerpt:

    “Uzbekistan, as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq once was, is seen by the US government as a key western asset. Since 1999, US special forces have been training Karimov’s soldiers. [… ] Uzbekistan is in the middle of central Asia’s massive gas and oil fields. It is a nation for whose favours both Russia and China have been competing. [… ]

    “Far from seeking to isolate his regime, the US government has tripled its aid to Islam Karimov. Last year, he received $500 million, of which $79 million went to the police and intelligence services, who are responsible for most of the torture. While the US claims that its engagement with Karimov will encourage him to respect human rights, like Saddam Hussein he recognises that the protection of the world’s most powerful government permits him to do whatever he wants. Indeed, the US State Department now plays a major role in excusing his crimes.”

    For a pertinent summary of the Uzbek politics at the time of the Andijan uprising, see Angelique van Engelen’s “International Condemnation of Uzbek Killings” on Global Politician.

    Alfred said: “Only if you argue that the war in Central Asia is of vital importance to the US and its allies can you discuss the multi-dimensionality of the question of how to treat a stinking tyrant like Karimov”.

    Indeed, Alfred. Uzbekistan wasn’t merely a convenient staging post for the Iraq assault; it’s of major strategic importance for economic reasons. Karimov knows this, and thrives on playing the superpowers against each other.

  • Uzbek in teh UK

    Uzbek in the UK: thank you. I’m not sure I see why Andijan proves a point about how to deal with dictators: the US may have left K2 (quite happily apparently) but they still have an embassy don’t they? And presumably, still some influence? While their support for Karimov in the years before doesn’t seem to have improved the situation either, on the contrary.

    Posted by: technicolour at November 3, 2010 10:49 PM

    _____________________________________

    Let me disagree with the point of US leaving K2 quite happily. It is true that US did not push karimov to reconsider his decision to kick them out of the K2, but on the other hand it left them with only one air base in Kyrgyzstan in the time when it was already being clear that the supply routes via Pakistan will be substantially more challenging than vie Central Asia.

    Yes, US and UK still have embassies in Uzbekistan and US still has some influence there. This is due to paranoiac fear of karimov to be very close to either Russia or China. He was drawn to Russian-Chinese circle of influence by the US and their position over the investigation of the Andijan tragedy. If only US backed down and accepted the official karimov’s version of the executions then I am convinced no request of leaving K2 would have taken place. The relations started cooling before the Andijan, but only after the Andijan and American demands of investigation relationship reached its lowest level since 1992.

    This is an example that karimov, and this can be also applied to other dictators in the region, would rather be drawn into the circle of influence with the enemies then allow someone to criticise his internal policy, or even more serious demand something that would question his status as the sole and the only leader of the nation. But as we see now, US is definitely is a search of more stable supply route to Afghanistan, and yet again, K2 and Uzbekistan are being viewed as the best possible areas where US could operate without facing those challenges that they are facing nowadays in Pakistan.

    It will be very important how US would behave with karimov now. Would they choose the same path as Bush’s administration or would their relationship be more like in the market, [we use your base and pay you X much and no other strings attached]. And whether such relationship would satisfy karimov who seems in a search of the possible ways to get rid of Russian-Chinese influence. Only time will show.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    I question special relationships and would not want a entente frugale, i’d rather prefer a European peace and defence force. Why would one want to prise France away from Europe?

    Posted by: ingo at November 4, 2010 12:52 AM

    ________________________________________

    Wishing this one need to be realistic and understand that European defence force would not have any matching capability of NATO defence force dominated of course by the US. All this transatlantism was established for two main reasons: not to allow any further wars in Europe and to withstand Soviet threat. But with the collapse of the USSR it seems that the sole role of NATO have become to serve US global hegemonic policy. And this is where problem lays.

    On the other hand American defence during cold war is now being paid by the serving American interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. With regards to France we will live and see how it will work.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    So I think the US misjudged Uzbekistan, the FCO misjudged Craig’s moral passion, and Craig misjudged the government’s willingness to abide by its own ethical foreign policy commitments. A nasty business, all round. Well deserving of the title “Dirty Diplomacy”.

    Posted by: nextus at November 3, 2010 5:38 PM

    _______________________________________

    Here I very much agree with you. One of the consequences of this is that FCO now very careful when sending Ambassador or any other key Embassy staff members to the states like Uzbekistan. The last 2 Envoys are clear evidence of this.

    Mr Murray was right when he stated that it was ‘no point of having cocktail party relationship with the fascist regime’. I am sure all the countries that have Embassies in Uzbekistan are aware of the horrible things that were/are happening there, but the difference was/is that their Envoys do not have same ‘moral passion’ that Mr Murray has.

    Overall, there will be very challenging years ahead for Central Asia. With conflict in Afghanistan entering insolvable phase, with growing influence of China and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, I am afraid there will be very much more ‘dirty diplomacy’ on its way.

  • Joe

    Torture isn’t rocket science. The results of the application of standard torture are easily discernible.

    you get the truth.

    you get lies.

    Someone who is willing to tell the truth won’t need to be tortured, the threat of torture will suffice.

    Someone who is more intractable will have to be tortured, but the chances of getting the truth out of such a person are slim. They will first tell a lie, or several, confusing the issue to the point that the torturers don’t know what is true and what is false.

    Basically, torture is a rather useless way of getting to the truth. It’s much easier to do your own homework.

    So why do the CIA/MI5-6/Mossad torture if not in the interest of truth? They torture mainly to extract false confessions from innocent (or mostly innocent) people about their involvement in “Islamic terrorism”. They then use they confessions/individuals as evidence for the existence of “Islamic terrorism” and justification for Imperial wars.

    Torture then is most useful for extracting lies from people and it is for this purpose that it has been mostly used throughout history.

  • Brian Barder

    Earlier today I tried to post a detailed response to all the challenges to me in Craig’s post. Once again I got a message saying that it would have to be approved before it appeared. Last time this happened I believe my comment turned out to have been consigned to the spam folder.

    I hope it will turn up here soon. I wouldn’t want people to think that I had funked (or as everyone says now, ‘bottled’) the challenge.

    Brian

    http://www.barder.com/ephems/

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Brian Barder, hello. Perhaps you’d have more success posting here if you were to pretend to be a spambot handbag salesman.

    [Joke.]

    Ahem. Sorry for lowering the tone.

  • dazed and confused

    Thankyou Nextus for the references.

    ‘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.’

    This is Sawers, quoted by Mr Crawford above.

    Gentlemen, may I direct you to some rather unpleasant video footage:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/05/interrogation-techniques-iraq-inmates

    and an excellent accompanying article and blog:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/nov/03/british-troops-use-torture

    from the Guardian today which confirms the point made by several writers here, namely that British soldiers are trained in interrogation techniques which certainly amount to torture when accompanied as they seemingly were in the instance filmed, with sleep and food deprivation plus violence, all for a suspect who was released without charge after seven months.

  • Alfred

    “Indeed, Alfred. Uzbekistan wasn’t merely a convenient staging post for the Iraq assault; it’s of major strategic importance for economic reasons. Karimov knows this, and thrives on playing the superpowers against each other.”

    Nextus, are you saying that maintaining friendly relations with the tyrant of Uzbekistan is in Britain’s vital national interest? How can this be? Is it the cotton produced with child labor that is so vital? Or is it in Britain’s vital national interest to support the American drive for global hegemony? Please explain.

  • Alfred

    “Earlier today I tried to post a detailed response to all the challenges to me in Craig’s post. Once again I got a message saying that it would have to be approved before it appeared. Last time this happened I believe my comment turned out to have been consigned to the spam folder. ”

    Brian, I am sure your comments will be of great interest to many people here, so I hope the glitch you have experienced is circumvented.

    The message you received is usually displayed if a comment contains more than one URL.

    In a previous post with which you had difficulty, I believe you had two references to http://www.barder.com. If that is the case with the new post, the solution would be to remove all but one URL, or submit the post in several sections, each with only a single URL.

    I look forward to reading your comments.

  • dazed and confused

    Nextus, I have just been reading the Tacconi article you mention. It suggests that militant Islam has a major foothold in Uzbekistan. This is not the picture I had received from Craig’s book, which of course may now be out of date. I quote Tacconi:

    ‘In Uzbekistan the Islamist phenomenon is even stronger. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, that carried out a number of armed attacks ten years ago with the objective of reunifying the Uzbek people (this is why in the past members of this organisation attacked a number of villages with an Uzbek majority of inhabitants situated in Kirghiz territory), has now become far more prominent since it is capable of recruiting and demonstrating military strength. A number of its militiamen, ideologically close to the world of terrorism, have “served” with Al Qaeda, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Some have remained in these countries, but there are also some who returned home imparting guerrilla tactics learned in Baghdad and Kabul. They have resumed not only the objective suspended in the past, and hence the liberation of the Uzbek people, but have broadened their sphere of influence to the entire region with the aim of creating a great caliphate. If, as seems true, an increasing number of people in nearby Tajikistan are joining the Islamic Movement, then the idea really is taking hold.’

    Tacconi goes on to speculate on various unpleasant outcomes.

    I wonder if you buy this analysis Craig?

  • Clark

    Brian Barder,

    the trick to keeping your comment out of the spam trap is to include no more than two URLs in your comment, or to leave off the http:// bit at the start of quoted URLs.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Here I agree with Mr Murray. It is still a big question who was behind the atacks in Tashkent.

    Islamic militans’ treat is true but not as severe as some scholars (western schalrs) portray it. As longer karimov is in power and as longer people have no hope or any prospects as more serious this threat will grow.

    Torturing inocent people karimov wants the West, Russia, China and others to beleive that Uzbekistan is a hot spot of international terrorism and therefore such strong leader as karimov is requited to supress such threat.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Yes, Uzbek in the UK, it’s the same everywhere in that region – the ‘Greater Middle East’ and Central Asia. These heinous regimes (or, in the case of Pakistan, the oligarchy of the military who now really control everything and who exist in a domineering toxic symbiosis with craven civilian elites) ‘justify’ themselves – their weapons, their swaggering oppresion and their Himalayan mountains of money – that way.

  • Brian Barder

    Thanks for the tip, Clark. I have stripped out every h**p://. Here goes once again:

    [This comment was written a few days ago and sent to CM in case he had any comments on it before I posted it (it seems that he has no objection to it). That is why it takes no account of later comments on this post by others. I don’t know whether the hyperlinks will survive the transfer from Word. I’m unable to distinguish between the quotations from Craig’s post and my own responses to them, e.g. by indenting or italicising the former. So it may be rather confusing.]

    To reply adequately to the many misunderstandings and misrepresentations repeated in Craig Murray’s response to Charles Crawford’s and my criticisms of his post about the recent speech by Sir John Sawers, head of the secret Intelligence Service (MI6), it’s convenient to reproduce chunks of what Craig has written.

    CM: Sawers'[s] speech was a defence of torture thinly disguised as a condemnation of torture. … [Brian] claims that Sawers does not say that we receive intelligence from torture, or that Ministers have approved it. Brian is talking total rubbish. To quash these accusations of misrepresentation, this is an unedited extract from Sawers’ speech:

    “We also have a duty to do what we can to ensure that a partner service will respect human rights. That is not always straightforward. 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 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.”

    There is no doubt that this means that we receive intelligence from torture by other security services, and that this is decided by Ministers. It can mean nothing else.

    BB: I’m afraid this is a complete misreading of what Sawers said. In the passage you quote, he is talking about the problem that the security services (and often ministers) face in deciding whether to pass to another country’s security authorities a piece of intelligence which may enable those authorities to take action that could save lives by acting on it, but which might well also involve suspects named in the intelligence in being maltreated (and even by implication tortured) as a direct result of our service handing over the original intelligence. I would have thought that you could recognise the moral dilemma inherent in this situation, which must arise quite often and to which there can be no single automatically acceptable solution. It has absolutely nothing to do with the UK receiving information which it believes may have been obtained through torture, and to claim that it implies confirmation that “we receive intelligence from torture by other security services, and that this is decided by Ministers” is seriously perverse. You should withdraw your assertion.

    CM: both Brian and Charles, like Sawers, are enthusiastic supporters of the argument that we ought to get intelligence from torture by others. As Brian says:

    “For the record, there is no legal, moral, ethical or practical ban on scrutinising information, and where appropriate acting on it, regardless of the way it has originally been obtained or is suspected to have been obtained.”

    BB: Another reckless misinterpretation. You seem not to recognise the distinction between (a) actively seeking “to get intelligence from torture by others” — you even claim that Sawers, Crawford and I argue that “we ought” to do this! — and (b) when confronted with intelligence that may originally have been got by torture, assessing its reliability, taking into account its provenance; examining it for information that might lead to the prevention of terrorist activity in the UK or elsewhere: in that case, commissioning a search for corroboration of it: and if it’s corroborated, acting to prevent that terrorist activity coming to fruition. In the case of intelligence originating with the Uzbek security services when you were ambassador to Uzbekistan, none of that intelligence was passed direct to the UK authorities by the Uzbeks: London would have received it only as a small part of the daily exchange of intelligence with the Americans and others. The Uzbeks would have had no way of knowing what if any part of the intelligence they had passed to the Americans was being passed on to London, still less what if any action the British security authorities had taken on it. The idea that by taking preventive action on such intelligence our security services were encouraging the Uzbeks to carry on torturing, or were in any way complicit in it, or were implicitly condoning it, is nonsense.

    The alternative that you seem to propose is equally absurd: that we should sift through the huge mass of intelligence material shared with us several times a day by all our intelligence partners — not just the Americans — in case any of it might appear to have been obtained by torture, coyly avert our eyes from any such information, and shred it unread, even if it might have included leads to the discovery of planning for terrorist or other criminal activity whose prevention might have saved innocent lives. Such callous behaviour could not even be defended as a kind of misguided moral purity, since there’s nothing either illegal or immoral about acting on information to save lives and prevent crime, regardless of the manner in which the information was originally obtained. Commissioning or even just implicitly condoning torture by others in order to obtain useful information is of course an entirely different matter; Sawers confirms that any such commissioning or condoning is formally forbidden and not practised. (That’s different from saying that it has never happened: but where the rule proclaimed by Sawers appears to have been breached, there’s an investigation and anyone guilty of a breach is held to account.)

    CM: But Brian completely fails to take account of the UK/US intelligence sharing agreement. Under this, MI6 and the CIA share all intelligence. … Waterboarding and other physical tortures are just one part of the American arsenal. Under extraordinary rendition, hundreds were knowingly delivered up to torture. … As Brian knows, MI6 will have received every US intelligence report received from all this activity.

    BB: On the contrary: far from my failing to take account of it, extensive intelligence sharing, not just with the CIA, is a central element in the scenarios we are discussing, as confirmed by what I have written above. Are you really suggesting that because we disapprove of some of the Americans’ past practices in extracting information we should have terminated the intelligence-sharing relationship with the US and refused either to pass to Washington or receive from Washington intelligence some of which might have enabled terrorist and other crimes to be pre-empted and lives saved? If you are, you can hardly be surprised that your recommendations were not accepted by your government.

    Breaking off the crucial intelligence partnership with Washington would hardly have been an effective way of influencing the Americans to give up the objectionable behaviour that you describe: and even if it was, that would have been a grave policy decision for ministers, not for the head of MI6.

    CM: But the fatal flaw in Brian’s – and Sawers'[s] argument is the frankly pathetic notion that, by regularly and gratefully receiving intelligence from dictatorships which they obtained by torture, we do not condone or encourage torture.

    BB: I have dealt with this above. You do not reinforce your argument by misrepresenting my position and then describing it as ‘frankly pathetic’.

    CM: Brian hides behind the “ticking bomb” argument that falsely posits that intelligence from torture is rare and relates to an instant and preventable threat. … 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.

    BB: I have dealt with this in the following (edited) comment on the anonymous blog which you commend (www.septicisle.info/): ‘As to the “ticking bomb”, that refers to an imaginary situation where a suspect is believed to know how to prevent an imminent atrocity likely to kill many innocent people, where for example a bomb is timed to go off at a given time unless the secret code to stop it can be extracted from the suspect. Should we torture him to extract the information and thus save many lives, or should we let the innocents die rather than stoop to torture? This makes for good theatre or cinema, and for satisfying academic debate about the ethics of the alternative courses of action, but it’s extremely unlikely to arise in real life, and it’s certainly not the scenario discussed anywhere in Sawers’s speech.

    ‘The quite different situation that Sawers envisages is one where our security services have information, possibly or probably from tainted sources, which points to an identified group in a specified location who are said to be planning an act of terrorism, some time in the future, that could result in the deaths of innocent people. Sawers asserts, obviously correctly, that in such circumstances there is a clear duty to “act on it” — in other words, to check it out, to investigate the allegations, to ascertain whether they are independently corroborated, and in some cases to decide whether to pass it to another country’s security authorities. If the information is assessed as reliable and offers the possibilityof action to prevent a terrorist attack or other crime, the relevant authorities must clearly step in to prevent the execution of the plan and the deaths likely to result from it. Do you seriously argue that it would be a proper reaction in such circumstances to say: “This intelligence may have originated with people who are known to torture their opponents for information. It would be immoral for us even to read it — or, if we read it, to do anything about it. We will take no action, and if the information turns out to be true and innocent people die, so be it. We can’t then be accused of complicity in torture: our hands will be clean, which is all that matters”?

    Note too that this is a situation that occurs regularly and routinely in real life and has absolutely nothing to do with the implausible ticking bomb scenario.’

    CM: 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.”

    BB: To quote my comment on the septicisle blog again:

    “As I have pointed out long ago elsewhere, Craig Murray was and is in no position to assess the reliability (or lack of it) of such intelligence from Uzbek sources about the terrorist threat to the UK or elsewhere as may have been passed on privately to London by the Americans or others while he was ambassador to Uzbekistan, because in the great majority of cases he would not have seen it. (It would have been circulated on a ‘need to know’ basis, and the ambassador in Tashkent had no need to know about intelligence bearing on security in the UK unless in rare cases it also had a bearing on UK-Uzbek relations.)

    “Craig made clear to London many times his passionately held view that (a) we ought not to receive such intelligence from the Americans, and that (b) if we did receive it, we should dismiss it as invariably unreliable. That advice will undoubtedly have been given the weight it deserved by those in London responsible for assessing intelligence in the light of all factors, including Craig’s advice — along with that of many others more expert than him.”

    You are not the first person to assert that all information obtained by torture is by definition worthless because anyone being tortured will say anything to stop being tortured. This ignores the ample evidence of (e.g.) resistance fighters in occupied Europe, captured and tortured by the Gestapo, revealing accurate details of their resistance comrades’ names, whereabouts and clandestine activities — revealing what the Gestapo wanted to know in order to end the torture. Some people, mainly women, are able to withstand torture without giving away the information sought by their torturers: others, mainly men, break, and reveal all. Of course those responsible for assessing the authenticity and reliability of information that has been or might have been obtained by undue pressure or actual torture will treat it with appropriate scepticism, and stress the special need for independent corroboration before any action is taken on it. But to say that all information got by torture is ipso facto worthless is, sadly, nonsense.

    CM: I am genuinely very saddened to see Brian joining in the smears against me with this:

    ‘The author of this scurrilous piece is in some danger of being taken seriously, being (as he constantly reminds us all) a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who has achieved a certain fame through having insisted, I believe wrongly, that he was sacked from the Diplomatic Service for criticising the practice of torture by the Uzbek authorities and for having repeatedly denounced his own government for receiving, and sometimes acting on, information from the Americans but originating with the Uzbeks, some of which may well have been obtained by torture. He certainly did both these things, with characteristic gusto, but he was eased out of the Diplomatic Service ?” to put it politely ?” for other reasons.’

    Forget politeness Brian. I have no doubt you have been fed poison from some FCO related source. The best thing with poison is to spew it up.

    BB: No, Craig, I have been fed neither poison nor anything else by any “FCO related source”. The evidence for the real causes of your involuntary departure from diplomacy is all there in your own Murder in Samarkand. It’s to your credit, in a way, that you are so appallingly candid about yourself: not just about the drinking and the womanising and the behaviour towards your first wife and your and her children — the FCO has generally been commendably tolerant in its attitude to such matters, about which you are by no means the first British head of a diplomatic mission to have dramatically over-stepped all the marks. But there is also the matter of your behaviour in Uzbekistan towards local officials, your public espousal of the causes of local victims of torture and repression and your dramatic attempts to secure justice for them by asserting authority and rights in your capacity as Britain’s ambassador that no accredited diplomat can possibly possess, however noble his motives. International diplomacy would become impossible if every accredited ambassador promoted his private conscience above his country’s interests, the internationally accepted limitations on the role of diplomats serving in foreign countries, and the instructions of his government (in your case, your instructions from ministers who, unlike you, had been democratically elected and thereby given the right to have their policies loyally carried out by their public servants, including ambassadors). No self-respecting country, however good its human rights record, would accept the appointment of a foreign ambassador who took it upon himself to act as an avenging angel representing not his government but the conscience of mankind, commissioned to right local wrongs and expose the guilty, whatever the consequences. That’s of course admirable, but it’s not what diplomats are for. If that’s what you felt compelled by your conscience to do, you should have been a freelance journalist, or the field director of some human rights ngo, or a priest — almost anything but a diplomat, and least of all an ambassador.

    I don’t think your case was cleverly or sensitively or even fairly handled by the FCO. But you really ought to stop asserting that you were sacked because of your speeches condemning human rights abuses in Uzbekistan (when your most controversial such speech had been cleared in advance by the FCO, and was later quoted with approval in parliament and the FCO’s annual report on human rights), or because you persistently proclaimed in your communications with London the supposed illegality of the UK’s practice of receiving and sometimes acting on information got by torture (when your complaints on that score were investigated more thoroughly than you had any right to expect, and when you had been formally notified that your interpretation of international law on the subject was without foundation). It was not your opinion on the matter that helped to cause your later downfall, but your apparent inability to accept the considered ruling on the subject by the government that employed you, which can only have contributed to the eventual (and apparently reluctant) decision in London that you were in the wrong job.

    This is sad, because your many talents, your energy and your exceptionally engaging personal qualities would have been a great asset to British diplomacy, as indeed they were for many years, until the challenges of an ambassador’s role, the requirement to subordinate your personal views and actions to the policies and instructions of the elected government which you represented, and the discipline and restraints that the role requires, all proved too much for you.

    I had no wish to spell all this out semi-publicly, in the harsh white light of the blogosphere, but since you accused me of ‘smearing’ you and challenged me to substantiate what I had previously written more reticently, I don’t have a choice.

    Let me make it clear once again that I applaud your quixotic moral passion, your energy and your often displayed moral and physical courage; I recognise you as a good person. I just wish you could restrain your urge to misrepresent and vilify those whom you see as the personification of wickedness in public life, however virtuous the causes that you try to serve. That is to put your prejudices above the obligation to be fair and truthful, which is unacceptable.

    As a footnote, let me remind you of a much earlier statement of my reservations about many of the crusades that you have been leading with such vigour (and with such an enthusiastic if often misguided following) for so many years. Written in January 2006, it’s still available on my blog at http://www.barder.com/422. I get no pleasure from having to go over so much of the same, often tedious ground once again here. But even Britain’s Top Spook is entitled to a fair-minded hearing.

    Brian

    2 November 2010

    http://www.barder.com/ephems/

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Brian Barder, thanks for your (if I may say) characteristically well-argued statement. As a simplistic person with no knowledge of such matters, I feel I need to ask you one question, somewhat unrelated to the topic, I’m afraid, and my apologies for this. I very much enjoy reading your superb blog.

    Do agencies of the UK state have any dealings or connections whatsoever (whether through third parties or whatever) in initiating, suggesting, organising, planning, outsourcing or committing ‘wet jobs’?

    I recall that John le Carre, in a recent interview, admitted that the SIS had been involved in such matters. I know that that was during the Cold War, but I am old enough to remember that during the Cold War, not only was the existence of the SIS “neither confirmed nor denied”, but assassination was meant to be something in which only the ‘other side’ engaged.

    So, if it was occuring then, is it occuring now? And if not, why not, when the threats against us are supposed to be gangantuan?

    Forgive my ignorance and naivety, both of which are oceanic.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Brian Barder

    Suhayl Saadi, thank you for your kind remarks. I’m afraid that I can only say, in answer to your question, that I simply don’t know. The intelligence and security services certainly state categorically that they don’t do assassinations, but I can already hear some of the aficionados of this blog saying caustically, “Well, they would, wouldn’t they?”

    The only evidence one way or the other that I can think of is that (a) if they have in fact carried out assassinations in relatively recent years, it is surprising that such a sensational fact hasn’t leaked in any of the memoirs or accusatory blogs and websites, anyway to the best of my knowledge; and (b) in my very limited experience these services have been conscientious about getting political cover beforehand for their more adventurous or controversial activities, and I am 99.9 percent sure that political approval for assassination would never be forthcoming. I have no doubt that regular readers of Craig’s blog will think me hopelessly naive in holding this view, but then conspiracy theorists always think other people naive and we just have to endure it as best we may.

  • Alfred

    Brian,

    You say that in his remarks about the passage of intelligence, John Sawyers meant that Britain passes intelligence to other countries, notwhithstanding that this may result in the torture of a suspect — a possibility that could include, presumably, a suspect being boiled alive in an Uzbek torture chamber. Your interpretation seems convincing, entirely consistent with Britain’s participation in a military alliance with a nation that has routinely engaged in the practice of kidnap and rendition, and rather more shocking than Craig’s assumption that SIS receives intelligence from torture, which of course they may do, although John Sawyers did not say that they do.

    Your comments on Craig’s personal behaviour in Uzbekistan seems gratuitous, since any personal idiosyncracies, however unbecoming to an ambassador, would surely have been overlooked had he served, in the diplomatic sphere, as a reliable agent of the British Government.

    The fact that, as you describe it, Craig publicly espoused “the causes of local victims of torture and repression” and made “dramatic attempts to secure justice for them by asserting authority and rights in [his] capacity as Britain’s ambassador that no accredited diplomat can possibly possess” seems rather splendid, although, as you point out, obviously a firing matter.

    The larger issue that this discussion raises is whether engagement with Central Asian tyrants in the drive for western global military hegemony is truly in Britain’s vital national interest. If it is not, then Craig’s politically motivated diplomatic insubordination constituted an honorable way of ending a career in what proved to be the service of a dishonorable cause. That Craig is perhaps a less than perfect human being and that he has expressed a marked antipathy, and perhaps a degree of unfair prejudice, toward people like Jack Straw and Tony Blair who lied Britain into war seems, under the circumstances, entirely understandable.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Thank you, Brian (if I may) for replying to my query. Much appreciated.

    ‘Cheap Handbags’: It is my pleasure. Keep on reading and you may find that you are able to acquire a deluxe inner lining! Incidentally, if you are a kind of on-line spambot-generating department store, how about selling some really interesting things like, say, a spaceship to Mars, a fire-hose or even some books? May I suggest a really good book, or two…?

  • Brian Barder

    Alfred: I object to your description of my comments on the reasons for Craig’s dismissal from the diplomatic service as “gratuitous”. I was explicitly challenged, publicly, by Craig to forget politeness and to set out my reasons for believing that he consistently misrepresents the real reasons for his downfall. I responded to that challenge in the only way possible. I did Craig the courtesy of sending him beforehand what I was going to say so that he could object if he wished, but I received no reply. I wrote what I did in the most careful terms I could devise. Uncomfortable truths, when explicitly demanded, are not properly described as gratuitous. Craig constantly accuses the government that dismissed him of having done so for disreputable and illegitimate reasons: it’s not ‘gratuitous’ for someone occasionally to point out, as courteously as possible, that the truth is manifestly otherwise.

    I also reject your description of loyally representing one’s country and its democratically elected government in difficult and unpleasant places as “a dishonourable cause”. Elected ministers are entitled to the best efforts of their public servants, including diplomats, to observe and promote their policies, whether they agree with them or not. Provided that those policies don’t require illegal or immoral behaviour by those public servants, their job is to respect and advance them, not to substitute their own political opinions for those of the government that employs them. Acting on intelligence to save lives, even if the intelligence has arrived by a circuitous route from disreputable sources, is neither dishonourable nor illegal, whatever you or Craig might believe. *Failure* to act in those circumstances, with the possible consequence of innocent lives being unnecessarily lost, as you seem to advocate, would truly be scandalous and immoral.

  • Clark

    Brian Barder,

    you state that Craig Murray was sacked for exceeding his authority as an ambassador. Please explain why he faced the disciplinary charges that he did, rather than ones that would have been appropriate to such misconduct.

  • Brian Barder

    Clark: As ministers sometimes say, that’s not a question for me. You’d have to ask the Foreign & Commonwealth Office why they acted as they did. As I said in my earlier comment, I don’t think they handled the matter sensibly or well.

  • Alfred

    Brian, you say “I object to your description of my comments on the reasons for Craig’s dismissal from the diplomatic service as “gratuitous”.”

    The merit of your objection seems open to debate. Based on my admittedly slight knowledge of the case, nothing you have said pursuades me that Craig’s “womanising” and behaviour towards his wife would have much affected his career, provided that he had adhered to ministerial direction in his conduct as a diplomat. For that reason, bringing up these personal issues does not seem to me to be, let us say, called for by the circumstances.

    You say, “Elected ministers are entitled to the best efforts of their public servants, including diplomats, to observe and promote their policies, whether they agree with them or not. Provided that those policies don’t require illegal or immoral behaviour by those public servants…”

    Absolutely, but then trafficking in intelligence with the Uzbec authorities is something that many people might judge to be a highly immoral activity. When such transactions are undertaken in pursuit of what, according to the Nuremberg standard, is arguably a criminal war of agression, there is plenty of room for moral objection to the directions given of elected ministers.

    In such cases, when it comes to the crunch, the elected ministers are going to come out on top. But that hardly settles the moral and political issues raised.

  • Ingo

    I object to being told that Craig Murray has not worked to his best abillity for ministers.

    Ministers are hopefully not entitled to ask/demand that servants of HMG accept habitual torture of civilians in third countries and evidence from them, a ludicrous demand

    To not rely on torture is in the publics long term interest, surely, it has to be the publics future relations that count, not that of a Government with an arguably low understanding of etics and fair play, otherwise they would not have played the WMD/45 minute lying game.

    To say that information derived from torture has a value or has ever saved anybody, is not only negating one’s diplomatic abilities, it also legitamises others to do the same.

    Please spare me the whimsy, which calamities have been prevented?

    First and foremost, each and every one of us here is responsible for their own personal health and safety.

    Now when faced with armed incidents, madmen or terrorists, it is not a good idea to keep the public in the dark, because thats when you get carnage.

    For the same reason human rights apply to all of us, human wrongs should equally be despised by all, but it is not, thats the only point I acknowledge.

    To accept information on a possible event from the torture chamber, even if its origin is unknown to us, in effect a very dodgy position to be in with one’s responsible ally and special partner, is only of value if this tallies with some other information from a different source, ideally.

    I have experienced many occaisins were public servants were guilty of the crimes committed in front of them, even when they were looking away, its called guilt by association, no wriggly words can get us out of it.

    We tortured in Iraq and we have doen it in Afghanistan and when I say we, I mean all allies, in it together.

    I feel that NATO’s mis judged policies in Afghanistan has signalled the end of this cold war pact, its time that they disengage from this torture scene and leaves those misguided nations to themselves.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    I feel that NATO’s mis judged policies in Afghanistan has signalled the end of this cold war pact, its time that they disengage from this torture scene and leaves those misguided nations to themselves.

    Posted by: Ingo at November 6, 2010 6:18 PM

    Here I disagree with you. Leaving Afghanistan in present conditiosn will be another big mistake. It has been left on its own for over 13 years, but all this time civil war lasted there with many people fallen victims of it. It is no better now I agree. But simply pulling out and leaving Afgnanistan to Karzia would mean the same mistake as when Russians left it to Najibullah.

    West need to invest billions of money in Afghanistan, provide people thete with jobs, build schools and hospitals, colleges, invest havilly in agricalture and then they can leave without fear that Afghanistan will one again require their attention.

    But this is not being understood. Afghanistan unfortunatley, is considered as a geopolitical military component of the US hegemonic power and not as a state that need urget investment for improvment of social and economic consitions of the population.

  • Alfred

    “West need to invest billions of money in Afghanistan, provide people thete with jobs”

    It’s more than our pathetic elite can do to invest billions to provide jobs for people back home. They’re taking their capital abroad and sending the jobs after it — to the plantations of Asia. Unfortunately for the Afghans, they don’t have a good reputation for docility, so the jobs will be going elsewhere.

    “But simply pulling out and leaving Afgnanistan to Karzia would mean the same mistake as when Russians left it to Najibullah.”

    Well, isn’t that why we’re in Afghanistan? To keep Karzai safe and sound while his associates run the drug trade.

  • technicolour

    Alfred, ingo, thanks: the same thoughts had occurred to me, though I wouldn’t have put it so well.

  • Clark

    Brian Barder,

    how is it that the REASON Craig was sacked IS a question that you can answer, but HOW he was sacked is not?

  • nextus

    Thank you, Brian, for such a lucid defence of your position.

    Ours is not to reason why, eh? The responsibilities of the ambassadorial post dictate that one must put one’s moral qualms aside and leave the ethical deliberations to the organ-grinders. How very noble (and authoritarian) of you.

    An ambassador who is willing to acquiesce his personal morality certainly reaps rich rewards … such as a sumptuous lifestyle, lofty social status, a comfortable pension, and (if you’ve been an especially good boy) maybe even a knighthood. Hurrah!

    You say “International diplomacy would become impossible if every accredited ambassador promoted his private conscience above his country’s interests, the internationally accepted limitations on the role of diplomats serving in foreign countries, and the instructions of his government … ”

    “His private conscience”?? Since when did an abhorrence of torture become a purely private matter? Avoidance of torture is an international obligation to which the government, the forces of state and the civil services are explicitly committed. Craig was urging the FCO to recognise its own moral responsibilities, not to impose his own idiosyncrasies.

    Article 2 of the UN Convention Against Torture states “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” But you seem to be arguing that it’s vital to accept the information thus obtained because it may be operationally useful to foil terrorist plots; perhaps you should ask the UN committee to reconsider its declaration.

    I see your argument about the potential value of information extracted under torture is hypothetical. Craig was protesting about torture practices which are actual. In Uzbekistan, thousands of citizens who irritate the regime are removed from society and subjected to inhumane interrogation to force them to confess to fictions in order to justify their detainment and ill treatment. When you argue for the value of torture as interrogation technique, you’re not talking about them, are you? Craig was. They have to be factored in somehow. Your counter-arguments are based on a set of hypothetical cases that are more congruent with your pre-determined conclusion.

    The kind of authoritarian deference you advocate is a huge problem for humanity. When social injustices are committed by large institutions, it is rare to find a devil at the helm. Responsibility is usually shared amongst a contingent of bureaucratic pragmatists who each insist that they are only doing their jobs while dutifully promoting the interests of the institution. The problem is that the institution is not a person and it has no intrinsic morality. Under this system, if employees subjugate their moral integrity to other institutional objectives, they become “Little Eichmanns” and the overall organisation manifests the (a)morality of a psychopath (see the 2003 documentary film ‘The Corporation’ for a justification of this evocative metaphor).

    Institutions are implicitly dependent on the philanthropy of their employees and directors. An employee has a duty to prevent the institution going off-course; unfortunately people with an authoritarian mindset neglected this aspect of the role. In recent decades, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility has arisen to counteract the systematic ethical abuses by large corporations. It embodies an acknowledgement that bureaucrats tend to be acquiescent, so the ethical considerations must be specified at the corporate decision-making level and communicated as strategic directives throughout the workforce.

    Who determines the morals of the FCO? The electorate? But, as you know the acceptance of intelligence sourced from the inhumane treatment of terror suspects was kept secret from the electorate. Secrecy can sometimes be used to cover up moral deviations. It’s up to our ambassadors and other public officials to ensure the foreign office respects its moral responsibilities in these areas.

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