Diplomacy, Dictatorship and the Uses of Torture 126

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


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.


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.


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.


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:


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

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  • nextus

    Of course Craig Murray is not the only ambassador to exercise his plenipotentiary powers by speaking out against undemocratic regimes.

    The British ambassador to Burma, Andrew Heyn, has sharply criticised the widespread election-rigging thus: “It seems that even the pretence of independence has been abandoned.”

    And Edward Clay lambasted the grafting in Kenya: “… evidently the practitioners now in government have the arrogance, greed and perhaps a sense of panic to lead them to eat like gluttons. They may expect we shall not see, or will forgive them, a bit of gluttony because they profess to like Oxfam lunches. But they can hardly expect us not to care when their gluttony causes them to vomit all over our shoes…”

    (Thanks to Charles Crawford for pointing these out. There is a good commentary on his blog ?” accompanied by the Monty Python fish-slapping sketch!)

  • Brian Barder

    Nextus: And Craig Murray’s speech lambasting the human rights record of the Uzbek regime was likewise approved in advance by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and quoted with approval in the FCO’s annual published report on human rights world-wide, as well as being quoted, also with approval, in the house of commons by the then foreign and commonwealth secretary. That speech was not the problem. Our diplomats abroad often speak publicly and critically about the actions and policies of their host governments, with the authority and approval of ministers or their officials in London.

  • technicolour

    So: a UK ambassador was not fitted up with 17 false charges because of his ‘womanising’ (for which in this case read ‘falling in love with a person he married); nor because of his ‘speeches on human rights’ (which were approved by the FCO, and credit to them). Nor indeed because of his ‘relationships with Uzbek officials’; or British interests would surely have suffered. It seems he was attacked and traduced, in Brian Barder’s words, because of “his apparent inability to accept the considered ruling on the subject by the government”.

    Well, yes. Surely this needs to faced.

  • technicolour

    and, incidentally, why these smears should be recycled by at all. Being a diplomat is admittedly a schizophrenic role: on the one hand the FCO endures, while governments come and go; on the other, diplomats have to do what they are told by the government. It surprises me that diplomats do not have some kind of contingency plan for action under a government which is manifestly acting both illegally and immorally, and instructing them to do likewise. Ex-diplomats are surely at liberty to speculate about this, rather than to attempt retrospective or even current justification for the government actions. One could argue they have a duty to do so for the sake of the people still in the service.

  • Alfred

    British Troops Accused of Abusing Iraqi Detainees


    NY Times: November 5, 2010

    “LONDON ?” A lawyer for 200 Iraqis demanding a public inquiry into what they have described as brutal mistreatment by British soldiers in a secret detention center near Basra told the High Court in London on Friday that the abuse amounted to “Britain’s Abu Ghraib…

    “Accusations against British interrogators have also included mock executions; prolonged solitary confinement, often in cramped spaces, without heating in the bitter cold of winter or cooling in the 125-degree heat of the Iraqi summer; threats of rape of the detainees’ female relatives; simulated drowning; dog attacks; forced masturbation and other sexual acts; soldiers urinating on detainees, or giving the detainees urine to drink; rifle-butting, kicks, punches and prolonged shouting. …

    “At least nine detainees are said to have died as a result of their mistreatment. …”

    Link provided on another thread by “somebody”


    It’s not hard to see why Craig was out of step with British Government policy on turture during his service in Tashkent.

    The emphasis placed by some on his personal conduct as a factor in his dismissal from the foreign service seems best understood as a distraction from the embarrassing fact that he was fired for failure to accept the Eichmann rule of public service; namely, to follow meticulously all orders, however morally contemptible, without question.

  • ingo

    Uzbek, two points you raised

    first further up you said that the cold war has presented NATo into the hands, largely, of the US.

    I would describe it as an international clearing house, a test range for the use of new weapons in real theatre’s of war.

    Every NATO engagement saw one or other new fangled bit of kit being tried out, it is an advertising tool for weapons manufacturers in the Atlantic alliance.

    NATO was conceived as a bollwerk againbst the rise of the Warsaw pact, it led us for decades of paranoia and tit for tat events and it should have long demised and make way for a European peace and defense force, assets can be shifted, so can the contributions we make to NATO.

    But this is off the radar unfder this Government which has better relations to America than it has with any of its historic european neighbours.

    Afghanistan’s problems cannot be solved by wars, it needs peacefull development efforts, multilateral action to help it find a way out.

    It does not help if NATO partners supply Karzais Government with precursor chems for their heroin labs. I does not forbode well when NATO partners get a bad name for the disgusting abuses of human rights by their partners in crime, this cannot lead to any positive resolution of Afghanistrans inmherent problems.

    You seem to have forgotten that Karzai is our puppet, that he was installed by us and that he has made sure that his family and closest partners, such as that Mazari butcher Dostum, got their interests served first, his corrupt cabinet has done damage to Afghnaistan and our societies with their drug dealing, the Taliban in this context and effort, in comparrisson, is puny, some 4% I believe.

    Nothing will be gained if Afghanistan is subsumed by war for another ten years. Pakistan is equally being destablisised by multiple agencies, not just the US. The most important concern are those nuclear weapons that lie disassembled in various parts of Pakistan, one cannot feel sure that these are save in a destabilised country.

    Our engagement in Afghanistan has destabilised the whole region, Kashmir will not come off the agenda anymore, all parts want a solutionb to the age old divisions, India and Pakistan need to come closer to each other and war does not make for a relaxed talking partner.

    Until Karzai leaves and is replaced with a person that respects minority Hazara’s, a person without a Pashtun or Tajik background, choosen in a traditional loija Jirga, nothing will ever change.

    Our war agenda does not make for peacefull development, even if we want it, because those opposing forces find it easy to interfere with our school building and civilan reconstruction. Unless we can get them to understand that we need their manual labour to help us do it, without arms present on either side, nothing will succed.

    I cannot justify anybody dying in sucha scenario, where the perpetuation of instability is seemingly more important than the democratic rights underpinning our efforts. When money is spent like water to buy favours, instead of visison shaped and planned, together with all involved, then I can’t see an end to the hostilities and perpetuation of grief. Lets get out of there and take Karzai with us,(:-) off course.

  • Brian Barder

    A diplomat who can’t reconcile his conscience with his instructions from his government, or his government’s policies on a specific issue, or the limitations on his freedom of action inherent in his role as a diplomat, has to accept the logic of his situation and resign from the diplomatic service. To continue to receive his salary as a diplomat and to continue to carry out his other diplomatic duties while at the same time acting in ways that are plainly incompatible with a diplomat’s role is indefensible.

    I was extremely fortunate in my timing: the Suez criminal conspiracy took place just before I joined the public service, and the aggressions over Kosovo and Iraq just after I retired from it. As a civil servant and then a diplomat I often expounded the reasons and justifications for government policies with which I privately disagreed, but never knowingly lied about them and never thought them immoral or wicked, so I never had to agonise over whether I would have to resign rather than continuing to do what I could to promote the policies of my elected government, regardless of my personal views. A lawyer has a duty to make the best case he can for his client, whatever he privately thinks of it, so long as it doesn’t require him to lie. If it does, he stands down from the case. A diplomat’s job and responsibility vis-a-vis his government is similar. Diplomacy is an essential feature of relations between countries and of helping them not to deteriorate into violence, and like any such activity, occupation or profession, it has rules. Those who can’t accept the rules should move into another job whose rules they can respect.

    Several comments on what I have written here have misread what I said about Craig’s personal behaviour, as vividly described in his book (and thus a legitimate subject for discussion without incurring the accusation of ‘smear’). I said that since the FCO has generally been remarkably tolerant of such matters, this could not have been the sole reason for Craig’s downfall. But that it would have been *one* of the reasons for it seems to me pretty obvious. Craig has repeatedly given his own account of why he was eventually sacked from his post in Uzbekistan and had to leave the diplomatic service, and if that account, on the available evidence, is misleading or even just mistaken, it must be legitimate to question it, especially when publicly challenged to give details of one’s basis for doing so.

    Those who feel free to accuse others of ‘smearing’ should be a little more careful about doing the same thing themselves. A smidgin of civility goes a long way, even in the bear-pit of the blogosphere.

    Several of the comments above assume what they set out to prove — literally ‘begging the question’. For example, they take it as read that acting to prevent crime and perhaps thereby to save lives on the basis of information that may originally have been obtained by torture is always and in all circumstances wrong and immoral as well as illegal; and then go on to denounce as evil all those who regard that opinion as perverse and wrong-headed. The FCO went to remarkable lengths to explain to Craig why his view on that issue was mistaken, not necessarily to persuade him to change his mind about it but to help him to understand that it was the considered view of his government that in some circumstances acting on tainted-source information was right, necessary and perfectly legal. Craig however persisted in claiming precedence for his own opinion on the matter over that of the government that employed him. I have never suggested that this was the sole reason for his subsequent downfall, as at least one of the preceding comments wrongly asserts. But it was very obviously one of them.

    Other comments here on my remarks also rely on misinterpreting and then re-defining my position so as to attack it, a familiar and disreputable tactic. The answers to such demolitions of arguments I have not advanced are to be found in my original comment, and don’t need to be repeated here.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Do you really think that European Defence in any way could replace NATO dominated by the US? What about current European impotence to respond to Russian energetic blackmailing or to Russian involvement to the issues in Ukraine? Do not you think that American disengagement from Europe will lead to a serious decline of Europe as a centre of power? And also even shifting assets I think it will be very hard to compensate American power projection, how many more billions will need to be spent on the Navy, Air force etc. This is harsh reality of the modern world where no but military power is respected.

    I want to sound pacifistic and say that billions of spending for the military is not worth the value we get, but current world is very uncertain and military capability will be required to defend (if not territory) but the point Europe is making.

    On the other hand of course, US will not let Europe to shift from it. This is not only because of the geopolitics. Yes, NATO was established because of European inability to defend itself from Soviets possible aggression, but this also allowed US to establish frontline in the Cold War. Meanwhile European and US economies grew and mixed up, so nowadays it is hard to find a big multinational European company without American capital and vice versa. So defending European interests is also defending American interests and vice versa. And this is particularly true for the UK and thus such close so called ‘special relationship’ between UK and US. UK also to some extend benefits from being a bridge between US and European states. This of course has its own disadvantages for UK when supporting US policy UK at the same time ignoring European agenda and in some European eyes serves as ‘fifth column’ of the US in the continent.

    All above is when I think about real state of the current affairs. But ideally of course I support NATO’s disbandment and increase of the UN’s influence. But considering that in core of the UN only 5 states have privileged status and 2 of these 5 states have no respect to the democracies and Human Rights I see no bright prospects for the UN either.

    Concluding I can say that we do not like US policy and their world order, but we have no other vision of any other order without dominance of the US. Few year from now I think that China will start challenging US more openly and my fear is that we will receive quite troubling pictures from Eurasia.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Now Afghanistan. Yes, I totally agree with you that by war nothing can be achieved and peaceful reconstructions is absolutely necessary. However; when talking about Afghanistan I think 2 following point at least should be taken into consideration.

    1. Afghanistan was established as a buffer state between two great power of that time. It has served as such ever since. Soviet intervention was an attempt to break this status and in fact has broken Afghanistan as a state and as a functioning society. Of course there were tensions between Pashtuns and ethnic minorities as well as within Pashtun tribes before intervention, but those tensions were nothing comparing them with those after 1979.

    2. The last 30 years Afghanistan is at war with itself. Considering life expectancy in Afghanistan and without careful consideration I can presume that at least half of the population was born to the society torn by civil war.

    Thus, any attempt to decide on peace building in Afghanistan should consider these 2 point very carefully. As the result of 1st point Afghanistan as the state was not formed within its natural borders. Yes, Pushtuns are majority in Afghanistan but they themselves are still divided by the Line drawn over 100 years ago. And additional to this we have Uzbeks, Tadjiks, Hazars, Turkmens. 3 out of 4 of these ethnic groups have their own national states but why are they Afghanis? In establishing border of Afghanistan itself this very ethnic tension has been seeded. Thus, it happened that of all these irresponsible border-drawn states Afghanistan was brought to the world map by its proximity to the new Great Game in 1979.

    As the result of 2nd point Afghanistan does not have single functioning society. It does not have society at all for the last 30 years. There was not any central government for the last 30 years. Tribe leaders and warlords are the only authority for most of the population. It will be very uneasy to bring peace to such society.

    My fear is that in order to establish peace in Afghanistan it should be broken up. Being realistic I see no ways of how minorities will be able to coexist with Pushtuns. Tell me how it is possible to find a leader that is not Pushtun or Tadjik but at the same time is respected by all Afghanis and more importantly has influence over all tribes? Where is a guarantee that when NATO leaves Pushtuns will not range a war over minorities or vice versa? How withdrawal of NATO forces guarantees the peace building in Afghanistan? Yes, I agree that killing Afghanis does not help peace building and that more attention should be paid to the peace building and not to the military operations, but withdrawal of NATO forces will in my opinion leave Afghanistan solely in the power of warlords as it has been a case from 1989 till 2001. I also agree that NATO does not control whole Afghanistan territory but at least it provides security to some places and by extending investment into agriculture, road building, education and medical services something can be achieved.

    One need to understand that bringing a peace to a place torn by the 30 years long civil war will be very enormous task that will take decades. But simply ignoring Afghanistan again will not help. Majority of Afghanis are peaceful and if provided with basic satisfactoriness such as land or job, education and security will not take Kalashnikov in their hands any longer.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    I was extremely fortunate in my timing: the Suez criminal conspiracy took place just before I joined the public service, and the aggressions over Kosovo and Iraq just after I retired from it.

    Posted by: Brian Barder at November 8, 2010 10:47 AM


    Have not there been any kind of ‘dirty diplomacy’ in between this timeframe? It hard to believe that in the height of Cold War with UK being American most reliable ally there have not been any kind of ‘dirty diplomacy’ we are witnessing nowadays? What about Uganda, Indonesia, Nigeria, Zaire, Iran etc? It is hard to believe that British diplomacy was not involved in any of these dictatorship support?

  • Alfred

    “Have not there been any kind of ‘dirty diplomacy’ in between this timeframe? It hard to believe that in the height of Cold War with UK being American most reliable ally there have not been any kind of ‘dirty diplomacy’ we are witnessing nowadays?”

    The British may have been reliable US allies during the cold war but they were not always poodles. During America’s Vietnam inperialist adventure Britain, under old Labour — a party, however misguided, of both intellect and integrity, stayed firmly out of the conflict.

  • Alfred

    Brian Barder’s lengthy comments seem to reduce to the following propositions.

    (1) An ambassador must always follow instructions, unless they are illegal or immoral

    (2) An ambassador receiving instructions that he considers illegal or immoral must resign

    (3) Ambassador Murray received instructions he considered illegal or immoral

    (4) Ambassador Murray should therefore have resigned

    (5) Ambassador Murray refused to resign

    (6) Ambassador Murray was, therefore, quite properly fired

    (7) And by the way, Ambassador Murray’s personal conduct was disgraceful.

    Brian Barder may not agree to this summary, but if not, I shall be glad if he will give his own more concise account of the argument.

    If the above account is approximately correct, one may infer that Craig Murray did not accept Proposition 2. If so, I support him. If an ambassador resigns rather than follow what he considers to be immoral or illegal instructions, the cause of his resignation may forever remain unknown to the public. However, if an ambassador is fired for refusing immoral or illegal instructions, he will inevitably get the sack, but the Minister responsible will get the odium. Isn’t that how it should be?

  • Brian Barder

    ‘Alfred’: You really ought to resist the temptation to re-state other contributors’ views in different and tendentious language, and then challenge them to repudiate or amend it. If you are interested in knowing what I think, please re-read what I have written, not what you or others think I ought to have written or what they think I really meant.

    ‘Uzbek’: As to whether the UK was ‘involved with’ and thereby ‘supported’ dictators between Suez in 1956 and Kosovo in 1999, that depends on what you regard as ‘support’. If you interpret as ‘support’ maintaining diplomatic relations with undemocratic countries, encouraging good or less bad international behaviour by engagement rather than boycott, giving development aid focused on the relief of poverty in those countries, and maintaining the courtesies essential to the conduct of international relations in peacetime, then yes, we ‘supported’ dictators. But that’s such a weird definition of ‘support’ that the proposition is obvious nonsense. I repeat: I often disagreed with UK government policy when representing it overseas, but I never thought it wicked, illegal, or impossible for an honest person to explain and defend it. In other words, I was never put in a position where I had seriously to consider resigning on a point of principle or conscience.

    I have now spent enough time and occupied enough space on this blog post. I have answered the few serious questions about my views more than fully. Will anyone still in doubt about them please re-read with an open mind what I have written, to which I really have nothing to add?

  • Alfred

    Brian, you say:

    “Alfred’: You really ought to resist the temptation to re-state other contributors’ views in different and tendentious language, and then challenge them to repudiate or amend it. …”

    Well why not? I’m trying to figure out the meaning of what you said by reducing the argument to its essentials. I certainly don’t wish to misrepresent you and I don’t think my language is tendentious, with the possible exception of Point 7, with reference to which, I think it would be most helpful if you would state explicitly what role you think Craig’s personal conduct had in his firing. I think I am justified in asking for clarification on this point, since you have explicitly denied Craig’s account of his firing, which makes no reference to personal conduct.

  • technicolour

    Dear Brian Barder; I’m sorry to have upset you with the use of the word ‘smears’. I was referring to the 17 false charges, which were indeed smears, and which I’ve seen reported without the salient fact that they were all dismissed. It seems to me that if, as you say, the ambassador’s behaviour had been so extreme as to contribute to his removal from post, they could have found a real charge to do it with.

    Re: the interesting role of the diplomat: in contrast is this review from Iain Orr, another former diplomat and an advocate, in a review of Murder in Samarkand:

    The shocking part of this story – narrated with skill and candour – is that, at heart, much of the FCO agreed with the advice Craig Murray was providing from Tashkent. Dealing with human rights abuses is never easy. Murray knew his way around Whitehall well enough to make sure that a controversial speech critical of Uzbekistan had support from the human rights desks in the FCO and in the Department for International Development. But when the Americans complained to No 10 and this was passed on to the FCO, spines crumpled – from Jack Straw down. This book makes one both proud and ashamed of British diplomacy. There is a simple lesson for Blair to learn. If you ask diplomats who are trained to report truthfully, to tell lies, the lasting problems will come from those who obey you, not the ones who stick to their professional calling

  • nextus

    @technicolour: Succinct and very much to the point. Thanks to Iain, in turn.

    @Alfred. I think that’s a very clear and fair rendering of one of Brian’s core arguments. I re-read his text, at his insistence, and have identified statements that directly support premises (1), (2), (3), (5) & (7). Propositions (4) and (6) follow by logical entailment. (I’ll maybe post my analysis later.) I’m not entirely sure what Brian’s objecting to. I’d like to find out.

    The style of debate is perfectly valid. Collaborative discussions often involve reflecting back an argument with alternative expressions in order to draw out clarifications, test for residual misunderstandings and draw out implicit contradictions. The technique has a name (Socratic Dialogue) and even a society of professional advocates (the SCFP). It’s a common feature of intellectual dialectic. It’s not a failure of communication, it is an advancement of it. Even counsellors are careful to reflect a client’s statements back to them to ensure they have a reasonable grasp of the meaning intended. So I’m left wondering …

    @Brian: once again I welcome your clarifications ?” I really do. I was preparing a critical response, but the increasingly defensive turn has changed the nature of the discourse. As I see it, this discussion has been remarkably civil, no more tendentious than a typical academic exchange. I accept this forum is usually a bear-pit, but this particular thread has been mercifully troll-free. Looking back I do see some inflammatory rhetoric, which I think you will find equally distributed amongst your own text (especially your initial commentary, which admittedly was a commensurate response to Craig’s ranting). I also note certain unwarranted insinuations (including ‘straw man’ projections) that you levelled at some of the participants here ?” it works both ways. But that’s the nature of this forum, I suppose.

    Both you and Charles have helped to refine my appreciation of the FCO quandary. I’m genuinely interested in your opinion, and there is perhaps more consonance than you imagine. Unfortunately open blog commentaries are subject to rhetorical grandstanding. If you would prefer to make a full and considered exposition of your argument without being continually challenged or criticised, I know an appropriate publication (impartial and peer-reviewed) that would welcome a short position paper as the centrepiece of a featured debate. I hope you (and Charles) will consider it. I’m happy to facilitate.

  • nextus

    Technicolour: That telling analysis from Iain Orr paints the FCO in a rather less malevolent light than Craig’s portrayals would suggest. Jack Straw always struck me as more of an Eichmann than a Hitler: a spineless bureaucrat dutifully implementing his Fuhrer’s commands with a fanatical fervour, with little regard for moral rectitude. One is reminded of the “banality of evil”, a topic that Craig raised last year.

    (btw, the society to which I alluded in my previous post was the SFCP – Society for the Furtherance of Critical Philosophy – not the SCFP – oops)

  • Suhayl Saadi

    nextus, if I may say (possibly gushingly) you often infuse discussions with erudition and a measured sense of tempo and lucidity. This has the beneficial effect of elevating discussion away from the ‘bear-pit’. I watched you and (sandcrab) discourse in similar fashion on Northern Ireland and awhile back and was incredibly impressed.

    Whoever you are, I think that you’re a benificent egghead (in the best sense of that word) and I salute you.

  • technicolour

    nextus, thanks: from the first part of Iain Orr’s review: “The FCO’s attempt to dismiss Craig Murray for invented disciplinary offences is an individual tale of injustice.”

  • nextus

    Thanks, Suhayl. Constructive dialogue is more than just hobby for me; I’m specifically trained in it. When faced with a pompous pedagogue, I try to challenge them with equal and opposite vigour, dissect their fallacies, and slowly turn the heat down. The French philosophical practitioner Oscar Brenifier is a master of this powerful Socratic technique. It often involves playing devil’s advocate and requires a skill rarely taught at universities: tact. The results are always revealing and sometimes uplifting.

    Anyway, if there are any torture apologists still reading, I invite them to peruse the numerous web resources on the Myths of Torture which counterbalance the trite anecdotes of Gestapo efficacy with interviews with former interrogators and reputable empirical studies. For example:


    Then try to tell me that torture “works”. It should make for an interesting debate.

  • nextus

    Oops. I should have just “pedagogue”, in case there are any derogatory contextual implications here. (Damn my tactlessness!) Some interlocutors and clients may be dogmatic without being pompous, but they still need a robust challenge to prompt them to reflect.

    Incidentally, Iain Orr is also a perceptive philosopher in his own right (a BPhil from Oxford, no less). We could do with a few more independent thinkers in the diplomatic services.

  • nextus

    I mean “I should have *written* just ‘pedagogue'”. Dammit, I’m tired! My errata will soon exceed my meaningful output at this rate. Lights out, methinks!

  • Suhayl Saadi

    I knew it! I mean, I thought it. Thanks nextus, The spirit of Socrates sings beneficently through the mists of time. And the song is illuminating. I think you’d make a great negotiator and/or debater – but then, you already are these things, I guess! I’ll check out the link, thanks.

  • ingo

    Uzbek, Do you not think that Europe taking its own paid NATO assets as a basis for such a force.

    WQe have lost time since 19889 and should by now be the balance on the scale.

    I find your mindset is still with the past. Trust me there are many europeans who have thought along those lines for some time, there are ideas out there. Sadly the nature of European politics, its appearance to islanders and how they are reported here, never mind debated, is dire.

    To say that NATO is all we have is not constructive, we must get away from using NATO as our mothers skirt. Europe has everything they need to develop enough capabilites to look after its borders and sort its ethnic tenbsions within.

    Over and above that one needs to have a new look at reforming the UN and its forces, we cannot play police man for the worlds arms interest, wars are not only expensive, destructive to the planet and make no sense.

    It has to be an open alliance, ideally approaching Russia to join the EU and its defense pact, it is important, imho, that we bring it into the fold, make it part of the EU, its market, policies and regulations, its strong man politics can easily go wrong.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Quite well said about the mother skirt, but being realistic I cannot see how Europe would defend its interests (more importantly Global Interests) without NATO. US share in NATO is around 70% both material and technical. Breaking up with NATO will mean that loosing such an important element of power projection as Navy. Yes, yes, UK, France and Italy have some Naval forces but these cannot be realistically compared with the US Naval forces and their worldwide military bases.

    I agree that NATO is mostly used by the US to defend and project American interests and power. Europeans just follow the suit. And that in the last 20 years NATO have lost its purpose. But in challenging times that are ahead breaking up Transatlantic unity is very risky gamble. Following American interests is itself serving the interest of European elite because in current global economy the most globalised economic relations are between US-Canada and EU. So, defending American interests and fighting American wars does not necessary mean that Europe is losing in this case. Most of the time it means that Europe is also defending its interests. In the last 65 years there have not been any single case when Europeans were able to solve any important geopolitical issue without American involvement. Even in Balkans decisive moment came only after US decided to support European initiative. I am not saying that Europe would have lost the war in Balkans but with indirect involvement of Russia (although economically and politically weak at that time) the course of war could have taken different path. Even at present Europe is particularly weak when it comes to dealing with Russia in terms of securing energy supplies and European initiatives in post Soviet republics. If we now add China to this picture I think that it will become quite clear that Europe will be unable to sustain its current level of power projection (both political and economic) without American involvement.

    As for UN I think its role will increase proportionally to the increase global influence of China. UN have served very well as the arena of geopolitical struggle during Cold War and since in the last 20 years none of the UN members were able to challenge US, thus US lost the need to bring issues to the UN. AS they were able to solve them by themselves with the involvement of NATO. Being realistic I would say that UN will never serve interests of all its members states. It will always be a place where some states will dominate over others and as currently 5 states have privileged status over all others.

    Russia in the EU does not really sound too realistic. Since the establishment of Russia as a state in 16th century it has always been balancing between West and East and thus developed as they called Eurasian mentality, combining both Western values that are strongly influenced by the Russian own mentality. If one think to bring Russia to the EU and thus Europeanise Russia, then one have wrong views of Russians and their elite. This is something that was not done even during liberal era of Yeltsin presidency and this is even more impossible to do now when Russia has lost its trust to the West.

  • technicolour

    Uzbek in the UK: it’s quite possible that if NATO had disbanded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, things would have progressed along rather more peaceful and less paranoid lines, isn’t it?

  • crab

    “I watched you and (sandcrab) discourse in similar fashion”

    Hey, Don’t make me get all “non-indigenous” on ye again :p

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