Steve Coogan “in the frame” to play Craig Murray in film version of Murder in Samarkand

From Dark Horizons

Controversial British director Michael Winterbottom (“9 Songs”, “Code 46”, “The Road to Guantanamo”) has set yet another hot button project as his next film – “Murder in Samarkand” reports Production Weekly.

Based on the memoirs of Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, the film will follow his famous firing in 2004 after drawing attention to torture and human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.

Comedian Steve Coogan, who has worked twice with Winterbottom before on “24 Hour Party People” and “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” is tipped to be playing Murray in the film which is expected to be taking a year to set up.

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Outrage grows over Police harrassment of “Road to Guantanamo” actors

From BBC News

See also: “She asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guant’namo'”

…Actor Farhad Harun was also questioned, along with Shafiq Rusul and Rhuhel Ahmed, the men whose detention in Guantanamo is chronicled in the film.

Mr Ahmed also alleges that he was verbally abused by a police officer and had his mobile phone taken from him for a short period.

The actor also claims that he was told by police that he could be held for up to 48 hours without access to a lawyer.

He says he was initially questioned at the airport’s baggage pick-up area and taken to a separate room when he demanded to know why.

Human rights organisation Reprieve, who Mr Ahmed has asked to speak on his behalf, called Thursday’s incident an “ugly farce”.

They have called for an urgent inquiry into what happened while one of the film’s producers, Melissa Parmenter, said the detention was outrageous.

Bedfordshire police have said they will issue another statement specifically concerning the allegations made by Mr Ahmed and Reprieve…

If you are concerned about this latest abuse of “anti-terror” powers, you can fax your MP for free at

Update from the BBC: Guantanamo duo ‘held’ at airport

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Straw faces a torturous spell in the witness box

From The Independent

Twenty-five years after he hung up his barrister’s wig, Jack Straw faces the unwelcome prospect of returning to court. Craig Murray, our former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, intends to call the Foreign Secretary to give evidence in any legal action over his forthcoming memoirs.

This month, Straw’s staff wrote to Murray – who was sacked for blowing the whistle on human rights abuses – saying they’d “actively consider a claim for breach of confidence or Crown copyright” over his book, Murder in Samarkand.

Despite that threat, Murray’s publishers, Mainstream, tell me they “intend to proceed” with the memoir, which will hit the shelves in July.

Meanwhile, Murray has used an interview with The Bookseller to launch a personal offensive against Straw, saying he has “proof that the Government has been obtaining intelligence from torture, and that Jack Straw approved it.”

He’s also happy to take the matter to court, adding: “The Government is seeking to undermine freedom of speech … If they want to send me to prison, I am prepared.”

The Foreign Office letter to Murray was drafted by legal advisors, who are anxious to avoid a hoo-hah similar to that inspired by the publication of Sir Christopher Meyer’s memoir DC Confidential.

However, Straw’s direct involvement makes it hard for them to keep him away from any trial. With this in mind, an FO spokesman stressed that they’ve yet to decide “how to take this forward.”

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“She asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guant’namo'”

See also: UK police arrest stars of award-winning film “The Road to Guantanamo” under the Prevention of Terrorism Act

See also: The Lip Magazine – Full statement from actor Riz Ahmed

From The Guardian

Four actors who play al-Qaida suspects in a British movie that won a prestigious prize were detained by the police at Luton airport as they returned from the Berlin Film Festival and questioned under anti-terror laws, alongside two of the former terrorism suspects they play on screen.

They were returning last Thursday after the premiere of the film, The Road to Guant’namo. It depicts the life of three men from Tipton in the West Midlands, who go to Afghanistan and end up being held for two years by the US at its military base on Cuba before being released without charge.

The film, directed by Michael Winterbottom, won the Silver Bear award for direction at Berlin on Sunday. Released in Britain next month, it depicts the alleged shackling, torture and other ill treatment the Tipton detainees claim they suffered at the hands of the Americans.

The film’s producers say four actors from the film, who all play terrorism suspects, were detained at Luton airport after flying back from Germany on an easyJet flight. They included Rizwan Ahmed and Farhad Harun, who were stopped along with Shafiq Rasul and Rhuhel Ahmed, the former Guant’namo inmates they play on screen.

In a statement, Rizwan Ahmed said police swore at him and asked if he had become an actor to further the Islamic cause. He said he was at first denied access to a lawyer and was questioned about his views on the Iraq war by a policewoman. “She asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guant’namo. She asked ‘Did you become an actor mainly to do films like this, to publicise the struggles of Muslims?'”

Mr Ahmed alleged that he had a telephone wrestled from his hand as he tried to contact a lawyer and was later abused. He claimed that one police officer had called him a “fucker”.

Melissa Parmenter, co-producer of the film, described the detention and questioning as outrageous.

A spokeswoman for Bedfordshire police, which patrols Luton airport, said that none of the six men had been arrested. “The police officers wanted to ask them some questions under the counter-terrorism act,” she said. “All were released within the hour. Part of the counter-terrorism act allows us to stop and examine people if something happens that might be suspicious.”

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Torture flights landed in UK, admit air controllers

From The Independent

CIA jets suspected of flying terrorist suspects to secret prisons for torture have landed at commercial British airports and received help from UK air traffic control, the authorities have admitted for the first time.

National Air Traffic Services (Nats) confirmed that three planes with CIA tail numbers have travelled through Britain “on a number of occasions”.

MPs last night seized on the letter as the first formal acknowledgement that British authorities were aware that CIA flights associated with “extraordinary rendition” have travelled through UK airspace.

They said it showed that ministers could no longer claim they had no knowledge of CIA flights that have been linked to the policy of sending terrorist suspects for interrogation in countries that carry out torture.


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Henry Porter: Blair’s new laws leave us at the mercy of future tyrants

From The Observer

Osama bin Laden’s achievement was not to mastermind the flying of jets into the Twin Towers, not to franchise his brand of terrorism to a lot of savage young men, not even to inspire the invasion of Iraq. No, it was to spook the West and to fill our minds with fear so that we let security oppress liberty and turn us away from the abuse and torture occurring in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.


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Clare Short: I weep for our errors in Iraq

From The Independent

Not many years ago, I used to say that our troops were some of the best peacekeepers in the world. Having learned their lessons in Northern Ireland, their performance in Bosnia, East Timor, and Sierra Leone – and in leading the establishment of the peace-keeping force in Kabul – was exemplary.

The Department for International Development, of which I was Secretary of State, provided some funding, and the troops worked in ways that enabled them to get to know the local people. They helped with emergency repairs, set up football clubs, and got involved in other activities. The secret of the troops’ success was that they treated local people with respect. And so – despite all the deceit on the road to war in Iraq – it was easy to believe the claims that life was better in Basra than Baghdad partly because our troops knew how to behave.

We can no longer be under that illusion. The video footage that came to light last week showing the beatings of young men by British troops – and the decision of the people of Basra to refuse all contact with British forces – suggests that all is not as we were led to believe. We can no longer feel the same pride in the performance of our armed forces. And their loss of reputation makes them more vulnerable in Iraq and Afghanistan.


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*INTERNET EXCLUSIVE*: UK police arrest stars of award-winning film “The Road to Guantanamo” under the Prevention of Terrorism Act

Citing the “Prevention of Terrorism” act, British Police have arrested and interrogated three of the stars of the award-winning film “The Road to Guantanamo”, together with the three ex-Guantanomo detainees on whose story the film is based.

Acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom (“A Cock and Bull Story”, “24 Hour Party People”, “Welcome to Sarajevo”) had been showing the film at the Berlin Film Festival, where it has won a number of top awards.

“The Road to Guantanamo” traces the true story of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed, three Muslim friends from Birmingham who were picked up as aliens in Afghanistan by US forces and ended up in Guantanamo for three years, where they suffered brutal and humiliating treatment.

Extensive interrogation established that they had no connection with al-Qaida, and despite their plight being ignored by British authorities, eventually they were returned home. The UK media covered live the return of these “Suspected terrorists” and the massive police convoy that brought them in to Ventral London for questioning. Their release after the UK police also found they had no connection with terrorism was, naturally, hardly mentioned.

Last week the three ex-detainees travelled to the Berlin Festival with the Winterbottom party, and were arrested on Friday under the Prevention of Terrorism Act as the party were returning. They were held by Special Branch and questioned for several hours about where they had been and who they had met. They were also questioned on Michael Winterbottom’s politics.

Even more worrying, the three actors who portrayed them in the film were also arrested and questioned. The actors have no particular political or religious affiliation and were also arrested apparently purely on the basis that they were Asian. None of the white members of the group were arrested.

Following legal intervention by Gareth Peirce, the group were eventually released. Special Branch claimed they had not been arrested, merely detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

On Saturday the party will be returning to Berlin again to accept the film’s awards. We wait to see what will happen when they come home this time.

“The Road to Guantanamo” will premiere on Channel 4 on 9 March.

If you are concerned about this latest abuse of “anti-terrorism” powers, please write to your MP free of charge via the website

UPDATE – Craig Murray says:

“On both and Blairwatch people have been questioning my source for this, and particularly querying why it is not in the mainstream media if it is true.

Well, I was in Winterbottom’s office yesterday, and heard it first hand, from people who were there when it happened. Nowadays the real news isn’t in the mainstream media, I am afraid. Leave them to their celebrity stories, and if you want to know what’s important, come to the web.”

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Craig Murray’s “Murder In Samarkand” available for pre-order now on Amazon

Click to order the book from Amazon

Craig Murray was the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan until he was removed from his post in October 2004 after exposing appalling human rights abuses by the US-funded regime of President Islam Karimov. In this candid and at times shocking memoir, he lays bare the dark and dirty underside of the War on Terror. In Uzbekistan, the land of Alexander the Great and Tamburlaine, lurks one of the most hideous tyrannies on earth – one founded on cotton slavery and brutal torture. As neighbouring ‘liberated’ Afghanistan produces record levels of heroin, the Uzbek rulers cash in on massive trafficking. They are even involved in trafficking their own women to prostitution in the West. But this did not prevent Karimov being viewed as a key US ally in the War on Terror. When Craig Murray arrived in Uzbekistan, he was a young Ambassador with a brilliant career and a taste for whisky and women. But after hearing accounts of dissident prisoners being boiled to death and innocent people being raped and murdered by agents of the state, he started to question both his role and that of his country in so-called ‘democratising’ states. When Murray decided to go public with his shocking findings, Washington and 10 Downing Street reached the conclusion that he had to go. But Uzbekistan had changed the high-living diplomat and there was no way he was going to go quietly.

Pre-order “Murder In Samarkand” from

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Publish and be damned

Many of you will have followed the saga of my efforts to publish my book, now called Murder in Samarkand, describing some of the dirty truth of the so-called War on Terror. I have been perhaps too accommodating to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), but they still insist on dragging out the process forever. Anyway, my patience with their games is finally exhausted, and I have sent notice to the FCO that I intend to go ahead and publish anyway. They will have to go to court to try to enforce a ban.

I have found an excellent publisher in Mainstream Books of Edinburgh, but it takes a lot of guts for a publisher to take on the government in these circumstances.

It would help my cause greatly in getting these truths published if you could help show there is a real demand for this book by pre-ordering it. You can do this now at If you are not able to pay up front, then you could have the same impact by printing off the amazon page and taking the details to your local bookstore to order it.

I won’t pretend that I don’t need the money from the book, as I have spent the last year campaigning against torture, the abuse of intelligence, and support of tyranny, with almost no income. But this is not just a sell – if you can act on this now, it really will help to get the book published. As you will gather from the contents of this website, it is a fascinating story, and it needs to be told.


From Craig Murray

To Richard Stagg


There is now an extensive correspondence over many months on my efforts to clear my book with the FCO for publication. You have had many months to deliberate.

In the ensuing discussions, I have made, as requested, the following very extensive amendments.

*I have removed two accusations that Colin Powell was lying

*I have edited out those parts of my conversation with the US Ambassador which had the quality of confidence, were indiscreet, or differed from public US policy on Uzbekistan

*I have removed the detail of two SIS intelligence reports

*I have removed the reference to GCHQ telephone intercepts

*I have removed completely references to the role of Research Analysts in intelligence anaysis

*I have made plain that Duncan does not support my recollection that he said Research Analysts were in tears over pressure brought over claims of Iraqi WMD

*I have changed the attributions of several comments made by Uzbek LE staff

*I have given false names to several Uzbek LE staff

*I have removed several references to my contention that the Embassy did not function well before my arrival

*I have removed the reference to an early hiccough in Andrew Patrick’s career

*I have changed statements made by Matthew Kydd and Linda Duffield (frankly, I believe my original account was more accurate)

*I have reduced the gruesome detail of the aircraft crash body identification, and particularly taken out physical detail personal to Richard Conroy

*I have removed or toned down a number of personal observations on FCO staff

*I have taken out the reference to Frank Berman being appointed over David Anderson

I believe the above, which is not exhaustive, is proof of a genuine willingness on my part to compromise to reach agreement. I am deeply disappointed that, throughout this process, I have felt no urge on the part of the FCO to actually conclude this matter. Past correspondence sets out the timescale and the FCO’s continued invention of new points to prevent the process concluding.

I therefore give you notice that, should I not receive a definitive response from you by Friday 10 February, I shall be going ahead with publication. In that event I will not feel obliged to retain all the above amendments, some of which I believe detract from the truth of the book and which I offered in response to your various requests, in the belief that we were seeking agreement.

Craig Murray

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Home Office to water down anti-torture/war crime legislation under pressure from Israeli government

From The Guardian

The government is considering weakening laws designed to capture alleged war criminals and torturers who enter Britain, after pressure from the Israeli government, the Guardian has learned.

The changes would bar individuals from seeking international warrants for the arrest of people suspected of serious human rights abuses. The government has confirmed that Israeli officials have lobbied for changes in the law, which has kept some of their military officials away from Britain in case there should be an attempt to arrest them.

The proposals follow Israeli anger after an attempt was made to arrest one of their senior retired generals, Doron Almog, at Heathrow last September. He was tipped off that police were waiting to arrest him for alleged war crimes in Gaza. He stayed on the El Al plane and flew back to Israel. The warrant was issued by Bow Street magistrates, central London, after an application from lawyers representing Palestinians who say they suffered because of the Israeli general’s alleged illegal orders.


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Craig Murray on cartoons and religion

Having spent so much time expressing concern over issues which impact, not only but primarily, on Muslims, both in Uzbekistan and the West, I should like to give a few thoughts about the recent controversy over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

First, I will start by saying that I am myself a monotheist. I believe in God, and have never understood why the three great monotheistic religions spend their time arguing over detail. I was brought up myself in a Christian tradition, and I believe that it taught me many excellent ethical values and gave useful insights into life. I believe that the majority of Jews and Muslims gain equally valid insights from teachings that are more similar than is generally commented upon. I have never given much value to the more magical, or as the Church would say mysterious, elements in the story telling of the faith. They are metaphors. Many of them are shared with Judaism and Islam, and each has some uniquely its own.

I have also felt personally most comfortable with those who emphasise a close personal relationship with God, be they Quakers or Methodists, or from the Sufi tradition in Uzbekistan. I believe that faith should be respected, and that you should not lightly belittle somebody’s faith or belief.

But faith is a personal thing, and if someone finds your belief laughable or threatening, they should be completely entitled to express that. I would not myself draw a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, or write the last scene of ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’, because I would not like to cause unnecessary offence. But I would not in any way prevent others from doing so if they want.

Muslims have every right to believe that nobody should caricature Mohammed, and presumably Muslims don’t do such things. However they have no right to stop anyone else from producing cartoons, commenting on the age of Mohammed’s wives (whatever his relationship with them), or saying whatever else they wish on the subject. You cannot enforce the strictures of your faith on non-believers. The World is not a religiously ordered society. That may come when you die, or not, we’ll find out soon enough.

Religions need to be caricatured. God and faith may be perfect, but men are not, and throughout history religious structures have been used to exert social control, give power to a hierarchy, and to make money from the gullible. Religion has always been distorted to justify both war and repression of people’s rights, and still is today, by Osama Bin Laden, George W Bush, and others. The dangers of protecting religion from ridicule are obvious.

So I don’t agree with the protestors who have sparked such concern, and I think they are very foolish indeed to appear to be threatening violence. In general, it is dangerous to prosecute people for what they write or say, but there does seem to me a case that some may have had an intent to incite violence, which can be dealt with without any new illiberal anti-terrorist laws. But a real sense of proportion is needed here, and we have to aim off for those used to a political culture where extreme language is more acceptable but not literally meant. It seems to me the use of police cautions might be sensible at this stage.

It is particularly important that this is not used to build up steam behind Tony Blair’s ridiculous proposal to ban Hizb-ut-Tehrir. That organisation remains key in that it has the most fundamentalist Islamic views, many of which I personally dislike, but actively preach non-violence at that end of the religious spectrum.

Unfortunately, voices of tolerance on all sides are going to be in short supply in the mainstream punditry in the next few days. Religion still can be manipulated to bring out the worst in people, but we should not forget that it operates more effectively in doing precisely the opposite.

Craig Murray

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Senior US official in Iraq admits stealing $2 million of reconstruction aid and taking bribes in exchange for $8 million worth of contracts

From BBC News

In the United States, a former official has admitted stealing millions of dollars meant for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Robert Stein held a senior position in the Coalition Provisional Authority, which administered Iraq after American and allied forces invaded in 2003. In a Washington court, he admitted to stealing more than $2m (‘1.12m) and taking bribes in return for contracts. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Robert Stein’s story is one of extraordinary corruption and excess amid the ruins of Iraq. He was in charge of overseeing money for the rebuilding of shattered infrastructure in south-central Iraq in 2003 and 2004. Mr Stein admitted in court to conspiring to give out contracts worth $8m to a certain company in return for bribes.

He also received gifts and sexual favours lavished on him at a special villa in Baghdad. But it didn’t stop there.

Robert Stein admitted to stealing $2m from reconstruction funds.

Some of that money, the court heard, was smuggled onto aircraft and flown back to the United States in suitcases. The case is an ugly twist in the tale of post-war Iraq.

The Coalition Provisional Authority, which ceased to exist in 2004, has already endured some tough criticism over the way it managed funds and handed out contracts. A report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction on how the authority went about its business is expected in the coming weeks.

The signs are it could make embarrassing reading for many of those involved.

Click to visit the film's web site

Meanwhile, a new documentary, “Shadow Company”, seeks to explore the secret world of Private Military Companies, including the British-run firm Aegis, whose $293 million Iraq contract raised many eyebrows when it was awarded in 2004.

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LEAK OF THE WEEK: Bush considered provoking war with Saddam by flying a US spyplane over Iraq bearing UN colours

From The Independent

George Bush considered provoking a war with Saddam Hussein’s regime by flying a United States spyplane over Iraq bearing UN colours, enticing the Iraqis to take a shot at it, according to a leaked memo of a meeting between the US President and Tony Blair.

The two leaders were worried by the lack of hard evidence that Saddam Hussein had broken UN resolutions, though privately they were convinced that he had. According to the memorandum, Mr Bush said: “The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.”

He added: “It was also possible that a defector could be brought out who would give a public presentation about Saddam’s WMD, and there was also a small possibility that Saddam would be assassinated.” The memo damningly suggests the decision to invade Iraq had already been made when Mr Blair and the US President met in Washington on 31 January 2003 ‘ when the British Government was still working on obtaining a second UN resolution to legitimise the conflict.

The leaders discussed the prospects for a second resolution, but Mr Bush said: “The US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would ‘twist arms’ and ‘even threaten’. But he had to say that if ultimately we failed, military action would follow anyway.” He added that he had a date, 10 March, pencilled in for the start of military action. The war actually began on 20 March.

Mr Blair replied that he was “solidly with the President and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam.” But he also insisted that ” a second Security Council resolution would provide an insurance policy against the unexpected, and international cover, including with the Arabs” .

The memo appears to refute claims made in memoirs published by the former UK ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, who has accused Mr Blair of missing an opportunity to win the US over to a strategy based on a second UN resolution. It now appears Mr Bush’s mind was already made up.

There was also a discussion of what might happen in Iraq after Saddam had been overthrown. President Bush said that he “thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups”. Mr Blair did not respond. Details of the meeting are revealed in a book, Lawless World, published today by Philippe Sands, a professor of law at University College London.

“I think no one would be surprised at the idea that the use of spy planes to review what is going on would be considered,” Mr Sands told Channel 4 News last night. “What is surprising is the idea that they would be painted in the colours of the United Nations to provoke an attack which could then be used to justify material breach.

“Now that plainly looks as if it is deception, and it raises… questions of legality, both in terms of domestic law and international law.”

Other participants in the meeting were Mr Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, her deputy, Dan Fried, the chief of staff, Andrew Card, Mr Blair’s then security adviser, Sir David Manning, his foreign policy aide, Matthew Rycroft, and his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.

The Downing Street spokesman later said: “The Prime Minister only committed forces to Iraq after securing the approval of the Commons in the vote on 18 March 2003.”

The spokesman added: “All these matters have been thoroughly investigated and we stand by our position.”

* The Ministry of Defence will publish casualty figures for UK troops in Iraq on its website within the next few weeks, the Government disclosed last night. Defence Secretary John Reid said the figures ‘ which will be regularly updated ‘ would identify the number of personnel categorised as seriously injured and very seriously injured. He promised to alert MPs before the first publication of the figures. The pledge came in a Commons written reply.

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Lords defeat government attempt to give Police arbitrary power to ban websites

…but judges will have the authority to approve a ban on any site they consider “related to terrorism”.

From BBC Online

Plans for new anti-terrorism controls on websites have led to a government defeat in the Lords – by just one vote.

The original plans would have allowed a police constable to decide that information on the internet could be related to terrorism.

But peers changed the anti-terror laws to ensure police have to ask judges before telling internet providers that web pages should be removed.

The government was defeated by 148 votes to 147 in the vote.

Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland was away for the vote because of what officials called a “family emergency”.

The defeat came as peers continue to debate the third and final stage of the controversial Terrorism Bill.

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100th British soldier killed in Iraq

From BBC Online

A British soldier has been killed in an explosion in southern Iraq, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

The soldier, from the 7th Armoured Brigade, died as result of injuries sustained after a blast in Basra province, the ministry said.

Other soldiers injured in the incident are receiving treatment at the Shaibah medical facility.

The death brings the number of British personnel to have died in Iraq to 100 and is the second fatality this week.

For previous discussion of the true extent of British casualties go here and here.

Vigils and protests are being organised across the UK to mark this event.

Please see here for further details.

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London bombings survivor Rachel North on the government’s refusal to acknowledge the causes of terrorism

“Clean Skins”, by Rachel North

The Government cannot afford to say that Iraq and the bloody aftermath have gifted those who recruit and train these young men with a PR strategy that keeps making more willing martyrs, soldiers, jihadi warriors. The hideous irony – that the ‘War on Terror’ has only made more terror, fear and has generated many more terrorists – dare not be mentioned.

Read More

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“I am prepared to go to court and I am prepared to go to prison to oppose war and the erosion of our rights”

Milan Rai, Maya Evans’ co-demonstrator, is belatedly charged with “organising” the demonstration for which she was prosecuted late last year. Will he become Blair’s latest Prisoner of Conscience?

Press release from Justice Not Vengeance


Today, Thursday 19 January 2006, Milan Rai, 40, became the first person to be charged with organising an unauthorised demonstration in the vicinity of Parliament under the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. The maximum penalty for this charge is 51 weeks imprisonment.

Rai, author and activist with the anti-war group ‘Justice Not Vengeance’ (JNV), was arrested on 25 October last year for organising the demonstration that led to the conviction of Maya Evans, also of JNV (2).

He was not charged then. The Crown Prosecution Service have delayed a

decision, citing problems with the CCTV footage of the incident. (Maya Evans was convicted without the benefit of such footage.)

Rai and Evans were arrested opposite Downing Street, while they held a two-person ceremony of remembrance, reading the names of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers who have died in the illegal occupation of Iraq (3).

Rai, who recently spent two weeks in Lewes prison for an anti-war

protest, said: ‘We should not have to ask permission to remember the

dead. I am prepared to go to court and I am prepared to go to prison to oppose war and the erosion of our rights.’



1. Milan Rai is the author of 7/7: The London Bombings, Islam and the

Iraq War (Pluto, due in April 2006)

2. Maya Evans was convicted on 7 December 2005 of taking part in an

unauthorised demonstration in the Designated Area

3. See for further details.

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LEAK OF THE WEEK: Leaked memo reveals UK government strategy to deny knowledge of detention centres

From The Guardian

The government is secretly trying to stifle attempts by MPs to find out what it knows about CIA “torture flights” and privately admits that people captured by British forces could have been sent illegally to interrogation centres, the Guardian can reveal. A hidden strategy aimed at suppressing a debate about rendition – the US practice of transporting detainees to secret centres where they are at risk of being tortured – is revealed in a briefing paper sent by the Foreign Office to No 10.

The document shows that the government has been aware of secret interrogation centres, despite ministers’ denials. It admits that the government has no idea whether individuals seized by British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan have been sent to the secret centres.

Dated December 7 last year, the document is a note from Irfan Siddiq, of the foreign secretary’s private office, to Grace Cassy in Tony Blair’s office. It was obtained by the New Statesman magazine, whose latest issue is published today.

It was drawn up in response to a Downing Street request for advice “on substance and handling” of the controversy over CIA rendition flights and allegations of Britain’s connivance in the practice.

“We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail”, Mr Siddiq writes, “and to try to move the debate on, in as front foot a way we can, underlining all the time the strong anti-terrorist rationale for close cooperation with the US, within our legal obligations.”

The document advises the government to rely on a statement by Condoleezza Rice last month when the US secretary of state said America did not transport anyone to a country where it believed they would be tortured and that, “where appropriate”, Washington would seek assurances.

The document notes: “We would not want to cast doubt on the principle of such government-to-government assurances, not least given our own attempts to secure these from countries to which we wish to deport their nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism: Algeria etc.”

The document says that in the most common use of the term – namely, involving real risk of torture – rendition could never be legal. It also says that the US emphasised torture but not “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”, which binds Britain under the European convention on human rights. British courts have adopted a lower threshold of what constitutes torture than the US has.

The note includes questions and answers on a number of issues. “Would cooperating with a US rendition operation be illegal?”, it asks, and gives the response: “Where we have no knowledge of illegality, but allegations are brought to our attention, we ought to make reasonable enquiries”. It asks: “How do we know whether those our armed forces have helped to capture in Iraq or Afghanistan have subsequently been sent to interrogation centres?” The reply given is: “Cabinet Office is researching this with MoD [Ministry of Defence]. But we understand the basic answer is that we have no mechanism for establishing this, though we would not ourselves question such detainees while they were in such facilities”.

Ministers have persistently taken the line, in answers to MPs’ questions, that they were unaware of CIA rendition flights passing through Britain or of secret interrogation centres.

On December 7 – the date of the leaked document – Charles Kennedy, then Liberal Democrat leader, asked Mr Blair when he was first made aware of the American rendition flights, and when he approved them. Mr Blair replied: “In respect of airports, I do not know what the right hon gentleman is referring to.”

On December 22, asked at his monthly press conference about the US practice of rendition, the prime minister told journalists: “It is not something that I have ever actually come across until this whole thing has blown up, and I don’t know anything about it.” He said he had never heard of secret interrogation camps in Europe. But Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, recently disclosed that Whitehall inquiries had shown Britain had received rendition requests from the Clinton administration.

In 1998, Mr Straw, then home secretary, agreed to one request, but turned down another because the individual concerned was to be transported to Egypt. He agreed that Mohammed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, suspected of involvement in the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, could be transported to the US for trial via Stansted, according to the briefing paper. Owhali was subsequently given a life sentence.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, which has demanded an inquiry into allegations of British collusion in rendition flights, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the memo. “The government seems more concerned about spinning than investigating our concerns,” she said. She has written to Mr Straw saying the government must now give its full support to the inquiry conducted, at Liberty’s behest, by the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Michael Todd.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman, said Mr Blair had fully endorsed Ms Rice’s statement, yet the prime minister had clear advice that it might have been deliberately worded to allow for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. “I am submitting an urgent question to the speaker and expect the foreign secretary to come to parliament to explain the government’s position,” he said. “Evasion can no longer be sustained: there is now overwhelming evidence to support a full public inquiry into rendition.”

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester and chairman of the parliamentary group on rendition, said last night: “All the experts who have looked at Rice’s assurances have concluded that they are so carefully worded as to be virtually worthless. Relying on them, as the government appears to be doing, speaks volumes”. He said his committee would pursue the issue.

Update: An interview on BBC radio this morning with the editor of the New Statesman and the chair of the parliamentary committe on extraordinary rendition can be heard here Radio interview

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LEAK OF THE WEEK: Swiss intelligence whistleblower releases documentary evidence of CIA torture prisons

The Swiss government has acknowledged the authenticity of a fax leaked to the newspaper SonntagsBlick which appears to confirm the existence of secret CIA interrogation camps in Romania, Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

From Swiss Info

A government spokesman said the fax in question intercepted by the Swiss intelligence services included information that was already known publicly but which had yet to be verified.

He refused to give any more details, beyond saying that the cabinet had condemned the leak to the press.

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher said he supported transparency but added that secret documents should remain classified.

On Sunday the newspaper made the intercepted document public, saying the fax was received by the Egyptian embassy in London and that it supposedly confirmed the existence of detention centres.

The message was picked up by the secret service’s Onyx satellite listening system on November 10, just three days after the Council of Europe launched its investigation into allegations that the CIA has been running secret interrogation centres in Europe.

The Egyptian fax stated that 23 Iraqi and Afghan citizens had been transferred to a Romanian military base near the port of Constanza for interrogation purposes. It added that similar detention centres had been set up in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Ueli Leuenberger, a Green Party member of parliament and expert on human rights, criticised the government’s failure to act on the intelligence.

“The information should have been handed over to Dick Marty [Swiss head of a Council of Europe investigation into the alleged prisons],” Leuenberger told swissinfo.

“The government should also have issued a formal protest to the United States government. It’s precisely because the cabinet didn’t act that the leak occurred.

“These [CIA] violations only encourage those who disregard international law,” he added.

Marty told French-language radio that he “regretted that the occasion was not seized to deplore the use in Europe of undercover methods to combat terrorism”.

“We don’t hesitate to criticise human rights abuses when they take place in Cuba, Tunisia or Myanmar,” he continued.

“But when it comes to a powerful ally, we are so careful that it borders on subservience.”

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office and military prosecutors are investigating a possible breach of official secrets by the SonntagsBlick editor as well as two journalists at the newspaper.

Publishing a secret document can be a violation of Swiss law punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

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