Interviews


The Assange case

Many thanks indeed to “Me in Us” for this transcript.

00:12 ONN: Hello. We’re here today at the home of Craig Murray, the whistleblower and former ambassador to Uzbekistan. Craig, thank you for being here with us on ON today. On Sunday you spoke out publicly defending Julian Assange in giving a speech in front of the Ecuadorean assembly. What made you want to stand up and be counted as among his supporters?

CRAIG MURRAY: Well, the main reason is that I’ve been a whistleblower myself and active with other whistleblowers, and I’ve seen so many whistleblowers fitted up with false charges, and as soon as anybody blows the whistle, particularly on any aspects of, if you like, neoconservative foreign policy and war, you’re going to get fitted up and you’re going to get defamed with false charges, and if you’re male I think in every case those charges are going to involve sexual allegations. So I could just see, if you like, a miscarriage of justice in the process of being done, and I wanted to do anything I can to help stop it.

01:16 ONN: You said that individual whistleblowers are not charged with political offenses, they are fit up with criminal ones. Would you care to elaborate on that?

CRAIG MURRAY: Yes, certainly, and I’ll give a few examples. James Yee, who was a chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, he blew the whistle on torture and mistreatment of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. He was first of all charged with espionage and acts of espionage benefiting a foreign country. Then those charges were dropped and he was charged with adultery, which apparently under US military law is an offense, and he was charged with having pornography on his government computer at work, and he was convicted of both of those, and then later the conviction was overturned.

Brigadier Janis Karpinski was the lady in charge of all Iraqi prisoners of war in Iraq, not just at Abu Ghraib. She was in charge of all military installations. She wasn’t actually at Abu Ghraib, and actually she’d only ever been to Abu Ghraib once. When the story broke about all the torture at Abu Ghraib, she came forward and she said that she had personally seen a document signed by Donald Rumsfeld detailing forms of torture to be used at Abu Ghraib, including stress positions, including threatening naked prisoners with dogs. She said those techniques were detailed in the document which was signed by Donald Rumsfeld. She was recalled to the United States, and the day after she returned to the United States she was allegedly caught shoplifting and charged with shoplifting.

Scott Ritter was an Iraqi weapons inspector on the same UN team as David Kelly. He was a captain in the US Marines. He stated that there were no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. On his return to the United States he was entrapped in a computer sex honey trap by an FBI agent, and this was admitted in court, that it was an FBI agent who entrapped him.

03:51 ONN: For those who don’t know, what does this term “honey trap” refer to?

CRAIG MURRAY: Honey trap is where you put, if you like, sexual bait in order to catch someone, to entice someone into a sexual act which they otherwise might not have committed had you not put the temptation right in their way. It’s a term frequently used in espionage and diplomatic circles because it’s a well-known technique of the security services. And Scott Ritter fell for this honey trap and he was actually convicted of pedophilia, because although the agent in concern was an adult female, she was using an Internet persona of an underage person. But — and Scott Ritter’s case is the only one where I think there may be any truth at all in the allegations, and in his case it wouldn’t have happened, the whole thing wouldn’t have happened had the FBI not set up the situation and gone out to get him.

And I should say these are all people I knew personally. Two of them are people I knew before they were accused. And it happens to everyone. And the same thing happened to me. I blew the whistle on British complicity in torture, MI6′s complicity with torture in Uzbekistan and on extraordinary rendition. I was immediately charged with sexual allegations, in effect with extorting sex from visa applicants. It took me, you know, 18 months of real hell, to be honest, to clear my name. Because, you know, I know once people throw those kind of allegations at you, it tarnishes your name forever. It’s very easy to destroy someone’s reputation by sexual allegations.

So, for me, the absolutely extraordinary thing is that, you know, after this has happened to James Yee, happened to me, happened to Scott Ritter, happened to Janis Karpinski, they pulled the same trick again and again, and now it’s pulling it with Julian Assange, and anybody taking seriously these accusations astonishes me, because the idea that people just can’t see what is happening in the world and the way that whistleblowers are being persecuted, to me it’s astonishing. And the fact that none of what I’ve just said to you will you find reported in the mainstream media, you know, ought to really, really alarm people about the kind of world we live in.

06:30 ONN: Yes, there does seem to be a rather consistent failure by the mainstream media to address these issues. I mean, in your opinion, are journalists doing their job right?

CRAIG MURRAY: No. I mean, it seems to me there is very little actual journalism in the what you might call the paid media. And part of that, of course, is that, you know, the media is owned by a very small number of people, and really people have to write what their bosses want them to write. It’s very, very difficult to get the truth into the media on any subject at all. On top of which also, of course, newspapers actually employ far less journalists than they used to. There used to be a time when individual newspapers in Fleet Street had 30 or 40 foreign correspondents per newspaper. There aren’t actually now 30 or 40 foreign correspondents between the whole of the British newspaper industry. So just the number of them has gone down, and mostly they spend their time, you know, cutting and pasting government press releases and putting out the story, the story which the people who own the papers want them to hear.

The same goes for broadcast media, which again has precisely the same restricted private ownership, unless it’s owned by the government. Though the government of course is owned by the same people who own the newspapers — it really doesn’t make a great deal of difference.

08:10 ONN: So what do you think about the actual allegations, the actual substance of the allegations made against Julian Assange? I mean, is there any evidence at all that you can see of – ?

CRAIG MURRAY: I mean, to some extent it almost doesn’t matter because, as I say, having been through it myself and having seen all the whistleblowers I know go through it, it was only a matter of time before they did it to Julian Assange. So the question of what they charged him with or what evidence they managed to fake is almost irrelevant.

I would say, I think, you know, choosing rape and sexual allegations is very clever. The CIA do know what they are doing. Firstly, because nothing tarnishes your name in that way. People might forgive you for being a bank robber, they might even eventually forgive you for being a murderer, if you said you did it in the heat of the moment, but nobody will ever forgive you for being a rapist or a pedophile. So the choice of allegation is very clever.

Also, it splits the left. If the Birmingham Six had been charged with rape, they would still be in jail today, because nobody would ever have been allowed in public campaigning to query the evidence against them, because unfortunately, because of the genuine problems with rape, genuine rape, going unpunished in society, the reaction to that has been that many perfectly decent people think the only way to correct that imbalance is by removing essentially all protection to people accused of rape. And that view is deeply held by genuine and decent people who are concerned about the position of women in society. But once you have a social acceptance that you ought not to be allowed in public discourse to challenge people making accusations of rape, that makes it the perfect tool for a security service to use, because everyone has agreed in advance that it’s the one crime that no one’s going in campaigning against miscarriage of justice to challenge the evidence or challenge the accusers.

And, as I say, you have so many people on the left whose primary political concern is feminism, who are being used as useful idiots by the CIA, who have been sidetracked into vitriolic attacks on Julian Assange, who are calling people like me rape apologists, just because the CIA has been very, very careful to choose the one accusation which they will always uphold, be it true or not. That’s the main problem with the allegations.

But, no, I mean, it is well worth studying the detail both of the allegations themselves and of the people making the allegations and of the procedures which have been adopted. Because even if you didn’t know all the background I’ve given you about how whistleblowers are always fitted up with these allegations, even if you didn’t know that, just from a careful close examination of the evidence in this case, which is widely available on the Internet, anybody would conclude this was a fit-up. I don’t see how anyone can seriously study the facts of the case and not think it’s a fit-up.

11:46 ONN: You mentioned the other day, you were giving an interview, and you mentioned one of Assange’s accusers by name, Anna Ardin, and this caused a big uproar. I’ve been doing some digging and I found out that she is in fact a Social Democrat politician. Do you feel that these are facts that need to be made widely available to public? Do you stand by the fact that you named Anna Ardin as one of his accusers?

CRAIG MURRAY: Absolutely. The most important single point in this is that Anna Ardin named herself. She has given a number of interviews to the media under her own name accusing Julian Assange, the first one of which I can find was in August of 2010. But I found at least 30 media interviews that she has given where she is reported as Anna Ardin making these accusations. Now the idea — and saying that she does not work for the CIA. It was interesting that she feels the need to say that. Most of us don’t go around denying we work for the CIA. And also saying that, you know, Assange is a misogynist and a rapist and goodness knows what else.

The idea that you should be able to make such accusations to the media – I don’t mean privately in court – that you should be able under your own name to make such media accusations and nobody should be allowed to reply to you and nobody should be allowed to use your name, even though you put it yourself in the newspapers, is sort of Kafkaesque. I actually cannot understand for the life of me why I ought not be allowed to use it when she openly puts it in the public domain herself.

And there are, you know, over 200,000 Google hits on her name, and she has been named in the mainstream media of every single major country I can find except for the UK She’s been named in the New York Times. She’s been named in the Times of India. She’s been named in Paris Match. She’s been named in La Republica. She’s been named in Der Spiegel. The UK is actually the only country where she has never been named by the mainstream media, which again is very strange.

But, no, she herself is a character with a very, very interesting history and very, very interesting ties, political ties, which don’t relate only to the Social Democrat Party in Sweden but that network of people in the police, the prosecution and Anna Ardin who are all connected, who are all working on this case together, who all have party links, is something which would itself make the case inadmissible in any decent jurisdiction. But she also has a history that relates to work with CIA-funded agencies in Miami and Cuba and Buenos Aries. So the more people study Anna Ardin, the better.

15:04 ONN: You’ll be referring, of course, to the Ladies in White, a feminist organization in Cuba based in Miami as well. Is that –

CRAIG MURRAY: That’s right. Look, she has an interesting and varied history of working in causes which, let’s say where there’s a mutual area of interest in South America with the CIA.

15:33 ONN: It’s also interesting now that it is Ecuador that has come out, that originally granted protection to Assange within the embassy and has now granted him full asylum. So if extradited to Sweden, what do you think would be the fate that would await Julian Assange there?

CRAIG MURRAY: Well, his fear is that he would very quickly be extradited on from Sweden to the United States, either extradited or rendered. And the Swedes actually now have a sort of legal rendition law for speedy temporary rendition to the United States, as it’s called. That’s what is worrying Julian Assange. Though I should say, I mean, my experience of the way they treat whistleblowers and my experience of what we have seen of the process in Sweden, I would say there must be just as big a fear that he will be unjustly convicted of rape, which I’m quite sure he hasn’t done. But if he arrives in Sweden, he will immediately be jailed. There’s no provision for bail. And the thing which most people don’t understand is that rape trials in Sweden are held entirely in secret, so nobody would ever see any of the evidence. The next thing we will hear is the verdict. My own view is the most likely scenario is that it’s been cooked up well in advance and that verdict will be guilty. And it’s very possible to do that because not only is the trial held in secret but there is no jury.

Now I’m not one of those people who believes that only the British system of law is okay. Many countries have different systems and often those systems work very well. But what you do have with the jury system is a situation where ordinary men and women do have that chance to stand up to the authorities and to say what they believe to be true. It may not be a chance that they take very often, but that possibility is there. Where you don’t have a jury, as in Sweden, the chances of the government if it wishes to seriously influencing the result are pretty firm.

18:15 I would look at the Jean Charles de Menezes inquest, for example, in the United Kingdom. In that case, the judge, who’s appointed by the government – and remember that it’s basically a government decision not just which judges get appointed but allocating judges to particular cases. In that case the judge, and sadly his name’s escaped me because he was a complete bloody disgrace, he gave a summing up which was totally tendentious and in which he said that the jury would not be allowed to return a verdict of unlawful killing, and he would only give them the choice of two verdicts, one of which was an open verdict, and the other one was that the killing had been lawful, but he wouldn’t let allow them to bring a verdict of unlawful killing, he would rule that verdict out of order, which again is a complete disgrace. He made absolutely plain that the verdict he wanted was that it was lawful. But it didn’t happen. The jury came back and said no, we’re going to bring back an open verdict. And they did, much to the annoyance of the judge.

19:37 The Clive Ponting case, when he leaked the fact that the Belgrano was actually sailing away from the Falkland Islands at the time it was destroyed with hundreds of people killed, he was charged with that under the Official Secrets Act. There was no doubt he was guilty. He was undoubtedly technically guilty. The judge said so, pretty well, in his summing up of that case. And the jury basically told the judge to get knotted and found him not guilty. So there’s always that possibility with a jury system.

Assange wouldn’t have a jury. He would be judged by a professional judge and two lay assessors. And the lay assessors are actually party political appointments, quite literally. One will be appointed by the Swedish Conservative Party and one by the Swedish Social Democratic party. The Swedish Conservative Party is very strongly aligned to George Bush and the neocons and the Social Democratic Party are precisely the people that Anna Ardin and the prosecutor and the police investigator and Anna Ardin’s lawyer all come from. So, there is every chance that this secret process would result in a complete stitch-up.

And I think although people have focused on the fear of him being extradited from Sweden to the United States, and I think that’s true and I think it’s legitimate, my personal view is an even bigger danger is of a secret trial where nobody ever gets to know what the evidence was and they announce to a complacent media that he’s been found guilty of rape at the end of it.

21:17 ONN: And then it’s a done deal and there can be no preventing it.

CRAIG MURRAY: Exactly. Then it’s a done deal and they shove him in jail for 10 years. Then when at the end of that period he comes out, he’s sent over to the United States and tried on terrorism charges, whatever, and by that stage, of course, he’s a convicted rapist as far as the media is concerned, and anyway 10 years have passed and nobody cares anymore.

21:40 ONN: That would be a terrible outcome. What would you think, do you think would be the result if William Hague carried out his threat to storm the Ecuadorean embassy at this point?

CRAIG MURRAY: Well, it’s an absolutely astonishing threat. I should say that I know for certain from colleagues, ex-colleagues within the Foreign Office, that in issuing that threat, William Hague was very closely pushed by the Americans. He was under a lot of pressure from the United States of America to get Assange to Sweden. Which again, you know, rather contradicts those who say he would be under no fear of extradition if he went to Sweden. Why are the Americans so keen to get him there? Why are they interested?

But it was an astonishing threat, because everyone in the world, except perhaps the heads of government in the United Kingdom and the United States, would view that as a grossly illegal act. It would be an absolute diplomatic outrage and it would be a, you know, a crime of aggression against Ecuador. The diplomatic repercussions would be astonishing for the United Kingdom. First of all, no British embassy would be safe around the world, because everyone would say, “Well, we can do the same as you, we can de-designate your embassy and move in and take it over.” And secondly, our relations with not just Latin America but most of the developing world at least would be very, very seriously set back.

And you must remember that we have enough problems in Latin America already. First of all we’ve got the crazy jingoistic, on both sides, dispute over the Falkland Islands. Then you’ve got the fact we would not extradite Pinochet when we’re so keen on extraditing Assange for offenses which even if they were true wouldn’t add up to a hundred thousandth of what Pinochet did. And then you have, of course, as I said earlier, the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. The idea that the Metropolitan Police, having killed Jean Charles de Menezes, we would let them launch a physical attack on a Latin American embassy, is just astonishing.

So you know the repercussions would be enormous. And I think Hague has absolutely made a fool of himself because he’s made a threat which it would be totally disastrous were he to carry it out.

24:24 ONN: And what about the legality of such a thing? Using the 1987 Diplomatic Consular Premises Act is what Hague said, the legislation he said he’d use?

CRAIG MURRAY: Well, this is just utter nonsense because it can’t trump international law. You can’t have domestic legislation which is in conflict with international law, particularly an international treaty to which we are a party. We were actually I think the second signatory on the 1961 Vienna Convention, and it’s the single most subscribed to international treaty in the world. And interestingly enough, even the 1987 act in itself says that its provisions must be in accordance with international law, and it actually says that even in the 1987 act. Well it would be completely against international law for Hague to do what he’s planned to do. Article 22 of the Vienna Convention, Part 1, states absolutely baldly, without any qualification at all, that diplomatic premises are inviolable. Full stop. And they are. You know, you’re not allowed to enter anybody else’s diplomatic premises.

Even in the chaos of Afghanistan, Britain abandoned its embassy in Afghanistan, withdrew all its diplomats. I’m not sure of that. I don’t think we were chucked out. I think we left voluntarily. But at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Britain withdrew, and our embassy sat there empty for decades, through the Soviet occupation, through the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and the embassy building was only opened up again – although eventually we moved to new premises, it’s not the building we’re in now – but the original embassy building was only opened up again after the invasion in 2001, 2002. But it had been, for 20 years, it had sat there empty, under the Soviets and under the Taliban, and neither the Soviets nor the Taliban had entered the British embassy. Even though there was nobody there except a resident Afghan caretaker, they accepted the inviolability of embassy premises and they didn’t enter it, not the Soviets nor the Taliban. Now William Hague is proposing we should act much, much worse than either the Soviets or the Taliban, and this to me is absolutely astonishing. It beggars belief.

27:18 ONN: Okay, just one more question before we wrap up here, which was, what do you think the actual chances of Julian Assange running the gauntlet, so to speak, and making it to Ecuador safely? Do you see a way that he can manage to leave Britain now and get there to South America in safety?

CRAIG MURRAY: Physically it’s going to be very difficult. The chances of getting to Ecuador from the embassy in the middle of London without the agreement of the British authorities are limited. You can, you know, we can all think of sort of physical escape scenarios, but they’re not easy. There’s going to have to be a diplomatic solution. My guess would be that it will take a long while in coming, I think six months from now. There’s not going to be much public awareness that anything has changed, although talks will have been going on behind the scenes.

The obvious solution is for the Swedes to agree that they won’t extradite him to the United States, but the Swedes absolutely refuse to do that, and the United States refuses to say that it won’t apply for extradition, because frankly there’s no doubt whatsoever that the United States has convened a grand jury to look at prosecuting Assange and Wikileaks and has every intention of extraditing him to the United States. So all of that is very, very difficult.

You can see a kind of Lockerbie solution. The alleged Lockerbie bomber, Mr. Megrahi, was tried in the Hague under Scottish law by Scottish judges because they didn’t want to send him to Scotland and they agreed to hold the trial on mutual premises, and the Dutch agreed that a court in the Hague could actually be in effect under Scottish law for the period of the trial. It’s not the happiest precedent, because I think the trial was itself a stitch-up and a miscarriage of justice, but it does set a precedent for somebody being tried by another state on somebody else’s territory, so there is a precedent in international law if people were looking for that.

Now, as I’ve said myself, my own view is that a condition of any trial should be that it should be public. I think this case is so high-profile that people are entitled to know what evidence has been given, are entitled to know what the defense is, and frankly the defense is so strong that it would make it very, very difficult to do a stitch-up conviction. So something along those lines.

I really do not know at this stage what the end game is. The hope of the British government is that the Ecuadorean government will change. There’s an election coming up in Ecuador in the not so distant future. The British and American governments are relying on President Correa’s opponents — and his opponents are of course backed by the CIA anyway – will manage to win that election and then cancel his diplomatic asylum and hand him over, and that’s the end game as far as the British and Americans are concerned. So my guess is that they will wait for the outcome of the Ecuadorean election. I don’t think they will make any compromise at all until after the Ecuadorean election, in the hope that the government of Ecuador changes and that they will get a, basically a US puppet administration in Ecuador which will just hand him over.

31:49 ONN: Well, thank you very much for speaking with us today, Mr. Murray. It’s been fascinating and very informative. And thank you to our viewers. Thank you for watching this ONN interview. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Okay.

CRAIG MURRAY: Thank you.

* I have added in italics phrases on one particular point where I thought my meaning was obvious in context, but evidently from comments on another thread it was not.

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You Don’t Have To Appease Dictators

Western collusion with vicious dictators is a policy choice. But it is also an individual choice by those who carry out the policy. The Arab Spring has put iinto context the stand I took over our support of the Uzbek regime and our collaboration in its brutality.

With that in mind, this BBC interview I gave with John Humphrys has a new resonance now. This blog also has thousands more readers every day than it did back in 2005, so it may well be new to most of you. I think now my concerns are much more widely understood by the public than they were then.

Listen here:
On The Ropes

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Independent World Report

There is a new international affairs magazine called International World Report. The first issue has a very interesting focus on Central Asia, The article on the Uighurs is a good introduction to the subject. There is also an interview with me. This is perfectly accurate, but as always when you read back a verbatim transcript you think of things you might have put better or explained further.

http://www.independentworldreport.com/

I don’t know if future issues will maintain a Central Asian focus, but in any event the magazine looks like it could be a good source on lesser known foreign policy areas.

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The Choice

A half hour interview here as part of Michael Buerk’s very interesting Radio 4 series.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/mainframe.shtml?http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/radio4_aod.shtml?radio4/thechoice

Meantime Murder in Samarkand appears almost totally off the shelves. I needed some copies at the weekend, and went to Waterstones in Malet St, Trafalgar Sq, Piccadilly Circus and Notting Hill Gate, to Daunts, Hatchards, Foyles, to Blackwells and Borders in Charing Cross Road and to Books Etc in Shepherds Bush. Between all of these I culled just four copies, with most shops having none. None have any copies today.

Amazon.co.uk also have the paperback no longer in stock but on 6 day delivery.

Yet there were plenty of copies everywhere of Tamerlaine’s Children by Robert Rand and Ghost Plane by Stephen Grey. These are very good books by friends of mine on broadly the same subject as mine, but have sold less than a quarter the number and are tens of thousands lower in the Amazon sales rankings.

I have continually been frustrated by this. Murder has sold remarkably well given its invisibility. But it really is hard to understand what is happening – and why.

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Life After Scandal

I was invited to dinner last night, so I listened this morning on the Net to the abridged version of Robin Soans’ Life After Scandal which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 last night as the Friday play.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/friday_play.shtml

Robin does verbatim theatre. That is to say he interviews people and then weaves their precise words into a play. It works surprisingly well. I found this play fascinating and ultimately very moving. Not all the characters, even the “victims”, are sympathetic – I wanted to make “Melissa” eat her dog, and agree with the ever excellent David Leigh on Jonathan Aitken – but it still brought me close to tears. It is very hard not to feel sorry for Lord Montagu.

I hope that you feel that my dialogue helped to give the play some context and direction on the political use of scandal, without which it might itself have been in danger of becoming an exercise in prurience.

I have to say that I am rather annoyed by the silly voice and petulant tone the actor, Adrian Scarborough, gave my character. The words spoken do not necessitate that tone, and I feel rather devalued and made fun of. It did not destroy the effect of my words, but certainly lessens them. I understand that on radio, particularly where actors play multiple parts, voice must be strongly differentiated, but I still felt annoyed. I hope I am not being precious.

I am especially delighted to hear Corin Redgrave acting again after his illness (playing Jonathan Aitken – delicious irony). Corin is an immensely kind man. When I was under the storm of a government smear campaign, he phoned out of the blue (I didn’t know him) and invited me to a curry after his one man show. Imagine my happiness when Vanessa then joined us.

The full version of the play opens on 20 September at the Hampstead Theatre and should be well worth seeing.

http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/prod-performances.asp?_date=2007-9

I presume the BBC link will disappear after six more days. If anyone has the ability to save this with a permanent link, that would be helpful.

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Censorship By PBS

This link goes to a blog referencing a Frontline documentary on the alleged Toronto bomb plot, in which I participated.

http://blog.throwawayyourtv.com/2007/06/cracking-toronto-terror-cell.html

it is not a great documentary, giving too much implicit credence to an extremely dodgy informant, and ignoring the crucial agent provocateur aspects of the case. This series is produced out of Canada, and shown first there, and then in the US by PBS. The original documentary did have the saving grace of looking at what drives young Muslims to extremism, particularly in US and UK foreign policy. That is where I came in.

However, when PBS came to reshow this in the US, they insisted on a complete recut, taking out all the balance (including all of me) and turning it purely into an exercise in fear – those Muslims are planning to blow you up because they are plain evil.

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Interview With Human Rights Monitor

Human Rights Monitor is an independent Geneva based publication which monitors the work of the UN’s Human Rights Council, a body which has very little interest in human rights.

What do you think about the decision at the last session of the UN Human Rights Council to keep the allegations about abuses in Uzbekistan confidential?

This is an indication of a worrying new bloc at work, with countries like Russia, Uzbekistan and Belarus feeling stronger in the face of the tarnished human rights record of the US and UK. They are increasingly flexing their muscles in international organs like the UN and the new Council. This is worrying indeed and may confirm our worst fears about the new Council being as bad, or worse, than the old Commission.

See full interview http://www.humanrights-geneva.info/article.php3?id_article=1725

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Blair Brings Back Colonialism to Africa

Interview from The London Project http://londonproject.co.uk/article/murray

Colonialism Returns To Africa Says Ex-Diplomat

By Mattia Bagnoli

June 1st, 2007

in Issue 1 Today

As Tony Blair was feted as an ‘honorary chief’ in Sierra Leone this week, not everyone in London was as congratulatory towards the prime minister’s chequered foreign policy. “To me it sounds like colonialism has returned to Africa”, says Craig Murray, former British ambassador referring to the British intervention that brought the civil war in Sierra Leone to an end.

In 2000 Blair ordered the British Army into Sierra Leone to support government soldiers in the bloody civil war that had wrecked the diamond rich West African nation. “We managed to bring the war to halt, it’s true. But the price is that colonialism has returned to Africa. Is this the pattern we want? We now have troops in Sierra Leone; the head of the police is a British citizen, not to say that the government enjoy the help of British officers. Is the solution for Africa to have the Europeans come back?” says Murray.

Craig Murray was relieved of his post at the height of the Iraqi invasion in 2004 following public disagreements with then Home Office Secretary Jack Straw. Uzbekistan backed the US led invasion in the Gulf, conceding its strategic air-force base to the Americans, in return for much needed economic support. Tashkent’s poor record involving human rights was not considered an obstacle in the ‘pay off’. The former Ambassador was moved to voice his concerns bringing him into direct conflict with his own government.

Murray an experienced career diplomat served as British Deputy High Commissioner in Accra, Ghana and subsequently led the peace-talk delegation which brought a solution to the civil war in Sierra Leone.

“Sierra Leone is seen by supporters of intervention as a big achievement yet it can be seen as an example of the rather childish division of the world into bad guys and good guys often made by Mr Blair”, says Mr Murray.

Britain sent a battalion of 800 paratroopers to Sierra Leone in May 2000 – not as peacekeepers but, in effect, as combatants. They backed the democratically elected government, whose army had fallen into disarray, fighting a rebel army with a record of recruiting child soldiers, terrorising civilians, inflicting terrible deaths on innocent victims.

“Rebels have done truly horrific things but it cannot be forgotten that the elected government was also terrible, in terms of corruption, even by African standards. For instance, 90 per cent of the diamond trade revenues were shared between Sierra Leone’s elite and foreign companies which were operating there,” Murray said.

Murray claimed the money remained untouched in bank accounts, nonetheless the government was restored.

Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest nations in Africa and the world, despite its abundant mineral wealth. In the interior the diamond mines are working again and people wonder where that wealth is going. According to Alan Little, BBC’s correspondent in Sierra Leone, “the government has presided over a system of entrenched corruption in which the political elite grows rich while the mass of the people remain poor”.

“Mr Blair did not want to see this aspect”, recalls Mr Murray. “He wanted to find the good guys and then support them with a military solution. He adopted the same mindset to Iraq, where this simplistic view exploded – a rather ‘cow-boy’ approach I think”.

In his main speech on his farewell tour of Africa, Mr Blair, who has sent UK troops into action in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq while prime minister, said it was in countries’ self interest to intervene in failing states. He said: “I believe in the power of political action to make the world better and the moral obligation to use it.”

Mr Blair will fly back to London later after his four-day final trip to Africa before leaving Downing Street on 27 June.

After leaving the Diplomatic Service, Craig Murray turned to writing. His latest book, ‘Murder in Samarkand’ tells the story of his mission to Tashkent in the years between 2002 to 2004 where he became a firm opponent of Uzbek’s reckless regime and helped to expose its horrific tortures against political dissidents as well as helpless citizens – including boiling them to death. He also contributes to various newspapers and broadcasters.

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Craig Murray: Our man in Dundee

From Education Guardian

Being a bloody-minded whistleblower is the ideal qualification for a rector, the ex-ambassador tells John Crace

A one-bedroomed flat in Shepherd’s Bush isn’t many people’s idea of a former diplomat’s des res. And it probably isn’t Craig Murray’s, either. But after a bruising few years, which have seen him forced out of his job as ambassador to Uzbekistan by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for failing to toe the British line on intelligence obtained under torture, come close to bankruptcy, when he started a legal challenge against his dismissal, and navigate his way through a tricky divorce, he’s happy to settle for what he can get.

You wouldn’t blame him for seeking out a quiet life – and by contesting this Friday’s election for the post of rector of Dundee University against a former Scottish rugby international, Andy Nicoll, it might look as if Murray had already got his slippers half on. After all, what could be more suitable for an ex His Excellency than an honorary position that requires little more than dressing up in fancy clothes from time to time, eating the odd formal banquet and smoking an after-dinner Havana? If Lorraine Kelly has been able to handle the job for the past two and a half years or so, then it should be a doddle for Murray.

Looking after students’ interests

This isn’t quite the way Murray sees it, though. “Being rector may be unpaid, but it should be more than a glorified PR non-job,” he says. “I was head of the student union when I was at Dundee in the early 1980s, so I know what a rector is meant to do. The post was originally established so that students had an elected representative to look after their interests in the running of the university; this function has rather been neglected in recent years as the administration has been left to the principal. But I intend to be much more hands-on.”

In other words, he’s planning to do exactly what he did at the Foreign Office: ask difficult questions and be bloody-minded. Murray gives a half-smile. “If necessary,” he says cautiously. So take that as a yes. Dundee University is going through tough times; it’s running a ‘1.8m deficit and the principal, Sir Alan Langmeads, has put forward a cost-cutting plan that includes up to 100 redundancies, the closure of the modern languages department and shorter opening hours for the library.

Murray doesn’t much care for it and neither, he reckons, do many others. “I can’t really see how introducing new layers of bureaucracy and cutting academic provision is in the university’s best interests,” he says, “and I believe that many students feel too powerless to influence policy and that academics are scared about speaking up because they are worried about losing their jobs. If I could be a rallying point – the rector is the third most powerful university post – then maybe we could have a proper democratic debate about the best way forward.”

With no full-time job at present – he doesn’t count writing a book as a proper career – Murray describes his occupation as “dissident”. Not that he looks much like your archetypal dissident. He’s a little tired and distant around the eyes, but that’s the only outward sign of a life in conflict. Even so, dissident is not as wide of the mark as you might think.

Murray grew up in Norfolk, where his father was stationed at an RAF base, and his childhood appears to have been the usual unremarkable mix of home and school.

Except Murray hated his school with a passion. “The Paston was an old-fashioned grammar that was trying its best to be an independent school,” he says. “It felt as if the teachers were still fighting the second world war, and once a week we were all made to dress up in military uniform and become cadets. Either I skipped school or refused to take part, so I was frequently suspended. Anyway, the overall result was that I did little work and managed to screw up my A-levels spectacularly.”

Things improved when he went up to Dundee – “it was the only university that would have me; I got in through clearing” – but though he emerged four academic years and two student officer sabbatical years later with a first in history, he still couldn’t find a job.

“You’d have thought that a decent degree and time spent as head of the student union might have been of interest to someone,” he laughs, “but I must have applied for more than 100 jobs and only one firm even wrote back to me. It was the early 80s, there were about three and half million people unemployed and I was a bit desperate, so I took the fast-stream civil service exam as a bit of a joke.”

Things became less funny when Murray not only passed the exam but sailed through the two-day selection panel. “I then had to work out what I wanted to do,” he says. “I’d never had any great desire to travel or see the world – I only discovered what a pizza was during a trip to see a girl-friend in Chicago when I was 21 – and I only put down the diplomatic corps because it seemed marginally more glamorous than anything else on offer. I couldn’t face the idea of joining the Department of Health and Social Security or the Inland Revenue; it would have been like admitting I was really dull and had no friends.”

Murray was a bit of an outsider from the start in the Foreign Office. “It likes to boast about how it has broadened access,” he says, “but it’s a complete nonsense. When the FCO talks about graduate entry it actually means to all levels of the service, and you virtually need a degree even to empty a wastepaper basket there these days. Of the 22 people in my high-flier intake, only two of us didn’t go to Oxbridge and only I didn’t go to a public school.”

Even so, he proved himself to be a safe enough pair of hands and, after successful junior postings in Poland, Nigeria and Ghana, he was offered the top job as ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002 when he was in his early 40s. Post 9/11, the former Russian republic wasn’t the diplomatic backwater it once had been and most FCO insiders reckoned Murray was headed for the top: a safe tour of Uzbekistan and a stint as a European ambassador, before bowing out with one of the plum jobs and a knighthood, was the general forecast.

It all started to unravel within weeks of his arriving in Tashkent. “President Karimov was making a big deal of a forthcoming terrorist trial,” Murray says, “so I thought I would go along to watch. It was all going to script with the accused admitting that his nephews belonged to al-Qaida, when the man burst into tears, saying it was all untrue and that he’d been tortured into a confession. I was close enough to touch him in court and I could tell he was speaking the truth.”

Murray didn’t need to go digging for more evidence: as he had shown an interest in these abuses by turning up in court, dissidents from all parts of the country came to the embassy to tell their stories. To his amazement, he soon realised there was a distinct overlap between the confessions that had been extracted under torture and the security intelligence that was being circulated by the CIA.

No hero

“You have to realise I never set out to be a hero,” he insists. “I was never a great campaigner for human rights. In many ways, I’d always been just as compromised as any other diplomat. When I was working on the South African desk of the London office I had had to send out letters saying we believed that the African National Congress was a terrorist organisation. I didn’t think that for a second and nor did anyone else I was working with, but we did it because it was the price of an impartial, depoliticised civil service.

“The closest I had ever got to any form of stand was by refusing to implement a government directive to persuade the Poles to reduce the size of the health warnings on cigarette packets to conform with EU law. But the situation in Uzbekistan was very different. This was about torture and it seemed very black and white to me. It still does; the only surprise was that it didn’t seem to be a moral issue for other members of the government and the FCO.”

Within a few months, Murray was getting a telegram from the FCO suggesting he was “focusing too much on human rights issues” and, when this had no effect, he was told outright that Britain was entitled to use intelligence obtained under torture providing it wasn’t the Brits who were doing the torturing. “It was legal, it was policy and I was to shut up,” he says.

But he didn’t, and in August 2003 he was recalled to London from a family holiday in Canada. “I was told that if I resigned from Uzbekistan I would be given the embassy in Copenhagen,” he continues. “It would have been a huge promotion, but I refused on principle. I was then told that I had a week to resign or I would face 18 charges, including being an alcoholic, selling British visas for sexual favours and stealing from the embassy.

“All the charges were fabricated, but there was nothing I could do to defend myself, as I was also told I wasn’t allowed to discuss the charges with anyone or call anybody as a witness. The FCO would conduct its own investigation and let me know the outcome – which was never going to be in doubt.”

Murray returned to Tashkent, but within days was flown back to the psychiatric ward of St Thomas’s Hospital in London. “I was in a complete state of collapse,” he says. “I could barely speak or move and I doubted anyone would believe my story. Fortunately the psychiatrist said to me, ‘You don’t need me, you need a good lawyer’ and proceeded to get in contact with Gareth Peirce [the human rights lawyer who defended the Birmingham Six].”

From that point on, things began to look up for Murray. He was cleared of all the allegations, except, bizarrely, for the one of discussing the others with another person – “technically, they were right as I did discuss it with my secretary, but as they were found to be false…” – and he was given a substantial financial settlement in return.

But he did still lose his job. Which is how Murray really comes to be in Dundee this week. And what if the students vote for Nicoll instead? “I’ll be disappointed,” he says, “but at least there’s not a salary riding on it.” So how is he managing for money? “The book didn’t sell as well in hardback as I had hoped, but I’ve done well out of the film rights. They were initially bought by Michael Winterbottom – and he’s still making the movie – but he’s flogged the rights on to Paramount.”

His role will be played by Steve Coogan. Is he worried about being turned into a joke? “No. Winterbottom’s got a good track record and, besides, some of the story is quite amusing anyway.” Nice to know someone can still see the funny side.

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Ex-ambassador skewers CIA

By Monica Eng in the Chigaco Tribune

Six weeks after Craig Murray started his job as British ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002, a packet of photos landed on his desk. Inside were pictures a mother had taken of her son’s mutilated corpse. The young man, a political prisoner accused of having ties to radical Islam, had been tortured, beaten and immersed in boiling water.

“And,” Murray recently told an audience at the University of Chicago, “when that guy was boiled to death, you paid to heat the water.” He was referring to the $500 million in U.S. aid given to the Uzbeks in 2002.

Murray, 47, visited Chicago during a recent college speaking tour with other members of the Bush Crimes Commission, a group that seeks to document, through outside experts, what it believes are crimes committed by the Bush administration.

The veteran diplomat left the foreign service in 2004 and has written an as-yet unpublished memoir he titles “Murder in Samarkand” about his time as ambassador to the Central Asian nation. During his tumultuous tenure, he openly criticized the human rights practices of his host country, met with government critics and was charged by his own government with trading sex for visas and 17 other infractions. (All were dismissed except for two minor charges.)

British film director Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People”) has announced that he will make a movie based on Murray’s memoir. The following is an edited transcript of two interviews.

Q. You talk about the CIA intelligence reports you received being “full of lies” that “came from the [Uzbek] torture chamber.” How do you know?

A. We had a report back that there was an Al Qaeda training camp in the hills of Samarkand from which they were going to swoop down and take the city. Ridiculous. We went, and there was nothing there. And if I could find that out, the CIA could, because they had a much bigger staff.

These agencies were routinely getting the information through sadistic torture, by which I mean the smashing of knees and elbows, electrocution, pulling of fingernails and toenails, the mutilation of genitals and very commonly the rape of family members in front of the person [whom] they wanted to sign. If you torture people, they will sign anything.

Q. You talk about the cold response to your concerns over torture evidence from our own government. How did the Americans react?

A. When I challenged the American officials about the intelligence being false, they told me that it was “operationally useful,” but at no point did anyone ever say to me that the information didn’t come from torture or that the information was true.

Q. The U.S. stopped supporting the Uzbek government in 2005 after it massacred hundreds of civilians in Andijan. In response, our air base was forced out. Isn’t that progress?

A. U.S. criticism of Andijan wasn’t really the reason the Uzbeks kicked out the air base. That decision was made the previous November as part of a deal Uzbekistan made with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Gazprom [the Russian gas company].

Q. “Murder in Samarkand” refers to an actual event, right?

A. Yes. I was having a talk over dinner with this professor and dissident in Samarkand one night, and while we were having dinner, his grandson was abducted off the street, tortured and, at about 4 o’clock in the morning, dumped on the doorstep. I was subsequently told by the Russian ambassador that it had been done by the Uzbek authorities as a message for me to stop meeting with dissidents.

Q. Do you think transporting suspects to countries where other nationals can interrogate them using torture is still going on?

A. I have no reason at all to think the policy has changed. But [the CIA is] being much more careful about touching down in Europe with prisoners onboard, because of all the fuss in Europe and the investigations going on.

Q. Do you think other diplomats are disillusioned by this policy but are afraid to speak out?

A. I think there is a great deal of fear.

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KQED interview on Torture and Human Rights

Craig Murray is now back in the UK after completing a sucessful University speaking tour on behalf of the Bush Commission. We will be posting a couple of radio interviews from the tour begining with this one below:

KQED FORUM with Michael Krasny

Janis Karpinski and Craig Murray: Torture and Human Rights

Go to KQED to listen to the interview

MIT hosted one of the events on the tour and details and recodings from that evening are also available from here

And lastly, tomorrow is the anniversary of the Andijan massacre. Craig will be attending a protest at Downing Street and support from as many people as possible would be appreciated. See previous post for details.

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Everyone has regrets: An interview with Craig Murray

An interview with Craig Murray published in February in The Courier

There are some things Craig Murray still feels guilty about even though they weren’t his fault. The biggest regret of the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan is having dinner with a professor of literature who disagreed with his Government’s use of torture.

”While we were eating, the Government kidnapped the man’s 17-year-old grandson and tortured him to death. They immersed his hand in boiling liquid until the flesh came off, smashed his knees and elbows then killed him with a blow to the head and dumped his body.

”That had a pretty profound effect on me. I knew it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t agreed to meet his grandfather.” This is just one of many grim tales Craig Murray collected in his two-year stint in Uzbekistan before his opposition to the US ally’s brutal methods brought his career to an end.

Norfolk-born Craig (47) studied history at Dundee University and was students’ association president for two years before starting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s diplomatic service in 1984.

He started working in Africa and still considers himself an African specialist. The British Government’s view towards the continent changed dramatically over the two decades of his career, he says. ”The ANC was regarded as a terrorist organisation and Margaret Thatcher branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist. But then she was also against the reunification of Germany, and history just overtook her.

”It does sound strange, but the Tories were much more accepting of discussion and dissent than New Labour are. Under New Labour you aren’t allowed to disagree or express dissent. ”There were some good people in New Labour, though. I got on very well with Robin Cook. ”

After a stint in Nigeria, Craig worked in Cyprus and Poland before returning to Africa where he oversaw the 2000 election in Ghana, which was won by the opposition. ”I stood guard on the election building in case government soldiers came and tried to destroy the ballot papers. I was awake for 48 hours.

”I was the go-between between the government and opposition and I guess I must have done well because they said, we’re going to make you an ambassador, would you like to go to Uzbekistan? And I said yes-then got an atlas to find it!”

Within a few days of moving to the former Russian state, Craig began to feel a sense of disquiet. ”If you haven’t lived in a truly totalitarian state before it’s very hard to describe. They had all the control of the Soviet Union with several layers of brutality added.

”People told me it was like being back in the time of Stalin. The capital city, Tashkent, has 40,000 uniformed policemen and God knows how many plain clothes officers. People are encouraged to spy on their neighbours.”

Although the two countries have since fallen out, Uzbekistan was a staunch US ally at that time and seen as a vital part of the war on terror. The US base there was used to launch strikes into Afghanistan and the Americans wanted to make the base permanent.

The barely-tapped oil and gas reserves also had US energy companies drooling, in particular ill-fated energy giant Enron. Therefore, the abuses of President Islam Karimov’s dictatorship Government were tolerated and, as Craig was to find out, anyone who shouted too loudly about them would feel the full force of the British and US governments’ displeasure.

One of the harshest lessons in the realities of totalitarian politics occurred just two weeks into Craig’s deployment in Uzbekistan. ”There were two guys in Jaslyk Gulag, which was a notorious prison in the middle of the desert. No roads lead into it, you need a four-wheel-drive to get there.

”They were boiled to death and the body of one of them was delivered to his mother in a sealed casket. The mother was instructed to bury the body the next day and not to open the casket. They sent a guard to ensure this happened. ”But the guard fell asleep during the night and she sneaked past him and got the body out on the kitchen table. She took a lot of very detailed pictures.”

The pictures taken by this brave woman made their way to Craig’s hands and he sent them to the pathology lab at Glasgow University. ”Their report showed the guy’s fingernails had been ripped out and he was beaten about the face.

”He died from immersion in boiling liquid. They said you could tell because of the tide mark on his chest.”

Matters escalated after another horrific act by Karimov’s regime, this time closer to home.

”There was a lady who lived opposite me. Our homes are separated by a narrow lane. She was beaten up in the lane itself by Government militia. They broke her legs then they poured paint in her mouth-all because they said she was a dissident. She was a woman in her 50s, for God’s sake! And a friend of mine.”

This tale, horrible as it might seem to us, is a standard event in Uzbekistan. ”It’s estimated the Government has at least 10,000 political and religious prisoners. They’re torturing people on the most massive scale and in the most brutal ways you can possibly imagine.

”People were being killed or put in the Gulag for years. It was all very overt.”

Craig began to feel he couldn’t stand by and accept this sort of barbarity as a commonplace event. He gave a speech calling on Uzbekistan to end its use of torture. ”The Foreign Office were a bit sniffy about it, but the Americans were really hacked off. The very next day they started telling journalists I was an alcoholic.”

So began a very difficult time for Craig, when huge pressure was brought to bear on him. Ironically, Craig found he had quite a lot of influence in Uzbekistan because few people ever stood up against the Government.

Back at home it was a different story, though. The Foreign Office ordered him back to London and hauled him over the coals. ”I was told that they’d made a general decision that because we’re in a war on terror we’re now going to start accepting information that’s obtained by torture. ”I was told I was being unpatriotic.”

According to Craig, the Foreign Office levelled a series of 18 allegations against him, including charges that he was an alcoholic who gave out visas in return for sex. They told Craig to resign as ambassador of Uzbekistan and offered to send him to Copenhagen instead. The alternative was to have these allegations investigated further.

”I told them to sod off. That threw them, but they were all snooty Oxbridge types and I’d gone to Dundee. I wasn’t about to throw in the towel.” During this time, Craig had a nervous breakdown. It took him three months to recover from it.

The threatened investigation went ahead and Craig was exonerated on all 18 allegations. ”For 16 of them, there was no evidence at all. The other two went to a hearing at which I was found not guilty. ”So they told me I could keep my job, but I was banned from entering my own embassy.”

Craig continued in his job as best he could and continued to speak out against the use of torture, but his position was becoming increasingly untenable. After a memo alleging the British Government accepted torture evidence was leaked to the Press, his career was effectively over.

He took early retirement in February 2005 and has devoted the last year to campaigning against the war in Iraq, extraordinary rendition and the UK’s alleged use of torture evidence.

He’s also written a book, Murder in Samarkand (the city where the dissident’s grandson was killed). The book is due out in June, although the Government has tried to ban it and are threatening to sue. Craig and Edinburgh-based Mainstream Publishing have decided to publish and be damned, however.

”We’ve decided they can take us to court if they want to. I’m very worried and jaded about the direction our Government is taking. I think we’re losing sight of the things that make us civilised.”

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Democracy Now: Craig Murray on why he Defied the UK Foreign Office by Posting Classified Memos

Craig Murray was interviewed on Democracy Now on Thursday, prior to testifying at the Bush Commission in New York this weekend.

“We spend the hour with the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. The British government has stopped the publication of his book. In a Democracy Now exclusive, Murray tells why he defied the British Foreign Office by posting a series of classified memos on his website. Murray was fired as ambassador to Uzbekistan after he openly criticized the British and U.S. governments for supporting human rights abuses under the Uzbek regime.”

The interview can be watched here

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Britain should not have “cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime”

As part of his speaking tour in the US Craig was interviwed yesterday in Washington DC on WAMU Radio. You can listen here to the interview with Real Player or Windows Media Player

(24.09.05 – Apologies to anyone who followed the mobile link yesterday to a very interesting, but completely unrelated interview!)

“Craig Murray may have spent his career in the diplomatic service, but he doesn’t mince words. As British ambassador to Uzbekistan, he publicly criticized the nation’s human rights record and said Britain should not have “cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime.” A year after leaving his post, he joins us to discuss diplomacy and human rights.”

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