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Thursday, December 29, 2005

"We are selling our souls for dross . . . " 

In a remarkable display of what blogs can do now, Daily Kos is publishing the British torture memos today.
These memos were written by the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. He has written a book describing how the UK and US governments are justifying torture in Uztekistan, which Murray says is not only immoral but also useless. Bloggers in UK, and Daily Kos in the US, are publishing the memos simultaneously today, to stymie attempts by the UK Foreign Office block their release.
Here is some of what Murray wrote in July 2004 -- and no wonder the UK government did not want anyone to read it:
CONFIDENTIAL . . . TO IMMEDIATE FCO . . . SUBJECT: RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE . . . I understand that the principal argument deployed [to support use of the information obtained by torture] was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true – the material is marked with a euphemism such as "From detainee debriefing." The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.
I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in an organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact . . . On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.
I was taken aback when Matthew Kydd said this stuff was valuable. Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat. That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them. Furthermore MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment.
At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services . . .
Note in particular Murray's observation that the intelligence services are seeking "highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat". That's not surprising.

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