Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday 17 December 2004

Craig Murray - a brave man or a fool?

Craig Murray is the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. He was suspended on full pay in October from his post in Tashkent and recalled to London.

The Foreign Office (FO) contends he was withdrawn from Tashkent for 'operational reasons', whereas Mr Murray contends his suspension is related to his criticism of the use of intelligence allegedly obtained under torture by the Uzbekistan Government and passed on to western countries (specifically the US and UK). He further alleges that the FO had tried to force his resignation a year ago with "untrue" disciplinary charges, which were dropped later.

In this BBC article, also from mid-October, are discussed the pros and cons of an ambassador speaking out in the way he has. It is a pretty balanced article, I think.

Mr Murray has stated that he has evidence that appalling torture and murder has been, and is being, carried out in Uzbekistan and that the war on terror declared by US President Bush has led to a blind eye being turned to the brutal practices of the Uzbek regime and the use being made by western goverments of information so obtained. The claim that information originally obtained in Uzbek torture cells has been passed on from the CIA to MI6, who have used the information, is hotly denied by the Foreign Office. Nevertheless a report by the FO has praised Mr Murray for drawing attention to human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.

Why am I writing about this now. Tonight I have been watching the latest edition of 'Hardtalk' on BBC News 24, in which Mr Murray was interviewed by regular presenter Tim Sebastian (there are as yet no links to this programme in the Hardtalk website, though). I had seen brief interviews with Mr Murray before, but this was an altogether more thorough affair. Mr Murray is clearly very sincere in what he is saying, but equally clearly he is under emotional stress, which is said to have caused his health to deteriorate resulting in severe hypertension.

So I come back to the questions I pose in the title - is he a brave man or a fool? Or deluded? I strongly suspect he is not deluded, but he is definitely a brave, or at least a courageous, man. Was he a wise man to have spoken out; probably not, if 'wisdom' in such matters is regarded in a purely utilitarian way, particularly from his own self-interest, at least in the short term.

I have written about torture before, in relation to the revelations about US practices at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. As I wrote then, the International Convention on Torture outlaws torture, without any qualification. It is never justified, or justifiable, on any pretext whatsoever. Nevertheless, in commenting on the decision by the Court of Appeal last August to uphold the indefinite detention at Belmarsh of foreign nationals supected of terrorism (i.e. the decision which has yesterday been overturned by the House of Lords), the then Home Secretary David Blunkett was quoted as saying:

"We unreservedly condemn the use of torture and have worked hard with our international partners to eradicate this practice. However, it would be irresponsible not to take appropriate account of any information which could help protect national security and public safety."

- so what the good man appeared to be saying, to paraphrase, is that whilst we condemn torture unreservedly we are still prepared to use any information that comes our way, in order to protect national security, however obtained (and by implication, even if obtained by torture).

I am a simple fellow, but does not this contravene the spirit and the letter of Article 2 of the International Convention on Torture, which states:

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

- well, doesn't it?!

So I must conclude that Mr Murray is not only a brave man, but he is not a fool. He may be wrong, but I suspect (with a sinking heart) that he is not that, either. It is necessary, sometimes, for individuals to speak out on matters of conscience - however painful the consequences may be for themselves; if he is 'guilty' of anything, then it is that alone.

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