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Former Brit Ambassador Craig Murray says UK and USA sent prisoners to Uzbek to be tortured

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CRAIG MURRAY, FMR. UK AMBASSADOR TO UZBEKISTAN: You know, I was a British diplomat for over 20 years. We still have a certain tendency in the British Foreign Office to look down on the rest of the world. I was seated one day in my office in the Foreign Office, which is a wonderful, palatial building in London from which a third of the world used to be governed. And I sat there, and the phone rang, and it said, “Oh, Craig, Charles here. Would you like to be ambassador in Uzbekistan?” And I said, “Yes, great, Charles. Thanks,” thinking, where on Earth is Uzbekistan? And I said, “Why me?” And he said—and this is absolutely true—he said, “Well,” he said, “you speak Polish, don’t you?” And I said, “Yes, but I doubt the Uzbeks do.” And he said, “No, but they speak Russian, old boy, and it’s all the same thing.” So on the basis of my knowledge of a Slavic language, I found myself as ambassador to Uzbekistan, where nobody spoke Polish at all. Fortunately, I did pick up some Russian. It’s an awful place. It’s a totalitarian dictatorship. I’d served in dictatorships before. There’s a difference between—any dictatorship’s bad, obviously. There’s a difference between dictatorship and totalitarianism. Uzbekistan is totalitarian. Let me tell you about something that happened last week, just to give you an example, and it’s not nearly as bad as the absolutely true story about the people who were boiled alive. Just last week, a British man of no political interest whatsoever who had married an Uzbek lady was on holiday in St. Petersburg. And his wife now has UK nationality but was traveling on her Uzbek passport, because that way she didn’t have to apply for a Russian visa and they’d save $100. And she was arrested in Russia because her Uzbek exit visa had expired, because you still need permission to leave Uzbekistan—they still lock their population in. And the Russians shipped her back to Tashkent, where she’s now in prison for having outstayed her exit visa, and the couple have been separated. And there’s very little chance the man will ever see his wife again. That’s the kind of country it is. And as I say, that’s a more workaday example than the boiled-alive people who were interrogated. But when you think of Uzbekistan, you have to think of a country that hasn’t moved on since it left the Soviet Union. In fact, it left the Soviet Union in order to maintain the Soviet system; it left because it didn’t want to implement the Gorbachev-style reforms. Its president, President Karimov, was one of the members of the Politburo who had moved to have Gorbachev arrested on that occasion when Yeltsin was standing on the tanks outside the [Russian] White House when he first came to great prominence in Western eyes. When you think of Uzbekistan, you have to think of the Soviet Union, but not Gorbachev’s Soviet Union; you have to think of Brezhnev Soviet Union. And that’s the kind of regime it is, but with, since independence, even more cruelty. When I was going there, it was viewed as the United States’ most important ally in Central Asia. The Americans had been given a very large airbase at Karshi-Khanabad, known as K2, from which supplies and operations were mounted into Afghanistan. I was told that there weren’t that many British interested in Uzbekistan, and my primary interest was in supporting the Americans, supporting the American ambassador, and ensuring that Uzbekistan remained an ally in the war on terror. I was told that whenever I made any speech in public, was to refer to President Karimov of Uzbekistan as our ally on all occasions. You know, there are over 10,000 political prisoners in Uzbekistan. Anybody who is a religious Muslim of any kind, no connection to terrorism, anyone who prays five times a day, is described, will be arrested as a terrorist. Any young man with a beard will be arrested. There are at least 700 Baptists in Uzbek jails because it is illegal to be a Baptist in Uzbekistan. Many people are there simply because they are political prisoners. If you enter an Uzbek prison, your chances of coming out alive are actually quite slim. They still have and operate the old Soviet gulags. I found more and more evidence of abuse and torture. Torture in Uzbekistan isn’t unusual. It happens to several thousand people every year. When I’m talking of torture, I’m not talking of marginal definitions of torture. I’m talking of people being raped with broken bottles. I’m talking of people having their children tortured in front of them until they sign the confessions. I’m talking of people being boiled alive. And the intelligence from these torture sessions was being received by the CIA and was being passed on—I was eventually seeing it as it was passed on to me by MI6, because MI6 and the CIA shared all their intelligence. And there was a common thread. I was meeting, investigating the evidence of torture. I met people who’d been tortured and escaped. I met people like the old widow, the photos of her son who’d been boiled alive. Her son was returned to her in a sealed casket, and she was ordered to bury the casket the next day, which Muslims would do anyway. They’d bury the body the very next day. But she was ordered not to open the casket, not to look at her son. It was returned to her from Jaslyk Prison. She did in the middle of the night. She was very, very brave and determined, the old lady. She got the casket open and the body out, and she took these photographs which showed that he had been boiled alive. And it was the chap who’s now actually the chief pathologist of the UK who investigated the photographs for me and produced that conclusion. When people were being tortured, as we spoke to—we even had letters smuggled out of jails. We were learning what people had to confess to under torture, and they were being told to confess to membership of al-Qaeda, they were told to confess that they’d been in training camps in Afghanistan, and they were told to confess that they had met Osama bin Laden in person. And the CIA intelligence constantly echoed these themes. They spoke of Uzbeks having been in al-Qaeda, been in training camps, and having met Osama bin Laden. In fact, by now we were in 2002, 2003, and apparently we didn’t know where Osama bin Laden was. And the way he managed to see thousands of Uzbeks every year, [it] should have been slightly easier to track him down, I felt. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together and work out that the fact that every political prisoner I ever knew of in Uzbekistan who was taken was tortured. And the fact that we knew what they were being forced to confess to under torture, and the fact that the CIA material came up with exactly the same rather dodgy narrative, it wasn’t hard to put the two together and realize that the intelligence material was coming from torture. But before I did anything, I wanted to make sure that I was on safe ground. So I asked my deputy, a lady called Karen Moran, to go to the American embassy and say to them, say to the head of the CIA station there, “My ambassador is worried because he thinks your intelligence may be coming from torture.” And she came back and she reported to me that the reply from the head of the CIA station in Tashkent was, “Yes, of course it’s coming from torture. We don’t see that as a problem in the context of the war on terror.” Now, I did see that as a problem, particularly when I discovered that the CIA were bringing in people, flying in people to Uzbekistan, and handing them over to the Uzbek security services. I’d like to say that I was the one who discovered extraordinary rendition, but that’s not quite true, because I presumed, I falsely presumed, that these people they were bringing in and handing over to the Uzbek security service were Uzbeks who had been captured elsewhere and brought back to Uzbekistan. I did not realize that in fact they were of many other nationalities and were being handed over in order to be tortured. That they were being tortured I knew. That Uzbekistan was a destination for the extraordinary rendition system from all over the world I really didn’t quite realize at the time. We now know, following, for example, a Council of Europe investigation, that 90 percent of the airplanes that stopped at the famous secret prison in Poland had Tashkent as their next destination. I complained back to London. I said we’re getting this intelligence from torture. It’s illegal, it’s immoral, and it’s unreliable. It’s vastly exaggerating the strength of al-Qaeda in Central Asia. How did I know it was unreliable? Well, let me just give you a couple of examples. We had one piece of intelligence which said that a detainee had admitted to being at a training camp at given coordinates in the hills above Samarkand in Tajikistan. And as it happened, my defense attaché, Colonel [inaudible] had recently been to that precise location, and there was nothing there. But my favorite example, because—when people were tortured, they not only had to confess to membership of al-Qaeda, but, remember, this torture was being done by the direct descendents of Stalin’s KGB. Institutionally it was still Stalin’s KGB as set up in Tashkent. And they had, exactly as under Stalin, to denounce other people. They were given names of people to denounce. Very often they didn’t know the name of anyone on this list of names they were given. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they denounced relatives and classmates. But the intelligence would contain long lists of names of al-Qaeda members who had been denounced by detainees, and very often these were farcical. And I remember one long list of al-Qaeda members which I received in a CIA intelligence report, and I recognized one of the names. It was an old professor I knew who was a very brave old dissident, who had been a dissident in Soviet times, and I knew the man, and he was a Jehovah’s Witness. Now, there are not many Jehovah’s Witnesses in al-Qaeda. I would be willing to bet that al-Qaeda don’t even try and recruit Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now, I’m quite sure that Jehovah’s Witnesses would try and recruit al-Qaeda if they could, knocking on the cave door, saying, “Is Mr. bin Laden in? But I have a copy of The Watchtower for him.” But I essentially found it hard to believe a lot of this intelligence. I got called back to London and I expected there, you know, to have a sensible talk about the merits or demerits of intelligence and how much evidence I had that it was obtained under torture. I was absolutely stunned, genuinely stunned—it changed my whole worldview in an instant—to be told that—and I knew it was coming from torture—that it was not illegal, because our legal advisers had decided that under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, it is not illegal to obtain or use intelligence gained from torture, as long as we didn’t do the torture ourselves.


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Craig Murray is a British political activist, former ambassador to Uzbekistan and current Rector of the University of Dundee.