Is Craig Murray right about torture?

I begin with a confession that I am an admirer of Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan. He deserves praise for his courage and clarity in speaking out against vicious human rights abuses by the dictatorial regime of Islam Karimov, which (deplorably) receives funding and support from the US and the UK Governments. As well as calling the world’s attention to the repressive regime in Uzbekistan, Mr Murray has been outspoken against the use of information gathered through torture and the practice of extraordinary rendition.

Recently, Mr Murray has published a series of confidential documents which purport to show that the UK Government government knowingly received information extracted by the Uzbekistan government using torture. This revelation has caused quite a storm in the blogosphere, including at Bloggerheads and at Daily Kos.

Mr Murray says (and the documents appear to confirm) that he warned the UK Government that information being passed on by the Uzbek security services was torture-tainted. But in a thoughtful post, another former Ambassador, Sir Brian Barder (who happens to be my father) makes an important distinction between using information tainted by torture as evidence in court (which is, and should be, inadmissable) and acting upon intelligence, however obtained, as the basis of further investigation.

As my father says, if our security services get information about a possible terrorist attack they should investigate it further, knowing that information gathered under duress of torture is likely to be far less reliable than information from other sources. That is what Mr Murray says has been happening, and it isn’t obvious to me that it it is either ethically wrong or illegal.

Furthermore, I don’t think UK Government Ministers have ever said that we don’t, or shouldn’t, act upon information even it is has been obtained by torture. So it not clear to me that Mr Murray’s documents demonstrate that the Government has in any way misled us about receiving or using such information.

I suppose it might be said that our willingness to receive and use information obtained from torture somehow encourages the Uzbek government to torture people that they otherwise wouldn’t. But given the nature of that regime, I doubt if it makes any difference to them if we do, or don’t, use the information they provide.

What Mr Murray is surely right about is the need for the UK and US to be much more robust in isolating the brutal, dictatorial regime and putting maximum economic and political pressure for change (read Mr Murray’s comments on my father’s blog for some idea of the nature of the government). It is deplorable that the relationship between the Uzbek government and the US or UK is sufficiently friendly for us to be receiving any intelligence information at all from their security services, let alone doing anything to encourage them to torture people.

So on this precise point, I don’t think Mr Murray is right, as it is not necessarily ethically wrong, nor is it illegal, for our services to use whatever information they can get in the fight against terrorism; and it is not clear to me that our Ministers have ever said otherwise.

35 comments on “Is Craig Murray right about torture?”

  1. Your claims about US/UK support for the Karimov regime are strange. Are you sure they are correct?

    What financial or political support remains in place? The US has in fact put considerable effort into supporting Uzbek opposition, free media, civic groups, etc and this has caused relatively large amounts of friction.

    The US (at least) _did_ lean heavily upon Uzbekistan regarding human rights. As a result Uzbekistan kicked the US out of an important airbase and the Karimov regime has turned decisively toward China, leaving little relationship in place with the US.

    So I believe your claims are largely factually incorrect but more importantly the policy which you recommend has already been demonstrated to have reduced Western leverage with Uzbekistan and has resulted in Uzbekistan aligning with patrons who don’t give a toss about human rights.

    Why persist with a failed policy which has been demonstrated to have worsened the situation?

  2. Lordy, Owen! I never thought that I would agree wholeheartedly with you on anything, but I’m with you on this post…

    DK

    Owen replies: DK – I agree: that is pretty worrying. Perhaps I should reconsider ….

  3. Lordy, Owen! I never thought that I would agree wholeheartedly with you on anything, but I’m with you on this post…

    DK

    Owen replies: DK – I agree: that is pretty worrying. Perhaps I should reconsider ….

  4. Jack Straw has told the House that “The British Government, including the intelligence and security agencies, never use torture in order to obtain information. Nor would we instigate others to commit torture for that purpose.”

    Assuming you take the documents Murray has released to be evidence that the government was aware that some of the information they were obtaining had come from torture as early as March 2003, this would tend to suggest some kind of complicity in any torture which took place for the benefit of British intelligence after that time.

    Straw’s comments above were made 18 months after the memo Murray has leaked, so this would suggest that the government was happy to continue using torture-produced info and to mislead the House and public. It is this (always very carefully-worded) deception which is the major issue as far as I’m concerned, not the ethics involved. The “what, you’re saying we shouldn’t pay any attention to any information obtained by torture?” line which seems to be cropping up in various places is a red herring – the point is not whether the government used information gained by torture, but whether they lied about it.

  5. Nosemonkey – thanks. Your comment focuses laser-like on the crux of the issue of whether the government misled the public. They are relying on a distinction between “instigating” torture by someone else, and making use of the information that they receive which may have come from torture. That seems to me a quite legitimate difference for them to draw, and I think they have done so clearly. The papers released by Mr Murray show that that the UK Government used information some of which they knew to have come from torture. But that is not the same thing as instigating, or even encouraging, torture.

  6. I agree that instigation is the key issue here. Murray’s argument is that by “lapping up” the torture-tainted info, saying thankyou and rewarding Karimov for his ongoing assistance (eg: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1517730,00.html), we were encouraging him to boil/roast/flay/rape even more people than he would otherwise have done. This stands completely apart from the additional evidence of people being “rendered” to UZ specifically to be tortured.

    By “we” I mean the US-UK alliance. We could, of course, argue that it was all America’s fault, but I’d not want to be Jack Straw’s defence lawyer.

  7. That seems to me a quite legitimate difference for them to draw, and I think they have done so clearly. The papers released by Mr Murray show that that the UK Government used information some of which they knew to have come from torture. But that is not the same thing as instigating, or even encouraging, torture.

    Owen,
    I think we need more that this type of lawyering in the context of torture.
    Torture is the most abhorrent of all breaches of human rights. It is, if I recall correctly, the only European Convention right which is absolute-it contains no qualifications- and from which there can be no derogation, even in wartime.
    Anyway, by accepting what appears to be regular doses of torture-extacted information from Karimov’s lads, we are, by any definition, encouraging torture.

    t

  8. As my father says, if our security services get information about a possible terrorist attack they should investigate it further, knowing that information gathered under duress of torture is likely to be far less reliable than information from other sources. That is what Mr Murray says has been happening

    Eh? To quote Craig Murray’s own comment on Brian’s blog,
    “In two years of seeing this Uzbek intelligence material, I never saw a single piece that even purported to concern a threat to the UK, or indeed to the West.”

    There seems to be a widespread assumption, in the reaction to Murray’s comments on Uzbekistan, that their government is engaged in anti-terrorist policing just like ours, but that their interrogation methods are a bit more rough-and-ready. If that were the case I’d agree with every word you and Brian have written. But the situation in Uzbekistan – if we’re to believe Murray, and I think he was in a position to know – is entirely different. Also from Murray’s comments:

    “What I found particularly chilling were instances where such intelligence was being deliberately accepted or interpreted, in order to justify continuing US support to this odious regime. The US was justifying its presence and policy in Uzbekistan by the common threat faced, and prepared to buy fictions that reinforced that threat as part of the raison d’etre of the War on Terror.”

    In other words, the Uzbek government – which tortures dissidents as a matter of course – modified its modus operandi to the extent of telling the torturers to extract ‘intelligence’ with a bearing on Al Qaida. Which of course they did, since – as the Saudi ‘bomb plot’ cases indicate – torture will make almost anybody say almost anything.

    It is deplorable that the relationship between the Uzbek government and the US or UK is sufficiently friendly for us to be receiving any intelligence information at all from their security services, let alone doing anything to encourage them to torture people.

    Which – by legitimising torture which would have been carried out anyway in the supposed context of interrogating suspected terrorists – is precisely what the US and Britain have been doing.

  9. I have recorded my views at length, not only in the original post on my own blog, but also in extensive replies to the seven or eight comments that have been posted there so far. So I won’t go over the same ground again here, except to pick up one point. Phil tellingly quotes Craig Murray’s comment on my blog to the effect that although when serving as ambassador in Tashkent he saw numerous intelligence reports containing information from Uzbek sources, he “never saw a single piece that even purported to concern a threat to the UK, or indeed to the West.” But in my own (fairly relevant) experience, the ambassador in the source country wouldn’t be on the circulation list for intelligence reports concerning a threat to the UK or to the west generally, since such circulation is always on a ‘need to know’ basis, and an ambassador serving overseas has no need to know about investigations of terrorism at home in Britain. Ambassadors are shown intelligence reports that cast light on relations between their own country and the country that they are serving in, or that help him or her better to be able to interpret events in that country. It’s not surprising, to me anyway, that Craig didn’t see other kinds of report, and I don’t think it’s safe to infer from this that no such reports existed.

    I agree that it’s not valid to equate (1) the receipt of information probably, or even certainly, got by torture (and to make limited use of it as a pointer to further lines of investigation or corroboration), with (2) instigating, encouraging or condoning torture. The distinction between the two is clear and important, and in consequence I can find no evidence that UK ministers have told lies or otherwise deliberately misled us on this subject. I have no doubt that ministers were fully aware of the Uzbeks’ record on torture long before they began to receive Craig’s eloquent telegrams on the subject. It seems that this was not a case of ministers ignoring or turning a blind eye to the information in Craig’s telegrams about the prevalence of torture, but rather that they considered Craig’s recommendation that we should no longer receive or use information from Uzbek intelligence, but decided that they didn’t agree with it, and told him so. British diplomats soon get used to having their recommendations rejected by their political masters: and their elected political masters have every right in a democracy to disagree with the opinions and suggestions of their unelected officials. Fortunately or otherwise, I’m afraid that in this instance ministers were probably right not to act in the way that Mr Murray was advocating. But there are obviously valid and cogent arguments on both sides.

    Brian
    http://www.barder.com/ephems/

  10. I don’t think Friend’s analogy holds water. It’s one thing to buy a television set, knowing it to have been stolen, when the only reason for wanting it is for entertainment and personal pleasure; it’s quite another to receive, without payment, a piece of information (of which the provider and originator remain in possession even after passing it on, unlike a television set) which you urgently need for the protection of your country’s essential interests, especially if you know that your possession of it is potentially a matter of life and death. It’s by no means obvious, as it is in the case of the ‘stolen’ television set, that acceptance and limited use of information that may have been originally obtained by illegal and immoral means will entail encouraging more illegal and immoral behaviour by the originator of the information, who’s unlikely to know whether you have used the information at all, still less to what use, if at all, you have put it. The analogy breaks down at every material point.

    Good try, though!

    Brian
    http://www.barder.com/ephems/

  11. The question is, surely, at least in part, whether or not we’ve been “paying” for the information?

    It was hardly as if the Uzbeks were getting nothing from us in return was it? My particular favourite was our army’s training the Uzbek army in “marksmanship” months before the Andijan massacre.

    In exactly which way does this protect us from terrorism, Brian?

    You seem to imply that the info we were buying off the Uzbeks was “vital” to protect our interests.

    How about an alternative model of what was going on:

    We (ie. the US-UK alliance) were perfectly aware that the information was “dross” from the point of view of protecting the public. However, from the point of view of massively exaggerating the threat posed by Islamic terrorism in order to justify a neverending, commercially lucrative “war”, it was highly “useful” (to quote Matthew Kydd). And of course we were prepared to offer all sorts of favours to Karimov in exchange for this service.

    Also, if our government is truly so concerned about protecting the public, how come they’re doing so little to protect us from the menace of corporate crime, which last year killed far more people than terrorism did?

    “Last year, 220 workers and 361 members of the public were killed in the workplace. Some were, of course, just accidents – but the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that 70 percent of these deaths were due to managers cutting corners, knowingly gambling with human life.”
    http://comment.independent.co.uk/columnists_a_l/johann_hari/article335301.ece

    I’d love to live this world where the British government is genuinely working to protect the public, Brian, I really would.

  12. I think there’s a certain amount of sophistry knocking about on this blog. I think Friend’s stolen TV set analogy was a shade too material to expose it, but I was with him in spirit. Tony H has it right for my money: by accepting the proceeds you encourage their production. It’s called positive feedback in some circles. So I can’t accept Brian’s important distinction between receiving information ‘probably or certainly got by torture’ and encouraging torture itself. That erects a wall where I see a gentle escalator. Jack Straw is quoted aptly in this context: ‘Nor would we instigate others to commit torture for that purpose( of obtaining information).’ But he knowingly accepts the information thus extracted. OK, it’s pragmatic and necessary in this very unusual context (England has always stood alone in Europe against torture); just don’t let’s try to make a virtue of it and pretend it isn’t expediency dictating ethics. Nosemonkey’s point that whether or not the government lied is important. But it’s also about the tacit approval of torture by accepting its fruits.
    PS. am’s comments are right about Karimov changing alignment towards China – and Russia. He rowed with the US last summer because they interfered after the Andijan massacre, then kicked them out of the Khanaba air base (saying their shared project in Afghanistan – fighting the Taliban – was now over). So the US froze $15mil of aid & threatened proceedings about human rights, etc etc. But the US wants to be there (oil etc) more than MrK wants them – and both China & Russia want the US out of their backyard, and are offering loadsa cash. So the US won’t win this one.

  13. Oh dear, oh dear. Trying to get a hold on these arguments is like trying to grasp a wet fish. Just when you think you’ve got it, it slides away and a whole shoal of slightly different fish then swim back into view demanding to be grabbed. To be as brief as I can, before finally and definitively signing off:

    There’s no evidence that I know of that we have ‘paid’ for information received, mostly indirectly (as Mr Murray has confirmed), from official Uzbek sources. To represent help with military training — the only kind of government support for Uzbekistan that anyone has so far been able to identify — as a quid pro quo for the provision of occasional intelligence is frankly absurd. Military training for the armed forces of an undemocratic state that we wish to encourage in more democratic directions is a manifestly sensible means to a desirable end, and it’s paranoid to regard it in any other light. According to the Guardian report cited earlier, the training revolved around the functions of the military in a democracy: marksmanship is intrinsic to that (in a democracy the army, when forced to open fire in support of the civil power, uses trained marksmen to pick off ringleaders, rather than firing indiscriminately into a crowd). It can’t be hard to understand that.

    Although the debate has largely focused on the use of possibly tainted information in the context of pre-empting and detecting terrorism, it needs to be remembered that secret intelligence can also be invaluable in numerous other ways in the protection and promotion of our national interests, not just in the anti-terrorism effort. Since none of us — not even Mr Murray — has any way of knowing the uses to which Uzbek-sourced intelligence may have been put by our own intelligence and security services and the policy-makers whom they serve, it’s really a waste of time speculating about it. We may be pretty confident, though, that our intelligence analysts are as well equipped as Mr Murray to separate the grain from the chaff. Indeed, it’s a fair bet that they are considerably better equipped to do so, for obvious reasons that in no way reflect adversely on Craig. They can compare it with other intelligence available to them, analyse it for corroboration or contradiction of other information, and weigh it in the light of some knowledge of how and by whom it was obtained. None of us can do any of that. So we have no basis whatever for dismissing it as worthless or indeed for assuming that it is valuable, although the verdict of an intelligence officer who has apparently said that some of it is useful can’t lightly be dismissed. Even intelligence that is deliberately constructed to deceive those to whom it is passed can provide valuable clues to what the provider wants us to believe and what he wants to conceal.

    You (Richard) will, I hope, forgive me if I don’t follow you into the thickets of your ‘alternative model’ with its fevered speculation about a sinister government deliberately exaggerating the threat of Islamic extremism so as to justify perpetuating a “commercially lucrative ‘war'”, at the expense of action to protect us from ‘corporate crime’, people killed in accidents at work, and so on. Conspiracy theories are reasonably harmless fun, but taken too seriously they risk addling the brain.

    And that, you’ll be relieved to hear, concludes my contributions to this debate here or at my own blog, apart from a promised and considered reply shortly to Craig Murray’s temperate, civil and informative comment over there. Would that some of his supporters would emulate the example that he sets in civility and sense!

    Brian
    http://www.barder.com/ephems/

  14. Presumably the distinction that matters between instigating torture, and acting on information obtained from torture that is circulating within the intelligence community, is that only in the former case are people being tortured that would otherwise not have been. Some commentators have suggested that even the receipt of such information has the effect of encouraging torture. That’s an empirical assertion about the world that anybody can be right or wrong about – and it would be very hard for anybody to know either way. However, if it’s true that the UK receiving information has the effect of adding to the sum of torture in the world, I’m sure that would be cause for concern to people like Brian (whose cogent defence of the government in this case has so far seen off most challangers, as far as I can see).

    However, even if there is some postive feedback effect, its extent is open to question, and those who argue this line, like Bob, cannot be sure of how strong this effect is, in the context of everything else going on in the world – that is to say, how influenced Karimov and his goons are by whether the UK has read and acted on such information.

    It’s not something I can claim to know anything about, but I would have thought that factors like giving or withholding aid and applying other sorts of pressure, like publicising human rights abuses and linking trade and other forms of co-operation to human rights, would be far more effective (in either encouraging or discouraging Karmmov) than any feedback effect from the indirect receipt of intelligence information, as opposed to a refusal to receive such information (if it is even feasible to suggest that the security services and somehow avoid seeing any information originating from countries like Uzbekistan). If this feedback effect turns out to be immaterial (or practically unavoidable) then I think Brian’s argument is in the clear.

    Incidently Brian, I don’t think it’s obvious that providing military training to a dictatorial regime is a sensible means to a desirable ends. As somebody with no experience of these things, like most people, I would have thought that strengthening the military would strengthen the dictator. And although you have told us a way in which military training can be a good thing, I am surprised that a dictator would allow his army to be trained in any way that might weaken his grip on power. And while it’s not hard to understand that giving soldiers the ability to target ring leaders is better than having them fire indiscriminately into crowds, surely it is also easy to understand concerns that in the case of Uzbekistan, these ‘ringleaders’ may in fact be pro-democracy activists that we should want to see protected, not assassinated.

  15. Bob,
    Do we reject information obtained in breach of international law?
    The answer was put clearly by McNally JA in S v Nkomo 1989 (3) ZLR 117, 131:

    “It does not seem to me that one can condemn torture while making use of the mute confession resulting from torture, because the effect is to encourage torture.”

    t

  16. Brian B

    According to the Guardian report cited earlier, the training revolved around the functions of the military in a democracy: marksmanship is intrinsic to that (in a democracy the army, when forced to open fire in support of the civil power, uses trained marksmen to pick off ringleaders, rather than firing indiscriminately into a crowd). It can’t be hard to understand that.

    Call me paranoid then, but I would have thought that “encouragement in the direction of democracy” might have involved such things as advice on how to set up democratic institutions, how to run free and fair elections, etc etc, rather than advice on how to shoot people. But I’m sure you know more about democracy than I do!

  17. Thanks for the advice, Brian. I suspect that you’re quitting the argument because you know you’re losing it.

    I find it quite laughable that you should be seeking to justify/excuse the fact that we taught “marksmanship” to the army of one of the most abusive governments in the world on the grounds that we were helping to ensure that only dissident “ringleaders” would be gunned down. Obviously we didn’t do the job very well, or else there were more than 700 “ringleaders” at Andijan.

    I also find your implication that the Andijan killers were “forced” to open fire on unarmed people straightforwardly offensive.

    Maybe you should inform yourself a little better:
    http://hrw.org/reports/2005/uzbekistan0605/

    I’m sorry if you don’t feel that we’ve been showing you the deference and respect you believe that you are entitled to, but you really are doing yourself no favours with this kind self-important sophistry.

    Your faith in the competence and wisdom of the security services, though touching, also seems, frankly, laughable in the aftermath of the Iraq WMD scam. In case you don’t remember, our government, together with the US was actively involved in putting forward a conspiracy theory of its own regarding Iraq’s non-existent weaponry/Al Qaeda links. That conspiracy theory was based, in part, on information extracted under torture. Craig was one of the people who helped to bring this fact to the public’s attention.

    The “alternative model” I put forward to you would be laughable and outrageous were it not for facts already in the public domain, which appear to support it. The US-UK made a series of claims about the Iraqi threat which have since been shown to be completely false. You may claim to believe that they didn’t know that the claims were false, but given how obvious it was to the rest of us at the time that the claims were false, this seems tenuous. At the very least it would cast serious doubt on the competence of your technocratic friends.

    Some of these false claims (ie. the crucial claim of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda) appear to have been based solely on information extracted under torture. According to Craig, and others, our security services were aware of this, but didn’t care.

    So the question now turns on whether a) they didn’t care because they genuinely believed that the torture-tainted information was correct, or b) they didn’t care because it was “useful” in making the case for war, regardless of the truth of it.

    You might think that it’s impossible for our government or security services ever to engage in such nefarious behaviour, but if so I think you’re being naive.

    Given that we know our government deliberately “sexed up” the evidence in other instances, and given that both here and in the US intense pressure was placed on the security services to come up with intelligence that would justify the invasion, I don’t find it so difficult to believe that (b) might have been the case.

    Britain is one of the largest exporters of weaponry in the world. Why on earth would we want the planet to be at peace? There are jobs at stake here, Brian!

    The Iraq war has been extremely lucrative for the “Private Military Companies” that Straw has been so keen to promote. Tim Spicer’s Aegis (google it) picked up the largest post-war contract in highly dubious circumstances.

    Now I’m happy to admit that the following is nothing more than “addling” speculation, but I’d lay money on at least a couple of former New Labour cabinet ministers doing jail time for Aitken-style bung-taking, or related shenanigans, in the next few years. And I’d lay money on it having something to do with BAE, Aegis, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

  18. Constituent: “This question is for Mr Straw; Have you ever read any documents where the intelligence has been procured through torturous means?”

    Jack Straw: “Not to the best of my knowledge… let me make this clear… the British government does not support torture in any circumstances. Full stop. We do not support the obtaining of intelligence by torture, or its use.” – Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, election hustings, Blackburn, April 2005

    I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture… On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood. – Ambassador Craig Murray, memo to the Foreign Office, July 2004

  19. Constituent: “This question is for Mr Straw; Have you ever read any documents where the intelligence has been procured through torturous means?”

    Jack Straw: “Not to the best of my knowledge… let me make this clear… the British government does not support torture in any circumstances. Full stop. We do not support the obtaining of intelligence by torture, or its use.” – Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, election hustings, Blackburn, April 2005

    I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture… On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood. – Ambassador Craig Murray, memo to the Foreign Office, July 2004

  20. Richard, you’re over shooting. Quite understandable scepticism about the abilities and integrity of the security services, politicians and so forth does (on its own) amount to “it’s all done so the arms companies can make money” or variations thereof. Neither would the discovery that some of the people involved in it all were taking/giving bungs.

    I’d also like to know where you got this from:

    Some of these false claims (ie. the crucial claim of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda) appear to have been based solely on information extracted under torture

    The security services may have been under pressure to give politicians the answers they wanted to hear, but that doesn’t mean they turned to torture to help them fabricate it. However, if you can show me that they did, I’d need to reconsider my own touching faith in the competence and wisdom of the security services (which I’d guess is slightly less than Brian’s but greater than yours).

  21. Luis, to moderate your ‘touching faith’ in the competence and wisdom of the intelligence services I suggest you read Phillip Knightley’s ‘The second oldest profession.’ (PK, author of ‘The first casualty’, i.e of war, i.e the truth.) It will give you an in-depth yet broad view of the intelligence profession in general, not just our own. It is much more comprehensive than ‘Spycatcher’, which itself hardly inspired confidence in the security services, even making allowances for the embittered, grudge-ridden state Mr Wright was in when he wrote it (as evidenced by the rambling arguments and poor quality of the book in general).
    Talking of Spycatcher it suddenly strikes me how that wonderful phrase to which the case gave rise ‘economical with the truth’ has so far failed to surface in this most taxing and hair-splitting of debates. (If Matthew Kydd says torture-induced intelligence has proved useful, er, what was that again, Foreign Secretary?)

  22. Cheers, Luis Enrique. Sorry if I’ve been negligent in referencing all my claims fully. This is what I was referring to:

    “Exhibit A is the torture-extracted confession of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al Qaeda captive who told the CIA in 2001, having been ‘rendered’ to the tender mercies of Egypt, that Saddam Hussein had trained al Qaeda to use WMD. It appears that this confession was the only information upon which, in late 2002, the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state repeatedly claimed that “credible evidence” supported that claim, even though a now-declassified Defense Intelligence Agency report from February 2002 questioned the reliability of the confession because it was likely obtained under torture.” – Brigadier General David R. Irvine.
    http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/archives/2005/11/why_torture_doe_1.html

  23. Bob thanks for the book recommendation, Richard thanks for the link. I suppose it would be churlish to question that “appears” (and your earlier “solely”), given that this one example is, assuming it has been fairly and accurately described, bad enough. I’d like to know more about that “rendered” though. Does the CIA really nab al Qaeda suspects then hand them over to Egyptian interrogators? I find that a bit hard to believe, (I’d want to be in the room while my al Qaeda supsect was being interrogated) but that may be my touching faith leading me astray again. That question would take this comment thread too far off topic though, I think.

  24. Yep – you’re right that evidence of political fraud/corruption within the GWOT doesn’t in itself prove that it’s “all about X”, whether X is oil, the arms trade, political hegemony or whatever. But when you have a situation where the dominant political grouping in the dominant Western nation, along with the “thinktanks” that help to form policy, are so heavily, heavily funded by this strange nexus of oil companies and the arms industry, it’s difficult to avoid seeing some kind of connection. The situation in the UK isn’t so extreme as in the US, but BAE certainly seems to be up to similar tricks.

    I’m sure that the majority of the cheerleaders for this seemingly never-ending “global war”, genuinely and passionately believe that it’s the only way to protect our civilisation – just as many of the global-warming deniers honestly believe that the Greenhouse Effect is unproven/unproveable. And I’m sure that many in the arms industry themselves believe in it all too, just as many oil execs genuinely doubt the climate science. But we all (and I include myself in this) have a tendency to believe what we want/need to believe. It’s only natural that the thinktanks and politicans who say the things that the arms/oil industry want to hear are going to be the ones that get massive amounts of funding from them. And that will inevitably result, in my view, in a systematic “skewing” of the picture in favour of the story that best suits the interests of those footing the bill.

    So while we don’t need to postulate the existence of some meticulously-planned machiavellean (spelling?) conspiracy, I’m not sure that the end result is much different. There are doubtless better ways of expressing it, but I’d call it something akin to an “unwitting conspiracy of mutual self-deception”. Obviously the threat from terror is real, but it has clearly, in my view, been massively twisted and distorted to fit the picture, and in a way that “follows the money”.

    The real problem is when we start cutting corners, morally and practically, doing strange, semantic acrobatics and embracing an extreme form of “might is right” relativism in order to sustain the picture.

    At the bottom of it all are the people, like Al-Libi who have been tortured on our behalf to get the “information” that’s needed. Beyond Al-Libi, there are, according to Craig Murray, thousands of people against whom there was never ANY evidence of terrorist links who’ve suffered even more.

    I’d also recommend having a look at this article, from the Sunday Herald in September 2002:
    http://www.sundayherald.com/print27735

    It does sound like gonzo crazy talk until you go and look at the PNAC website. These guys don’t even bother to cover their tracks: http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf.

    The main inaccuracy in the Herald article is the sensationalist (sells more papers I guess) claim that the documents they’d “uncovered” were “secret”. They were in fact freely available on the PNAC website!

    “A SECRET blueprint for US global domination reveals that President Bush and his cabinet were planning a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure ‘regime change’ even before he took power in January 2001.

    The blueprint, uncovered by the Sunday Herald, for the creation of a ‘global Pax Americana’ was drawn up for Dick Cheney (now vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld (defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld’s deputy), George W Bush’s younger brother Jeb and Lewis Libby (Cheney’s chief of staff). The document, entitled Rebuilding America’s Defences: Strategies, Forces And Resources For A New Century, was written in September 2000 by the neo-conservative think-tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

    The plan shows Bush’s cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. It says: ‘The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

    The PNAC document supports a ‘blueprint for maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests’.

    This ‘American grand strategy’ must be advanced for ‘as far into the future as possible’, the report says. It also calls for the US to ‘fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars’ as a ‘core mission’.

    The report describes American armed forces abroad as ‘the cavalry on the new American frontier’. The PNAC blueprint supports an earlier document written by Wolfowitz and Libby that said the US must ‘discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role’.”

  25. luis
    Have a squint at this from the Washington Post. OK his away day(s) were not to Cairo but there are outstanding warrants awaiting the return to Italy of some CIA chaps!
    Google Abu Omar!
    t

  26. Luis Enrique – thanks again. Actually, it gets worse!

    “MILAN (Reuters) – A Milan court has issued a European arrest warrant for 22 CIA agents suspected of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric from Italy’s financial capital in 2003, Prosecutor Armando Spataro said on Friday.

    Milan magistrates suspect a CIA team grabbed Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off a Milan street and flew him for interrogation to Egypt, where he said he was tortured.”
    http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/archives/2005/12/europewide_arre.html

    And there’s loads more here!: http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=2&search=rendition

  27. oops, sent it all off topic (sorry Owen)

    And it is off topic, because if the CIA has been nabbing suspected terrorists then taking them somewhere and torturing them (or interrogate with ‘harsh treatment’ if you prefer) then that discussion is a different one from what the UK should do with intelligence originating from (probable) torture, which we had no part in instigating.

  28. Fair point Luis – but I do think it’s relevant inasmuch as it’s indicative of a general trend by Western nations towards the use of torture, which in my view makes Craig’s claims even more compelling. Here’s another example – and I must apologise for the grotesque details but I think they are relevant:

    “An Ethiopian student who lived in London claims that he was brutally tortured with the involvement of British and US intelligence agencies.

    Binyam Mohammed, 27, says he spent nearly three years in the CIA’s network of ‘black sites’. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator.

    After his capture in Pakistan, Mohammed says British officials warned him that he would be sent to a country where torture was used. Moroccans also asked him detailed questions about his seven years in London, which his lawyers believe came from British sources.”
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1664612,00.html

    If these claims are true, then we’ve been actively participating in rendition, in the full knowledge that torture was going to be used. That would make us criminally complicit.

    Then there’s more here:

    “MI6 officers interrogated a former UK student in Pakistan, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday. The man, a terrorist suspect, says MI6 handed him to the CIA for “extraordinary rendition” and torture.

    The allegations by Binyam Mohammed el-Habashi, 27, in which he details the abuse, sleep deprivation and torture inflicted on him, were previously uncorroborated, but Mr Straw admitted for the first time that at least part of his story was true.”
    http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/archives/2005/12/rendition_victi.html

    If we’re prepared to hand someone over to the US, in the full knowledge that the detainee is going to be tortured, then it seems far more difficult to believe that we could never, on principle, have encouraged the Uzbeks to do similar things!

    But to get fully back to the topic – the nub of the issue is surely this: Craig is not disputing that there might be particular situations where a particular piece of torture-tainted information should be used to stop a terrorist attack. Neither does he need to prove that an isolated, ad hoc use of torture-tainted information will in itself instigate further torture.

    Craig’s concern is that we appear to have had a fully-fledged network for gathering information from torture. By systematically gathering torture-tainted information from countries like Uzbekistan, within the context of an “alliance” (Craig was instructed to call Uzebekistan our “ally”) in which the West offered Karimov all sorts of goodies (including large sums of money), Craig believes that we were instigating further torture.

    Some critics of Craig appear to believe that we couldn’t possibly ever do anything like that, or that there is no evidence for us ever doing anything like that. But the information already in the public domain makes this blanket assertion look quite vulnerable. It seems to be getting clearer and clearer that something very dubious has been going on, and that we have knowingly participated.

  29. My father, Brian Barder, has a majestic round-up of the issues discussed above here in his blog. I am therefore closing comments on this thread, and would encourage any further discussion to take place there.

  30. Pingback: Not Little England
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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and