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.