Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Craig Murray - Edinburgh Book Festival 27 August 2007

My final visit to this year's Book Festival, to see "a man of integrity" (Harold Pinter), "a man of the highest principle" (John Pilger) or "a deep embarrassment to the entire Foreign Office" (Jack Straw). Craig Murray, as you probably know, was Britain's ambassador in Uzbekistan until he was sacked. It is as he said, quite difficult to get fired from the British diplomatic service, and the heinous offence which brought about the end of his career was an inability to keep his mouth shut about a dictator (Karimov) who had an unfortunate attachment to boiling his political opponents alive. Imagine: even though both Britain and the USA had declared Karimov a major ally in the "War on Terror", this upstart Murray (who hadn't been to a public school or even to Oxbridge) was banging on about fingernails this and electrodes that, and sending photographs to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of people who had been mutilated and murdered. Even worse, when he discovered that the CIA were providing us with information obtained from the torture of suspects, and that this information was worthless, he had the audacity to draw the Foreign Secretary's attention to it, imagining that (as in the pre-9/11 days) anyone would give a stuff. An example of this useless intelligence was a list of "al-Qaeda members", all of whom had apparently visited training camps in Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden in person. (As his whereabouts were unknown at the time, it is astonishing that none of these hundreds of close associates was able to help the Allied forces to find him.) One of the people on the list was known personally to Craig, and was a Jehovah's Witness. Craig said he was unaware of any attempts by al-Qaeda to recruit Jehovah's Witnesses, though it was possible that the chap had visited Afghanistan in an attempt to sell copies of The Watchtower to al-Qaeda...) However, all was explained by the FCO: it was of no consequence whether this intelligence was true or not: what mattered was that it was "useful". In the same way, of course, the famous "intelligence" concerning Iraqi WMDs was totally untrue, but extremely useful if one's aim was to start an illegal war.

When asked by a member of the audience what had made him decide to take a stand against torture and all Karimov's other abuses (Uzbek cotton, for example, is almost entirely the product of slave labour) he remarked that nothing had changed his mind. He had stayed the same, but British government policy toward human rights abuses had changed.

Craig Murray insists that there is nothing heroic about him, and on one level he is right: his underpants remain firmly inside his trousers (though a propos his extramarital affairs he remarked that his lack of a public school background meant that he was probably the first British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was interested in girls). However, he isn't an easy man to bully, and is patently far more intelligent (not to mention honest) than Jack Straw and all the other Blair place-men. The FCO's loss is everyone else's gain, especially bloggers of course.

I bought a copy of his book and got it signed. I asked him whether Easyjet still banned it from their flights, and he said he hadn't had any recent reports of that. But there we are: another banned dissident. Perhaps if he gets sent to the Gulag Clive Stafford Smith can defend him.

A propos the Gulag, Craig draws attention on his blog to one of our own prisoners of conscience, Marcus Armstrong. (That's "our own" in the sense that it's the British government which has locked him up to keep him quiet.) Do send him a card to cheer him up. (This year all my New Year cards to Guantanamo Bay prisoners seem to have got through; last year they were all intercepted and returned by the Americans in a stunning display of pettiness. I expect that the authorities in Kilmarnock are neither as stupid nor as vindictive as those in Guantanamo.)

3 Comments:

At 29 August, 2007 12:53, Blogger zoe said...

one thing that stood out in your post was about Craig not having gone to public school. Nor did my dad, but he did pretty well for himself and got into london university and then had a good career within the FCO.

i find that craig murray has gone off the rails slightly - he started off well, though.

 
At 29 August, 2007 17:16, Blogger Rob said...

Actually he was asked whether he thought it had made much difference and he said not in practical terms, though socially it was a little strange at first, probably more the Dundee University than the state school. The two occasions when he mentioned it unasked were as I quoted them, and I suspect in each case it was mostly for rhetorical effect.

I haven't kept up with his blog as much as I would have liked as it's one that is blocked at my office so I can't read it with my lunch and have to remember when I get home. (Same problem as with MBIAT, actually.) I'm not sure about off the rails: he's certainly broadened his focus, but I think that's a result of no longer being constrained by government service. For instance, he was always against the Iraq war, but was very restricted in what he could say as long as he was a diplomat.

 
At 30 August, 2007 18:19, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Hey, don't knock the methods of interrogation. We need more names of people that can be arrested to show that our Department of Homeland Security and CIA are protecting us.
Did the CIA send any of our non-Guantanamo prisoners over there for interrogation as well?

 

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