Craig Murray Aside…

by Nathan Hamm on 3/23/2005 · 33 comments

If this post seems to jump, please do alert me. It has been worked on periodically over a few days. And, I’m notoriously bad at proof-reading

Major Mike Ford of Blackburn left a comment recently about Craig Murray and the issue of torture in Uzbekistan.

I’ve read the many posts regarding Craig Murray but, for all the personal attacks on this particular individual, I am unable to find in your discourse any sense of the true level of torture in Uzbekistan. I am able to identify the obvious hyperbolic rhetoric used by Mr Murray but is torture in Uzbekistan “systemic”, as he suggests? Perhaps you could enlighten me with your expert knowledge of the region so that a fuller picture of this man’s increasingly public campaign in my home town can be assertained.

True — I have nothing nice to say about Murray. Laurence isn’t a fan either. And, at least in my case, I’ve never really discussed the level of torture in Uzbekistan, though I have discussed some of Murray’s particular accusations. So, I’ll answer the question that’s been posed. But I’ll also discuss what should be done and why I don’t think Murray’s approach best serves the people of Uzbekistan.

And it’s not just a discussion that needs to be had about Uzbekistan. These are issues that policymakers and analysts face every day, and they are issues that need to be dealt with responsibly and carefully.

Is Torture Systemic?

First, my short answer on whether or not torture is systemic on Uzbekistan is “probably.” It all depends on whether or not “systemic” means “widespread” or “a policy ordered by the highest levels of the executive” or something entirely different.

The big problem is that Uzbekistan’s government is incredibly opaque, so it’s exceedingly difficult to tell who orders what and why exactly officials at certain levels do the things they do. The government gives very vague guidelines to local officials when they bother to give them at all, so decisions are very timidly made if made at all. Officials often deal with competing pressures that are difficult to balance. I ran into this on occasion when asking low-ranking officials to offer fairly tame support. There are competing interests in the Uzbek judicial system. In the fight between prosecutorial expediency and justice, justice always seems to lose. Police are so poorly equipped and trained to investigate crimes that prosecutors can usually only get convictions through confessions. To put it most mildly, police “extract” confessions. Most readers who have followed arguments on torture know that this produces inaccurate results and often only gives the outward appearances of having solved crimes — or as is often the case in Uzbekistan, serious security concerns.

When I talk about the weakness of the investigative and prosecutorial arms of the Uzbek judicial system, it’s probably important to point out to those inclined to distrust me (and among Murray’s crowd there are plenty, I’m sure) that my argument, while fairly intuitive, is backed up by someone who has experienced Uzbekistan’s prisons firsthand and himself was tortured.

…the worst physical violence takes place at this [pre-trial] stage, when the suspect is entirely in the hands of the police. They are generally seeking a signed confession – a document that in court is always sufficient to produce a guilty verdict, even if the accused recants and says he or she signed under duress.

The level of pressure applied to detainees means that most will sign anything after only two or three days – even confessing to a theft of which he or she is totally innocent. After the extraction of a confession – commonly the centrepiece of the prosecution’s case – the accused goes to the next stage, a prison in either Tashkent or another city.

Because confessions are such a crucial element of any trial, torture is commonplace, regardless of whether the alleged crime is petty theft or political sedition.

Methods used in the interior ministry include general beatings and more sophisticated brutality including electric shock, suffocation by placing a gas mask or plastic bag on the suspect’s head, and pulling out fingernails and teeth.

So, if “systemic” means “widespread,” then yes, torture is systemic in Uzbekistan. It is often the only way for police and prosecutors to secure convictions, and paranoia and overzealous police most certainly lead to too many innocent people confessing to crimes they most likely did not commit.

But is the torture an explicit government policy? On a certain level this is an irrelevant question. That torture is common is a problem regardless of why. On another though, it’s absolutely crucial. I do think the Uzbek government would like to eliminate torture if for no other reason than it is, for lack of a better term, good for business. If Uzbekistan were a company, it would have less currency with the public than the Enron or Halliburton. The government knows this, knows it suffers as a result, and yet still lets its paranoia and fear of instability prevent it from making bold steps.

It’s hard, because Uzbekistan is such an opaque state and because it’s so hard to determine who has what powers and where decisions are being made, to determine in exactly what whay torture is systemic. It certainly is part of the system in that prosecutors and police rely on it to secure convictions. It certainly is widespread as a result. The central government has made moves to reduce torture, but not with much zeal.

And if that’s all you wanted to know, especially those of you who will have the opportunity to vote for Craig Murray, then you can stop reading now. If you’re going to vote for him because torture happens in Uzbekistan, go right ahead. Just know that doing so on just that basis endorses a foreign policy approach that almost ensures that abuse of human rights and torture in Uzbekistan will continue longer than it needs to. Please do read on.

What is to be done?

Well, condescending scoldings probably isn’t the most effective strategy for those genuinely interested in stopping torture in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s government is pretty touchy and criticism of the sort one finds on the left tends to lead to a backlash. I’m not saying that it’s necessary to walk on eggshells or keep all criticism out of the public’s view. What I am saying is that it’s necessary to tone down the rhetoric and recognize and reward improvements when they occur. And they do occur, despite what bombastic, overheated critics may assert.

One of the smarter strategies for eliminating terrorism in Uzbekistan that doesn’t necessarily rely on the goodwill of the central government is to improve the investigative skills of police and the ability of prosecutors to build cases based on evidence rather than confessions. It’s not as if every prisoner is railroaded through trials. Judges have dismissed charges on those rare occasions when evidence is used in trials and show that the accused is innocent. [I should note here that with some high-profile cases, there is pressure from the top to round up people and convict them quickly to maintain the government’s image as a provider of stability – one of its central claims to legitimacy].

The problem with the combative, lecturing approach is that it results in the lecturer, be it a state, an NGO, or a particular individual having no contact or leverage with the mid and low-level bureaucrats, prosecutors, and police officers that are the key to improving the health of Uzbekistan’s institutions.

And the specialists say the same thing. When the CSCE held hearings on the State Department decertifying direct aid to the Uzbek government over human rights issues, the experts were nearly unanimous. The relationship should continue. One of those who supported the continuation of direct US aid to the Uzbek government was Abdurahim Pulatov of the opposition Birlik party. Who supported the cutoff? Human Rights Watch, an organization whose approach is so wrapped up in condescending lectures that its role in Uzbekistan could best be compared to that of a particularly hard to kill fly. Sure, they draw a reaction, but usually only in response to a big commotion.

Robert Kaplan is less of an idealist than me, but he touches on this theme at the end of Eastward to Tartary:

I am afraid that calls in Western capitals for “democracy — while branding as “evil” those who do not comply — is an evasion, not a policy. Holding an election is easy. But because the “state,” as Buckhardt says, “is a work of art,” building one from scratch requires guile, force, and years of toil. … The only way to ensure that the latter triumphs [liberal democracy] is not to force elections on societies ill prepared for them but to project economic and military power regionally, through pipelines and defense agreements. If our weight is felt, our values my follow. But if we only lecture sanctimoniously, new empires that arise in the Near East will not reflect our values. The human landscape is grim, but great powers throughout history faced grim landscapes and were not deterred from pursuing their goals

Like Kaplan and unlike so many of Murray’s adorers, I’ve seen a slice of that grim human landscape. Uzbekistan transformed me. The world is a nasty, brutal place. I firmly believe that Uzbeks deserve all the rights, freedoms, and opportunities that those of us in the West enjoy. Wishing it to be won’t make it so. Engagement, as unseemly as it may be, is the only option available to those who want a realistic shot at addressing torture in Uzbekistan.

Back to Murray and The Real Issue

Murray’s Uzbekistan strategy, inasmuch as he has one, is the “may our souls be pure” path. It sounds perfectly dandy on its own. However, as is often the case in this world, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. The alternative, specifically framed, is the “may our influence make Uzbekistan a better place” approach. The issue is how we can make a difference, and in my opinion, the path above is the best way to reach our goal.

The primary reason why torture isn’t the issue in Murray’s case is that the Foreign Office was right to pull Murray. Regardless of the truth of his accusations, he rendered himself ineffective by becoming a condescending moralizer. Murray must have known this. Moral posturing may be good for one’s soul, but it doesn’t make a dictator change his tune. Murray must have known this. Engagement produces results. The FO certainly knew this.

Moral posturing though is ripe fodder for the papers and victims are the lifeblood of certain varieties of politics. Murray certainly knew this, and makes me question his motives. His care about torture in Uzbekistan seemed to peak whenever the FO brought up allegations concerning his behavior as ambassador.

Why’s he even running if he, as I assert, only cares to save his ass? In The Guardian, which has kindly agreed to give him a free weekly soapbox, he waxes serious. But what has he said in the recent past?

My immediate plans…I intend to stand against Jack Straw in his Blackburn constituency. Just to annoy him.

I won’t selectively quote. But keep in mind that reason number one is to annoy Jack Straw.

And to bring home this question of complicity with dictatorships, complicity with torture in the War on Terror, because Jack Straw himself personally took the decision to use Uzbek torture-based intelligence. It was put to him, he discussed it. He discussed it with the head of MI6 and they decided they would continue using it. So I want to hold him accountable for that, and to make sure that the electors and his own constituency know all about it. I’m not anticipating being elected I should hasten to say. You can be the first people to publish that!

Aside from him becoming a professional critic of his government — Ralph Nader for the UK, this gets right down to brass tacks. What is it that Craig Murray cares about? Uzbeks being tortured or his government accepting intelligence received from torture? [I won’t even get into the quite important questions of whether any evidence is known to have been obtained from torture or just assumed to have been.]

I think his statement is fairly unambiguous. I think his actions are fairly unambiguous. He cares more about sticking it to his government than Uzbekistan becoming a better place. That doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t care about the latter, but it’s a second-order priority.

I understand Murray’s point of view – the “we need to worry about purifying our government” argument. I’ve encountered it often. I also think it’s morally reprehensible when it’s bought by turning our backs on the plight of another people. I think it’s doubly reprehensible when made by someone like Murray, who actually had the power to make a difference.* I think it’s triply reprehensible to go around professing to care about one situation while focusing all of one’s energy on being a professional critic.

Blackburn, if you intend to base your vote on a moral foreign policy, keep in mind that morality is about ends and means. Murray’s way – the antagonist’s route – may leave Britain as innocent as a lamb, but it will certainly destroy the ability of your government to create positive changes in the Uzbek government. If you want revenge on your government, by all means, put this manchild in office. Know though that in the real world, compromises sometimes must be made, and Murray’s unwillingness to make them will leave the world a colder place.

*Which he renounced through both his unprofessional behavior and his obstinant refusal to accept that maybe the government making the policy he was employed to enact might have a long-term vision for making the world a better place.

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Laurence March 23, 2005 at 8:48 am

Nathan, this is a very thoughtful piece, and shows you have put a lot of work into it. I hope you’ll go to law school…

Tim Newman March 24, 2005 at 5:17 am

I hope Nathan doesn’t attend law school. I’d rather he opened a hotel and bar in Tashkent and encouraged visitors from Dubai. 🙂

Hilary Matthews March 24, 2005 at 8:16 am

An interesting piece. This question of whether it’s possible to achieve democratic change through “constructive engagement” can also be applied to China, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and of course Iran.

I’d be interested to know what you think the approach should be towards those countries, and what it is about Uzbekistan that makes you hopeful that “constructive engagement” could work?

Colin Guard March 24, 2005 at 9:11 am

Ditto on Hilary’s question: what do you mean by “engagement”? I’ll take it a step further and say that your criticism of Ambassador Murray has no weight if you’re unwilling or unable to suggest a concrete alternative strategy.

Also, I find it pretty amazing that you claim to have personal experience with UZ government bodies yet are not aware of the extremely centralized nature of decision-making. You had trouble getting answers “when asking low-ranking officials to offer fairly tame support” because those low-ranking officials don’t decide anything, and have to wait for your low-priority request to make its way across the desk of a minister or even the Cabinet of Ministers. When the central government makes a decision on an important issue, however, compliance is quick and universal. I’ve witnessed this several times. If the GOU wanted to stop torture, it would end the next day.

Finally, I’d be interested in your citing a few examples of countries where deliberately withholding public criticism has resulted in a general improvement of the human rights situation. I can’t think of any. I can, however think of the example of Iran, where the US was not publicly critical of the Shah’s human rights record, and we ended up with a revolution in which an anti-American regime took power. Did lack of public criticism of Pinochet result in any human rights improvements in Chile?

Nathan March 24, 2005 at 9:23 am

I have little time to really get into this a lot today.

Engagement means exactly what you’d think, maintaining a broad range of normal contacts between two countries. I’d counter by saying Murray hasn’t proposed a policy, but a sloppily though out emotional approach.

I know the Uzbek government makes decisions centrally. The problem is that it’s so fickle and so poorly promulgates decisions that the low-level guys often won’t act unless there’s heavy pressure. You’re right, torture would stop if Uzbekistan really wanted it to. Defiantly bitching about it is not a policy and it won’t produce results. It signs off any influence we could possibly have. Care about your soul if you want, I care about net improvements in peoples’ lives.

I’m not saying that all criticism should be withheld. It doesn’t need to be shouted from the mountaintops and come without any appreciation for improvements though.

I’m also not saying that if you withhold criticism, *poof* the problems go away. Obviously, human rights were not our concern in Chile and Iran. These issues are much more in the forefront now and we are still learning how best to craft policies that leverage what we can offer to produce results. Being measured in our reactions has produced very small results in Uzbekistan and produced noticeable results in Azerbaijan to name a couple. I can’t really answer a vague brightline like “general improvement.”

Nathan March 24, 2005 at 9:26 am

Hilary, I think that constructive engagement can work because we have things to offer. I think it will probably be slow and frustrating because China and Russia have much more enticing things to offer, but I’d hate to see us entirely shut out and have programs like IATP, IREX, FLEX, and others shut down because of a poorly thought out and largely masturbatory desire to moralize.

Colin Guard March 24, 2005 at 10:23 am

“Engagement means exactly what you’d think, maintaining a broad range of normal contacts between two countries.” – so that’s your proposal? And how is public criticism incompatible with maintaining a broad range of normal contacts?

And for what specific improvements in the GOU’s policies would you suggest we express our appreciation? To my recollection there have not been any.

Minor clarification: IREX is not a program.

Laurence March 24, 2005 at 2:23 pm

Nathan, I’ll jump in to support you here. The debate reminds me of Isaiah Berlin’s remark about the fox and the hedgehog.

Colin is right on one thing: IREX is an NGO, IATP is a program. Nathan is right about many things, including his main point: It would be shame if American NGOs and programs that benefit Uzbeks were to end.

Hilary can be answered simply: China, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, and Iran don’t have US bases and are not American allies. Three are Socialist and one is Islamist. All are opposed to the US. Uzbekistan–like S. Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Greece, and the Phillippines, all of which made the transition from dictatorship to democracy-is an ally of the United States.

steph March 24, 2005 at 2:58 pm

I think this is a very thoughtful anaylsis and I coudn’t agree more with what you said about the Uzbek system and the dangers of the condescending approach in international politics. I had the dubious honour to experience Craig Murray life at LSE, and he didn’t leave me with a particularly positive impression. Self-righteous and moralizing hits it pretty well.
However, there are two different questions tied up with each other and you brush aside the second one too easily for my taste. It DOES matter, for us, in the West, whether we rely on evidence that MAY have been extracted under torture when we keep people locked up for years without trial because they may in future pose a terrorist risk for our societies. That, for me, is a completely separate issue from any policy of engagement that the FO may pursue in Usbekistan. From the account of Usbek prisons that you have linked, it seems to me that there is a particular hatred of muslim prisoners and that they are particularly at risk for torture or even death. There is at least a likelyhood that any classified material handed over by the Uzbek government has been extracted under torture, and that in itself should be enough of a reason for our governments to not use it. Quite apart from the fact that this information may be wrong and therefore useless in preventing a terrorist attack in the UK, it may well be used to lock up people without a trial, denying them the basic rights that we are so eager to export to other countries. Here it is us undermining our own system of values in our own society – I’m sorry, but I do think that matters.

Nathan March 24, 2005 at 3:12 pm

Steph, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

You’re right, they are somewhat different issues. Murray’s narrative, for as long as I’ve been following it, appears to drift back and forth from torture in general to receiving evidence from torture being his concern.

The problem with Murray’s account – and maybe I’ve missed this part – is that I’ve yet to hear specificity as to the frequency and type of information. He’s just said it’s been received and that it’s not good intel. I want to know who from the CIA told his employee that they knew what was going on. Given so much about his story that seems designed to deflect the charges against him, I have a hard time assessing how much attention should be paid to a story with missing pieces.

Hulegu March 24, 2005 at 3:32 pm

Hi – I too have had the ‘honour’ of hearing Craig Murray speak, and I wonder, though he’s very keen on sounding off on all sorts of issues, if he’s still not acutely aware of this thing called the Official Secrets Act and how it might be used against him. He’s not in the same whistleblower class as, say, Katherine Gunn, David Shayler or Richard Tomlinson, who all revealed stuff that did seem (at the time) genuinely shocking to most members of the British public (and all of whom ended up in court or on the run), but in Murray’s case he can’t be revealing anything particularly hush-hush or else he’d have been hauled up in front of the beak, right? I wonder if there were any conditions attached to his pay-off?

Also, on a different matter, does anyone in Blackburn know who put up his deposit? this information should be availabe from the Returning Officer for the appropriate constituency, I think …

Nathan March 24, 2005 at 5:16 pm

BTW, if this is an accurate representation of Murray’s claim, then he’s basically saying that suspects were probably tortured because torture is so common. The discussions mentioned sound more theoretical than about an actual case.

For him to be believed, one would have to assume that the intelligence services are absolute morons who don’t have access to the incredible secret that the confessions of association with terrorism that the Uzbek government obtains tend to be inaccurate or false.

Hilary Matthews March 24, 2005 at 7:47 pm

Thanks for that clarification, Laurence. South Korea’s an interesting case in point. I guess you’re saying that Uzbekistan is more amenable to “constructive engagement” as they’re already on-side as a strategic ally. I can see how that might work. I hope you’re right.

My understanding is that Murray was cleared of all 18 disciplinary charges in January 2004. Whatever his other motivations, I’m sceptical about this idea that he’s using the torture issue simply as a means of deflecting those charges.

However, at the time of his resignation, there was an investigation pending into an internal (ie. secret) memo leaked in October 2004, which Murray had written several months earlier.

It was the leak of this memo, in which Murray was outspokenly critical of British and US policy in Uzbekistan, that led to his being withdrawn “not on disciplinary, but on operational grounds”;

But of course, an investigation into Murray’s suspected involvement in the leak followed his withdrawl. He still denies that he was responsible – but if he was behind it, he is presumably liable for prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

It might be interesting to see if anything more emerges from the UK Foreign Office investigation into how the memo got out.

Colin Guard March 25, 2005 at 3:13 am

“Nathan is right about many things, including his main point: It would be shame if American NGOs and programs that benefit Uzbeks were to end.”

How would you explain the fact that Human Rights Watch has not yet been shut down in Uzbekistan? Perhaps the GOU has to tolerate a certain amount of criticism in order to maintain a minimum facade of legitimacy vis-a-vis the outside world? What are we risking by being honest in the public arena about the GOU’s failure to make any progress whatsoever toward basic respect of human rights? HRW would be shut down before NDI or IRI, and NDI and IRI would be shut down before IREX. In Belarus IREX was actually shut down (last in a long line of NGOs to be shut down there), but UNDP picked up administration of the programs, so they’re continuing to operate there even though IREX isn’t. This doesn’t seem to be an either/or situation here, and we could be pushing the GOU a lot harder than we are.

Laurence March 25, 2005 at 4:57 am

Colin, Soros has already been de-certified. The International Republican Institute, I believe, is currently under some sort of sanction. If you are saying that the UNDP can do everything that IREX is doing, as in Belarus, then you are making the case for a complete NGO shutdown in Uzbekistan.

Colin Guard March 25, 2005 at 6:14 am

I am not saying that UNDP can do everything that IREX is doing, and am not making the case for a complete NGO shutdown in Uzbekistan. My point, which I thought was pretty clear, is this: no international NGO has been shut down in Uzbekistan for criticism yet, so why the extreme caution? Why not test the waters?

Soros was shut down for taking credit for events in Georgia, not for criticizing the GOU’s human rights record. To my knowledge, no international NGO in Central Asia has yet been shut down due to criticism of human rights violations. Until this happens (and I’m not saying it can’t happen), your concern for the fate of programs like IATP and FLEX is misplaced. You’re going to have to find another argument for withholding public criticism of the regime.

Laurence March 25, 2005 at 6:49 am

Colin, I was supporting Nathan’s argument for engagement with the Uzbek government. I never argued that people should withold public criticism of the regime, so long as it is useful and productive.

In Murray’s case, his criticisms were obviously counter-productive, since he was pulled out of the country.

Colin Guard March 25, 2005 at 7:15 am

Murray was pulled out of the country by whom? The GOU? My understanding is that he was pulled by the UK government.

And do you know why he was pulled? Have you seen his personnel file?

I’d also like to see your definition of “useful and productive” criticism. Murray was generally on the mark, so if you’re advocating being off the mark, I can’t go along with that. If you’re saying that criticism should be conveyed in a normal speaking tone, without yelling or hyperventilating, then that would certainly be a reasonable suggestion, although I can’t see it making a huge difference in the relations between two countries.

Nathan March 25, 2005 at 7:36 am

Colin, since you’re not taking what I’m writing seriously, I’m done. My final points:

1) HRW is still there because no one here or there takes them seriously. You’re right, it’s all about gloss. The GOU has ripped them a new one on a few occasions though.

2) I’m not saying never criticize in public. I’ve made that clear. Making self-righteous criticism the whole of one’s policy is stupid (and yes, this is Murray’s position. He says the UK should have no relationship with Uzbekistan).

3) Murray was let go for operational reasons. In other words, he was ineffective. By his own admission there are two things he knew about Uzbekistan – jack and shit – until he was convinced to see it from the human rights industy’s point of view.

4) The best example of productive criticism comes from Freedom House. They’re critical and honest of the government, but not in an overheated way and with their eye to the long game. As a result, they’ve been allowed to investigate cases the HRW has just made shit up about.

Like I said, what Murray advocates, self-righteous bitching and nothing else, is no policy worth supporting. It has more support than one would normally think. I’m not saying withhold all criticism, but it certainly doesn’t need to be delivered the way Murray has. And, if we are serious about making things better, there should be rhetorical and probably financial support for improvements, even if they are small and uneven.

Colin Guard March 25, 2005 at 8:03 am

“Colin, since you’re not taking what I’m writing seriously,”

The fact that I’m replying to you means that I’m taking what you’re writing seriously.

“The GOU has ripped them [HRW] a new one on a few occasions though.”

This has not stopped them from doing their jobs.

“Murray was let go for operational reasons. In other words, he was ineffective.”

I asked Laurence whether he’s seen Murray’s personnel file. I don’t think either of you guys knows for sure why Murray was withdrawn.

“this is Murray’s position. He says the UK should have no relationship with Uzbekistan”

After watching him for half an hour on BBC, my understanding was that he advocated that the UK stop accepting intelligence from the GOU, which makes perfect sense because it’s not reliable intelligence. He did not recommend severing relations.

“As a result, they’ve been allowed to investigate cases the HRW has just made shit up about.”

Name a case that HRW has made up. I happen to know the HRW representatives in Tashkent personally, and they regularly go out to prisons and take interviews and photographs. Certainly some of the victims might be making up their stories (although it’s hard to see the incentives for them to do so), but HRW staff do not make stories up.

“what Murray advocates, self-righteous bitching and nothing else, is no policy worth supporting. ”

That’s a severe caricature of what Murray advocates, and you still have not put forward a concrete counter-proposal, despite several invitations to do so.

“if we are serious about making things better, there should be rhetorical and probably financial support for improvements, even if they are small and uneven. ”

There have not been any improvements in the last three years in Uzbekistan, not on the human rights front, not on the democracy front, and not on the economic policy front. We can get into a discussion of whether noting improvements is productive because it encourages the regime to do better, or counterproductive because it gives the regime fuel for propaganda. But until there are any actual improvements to discuss, it’s a completely theoretical discussion.

Laurence March 25, 2005 at 9:59 am

Colin, Of course I haven’t seen Murray’s personnel file. I believe that I asked that it be made public, especially his medical records, in an early post on Registan. Not surprisingly, Murray has not done so. I believe he may possibly have a history of alcoholism, based on media accounts of his erratic behavior. In any case, you’ll have to get that information from him or the British Foreign Office. Don’t assume it will make Murray look good…

It doesn’t really matter, because the UK obviously withdrew him because he could no longer represent the British government. The decision was made by the UK government, obviously.

I’m not going to use Nathan’s strong language, yet I agree that Murray didn’t know very much about Uzbekistan and was just grandstanding.

In contrast to Murray’s clowning, the American ambassador at the time was effective. He went on to serve in Ukraine during the “Orange Revolution”, no doubt playing a role in that recent democratic transformation. Perhaps you can find out in Tashkent from your NGO contacts what the American ambassador may have thought of Ambassador Murray’s effectiveness, or lack therof.

Colin Guard March 25, 2005 at 10:23 am

I’ve met Ambassador Herbst and his successor Jon Purnell and consider them both to be competent guys, but I don’t understand how Herbst’s move to Ukraine says anything about his effectiveness in Uzbekistan. Explain the logic of your argument to me. Considering no improvements happened during his watch in UZ, it’s difficult to say that he was more effective than Murray. And if there had been improvements, it would be difficult to say that one ambassador gets the credit and the other doesn’t, since they overlapped and worked toward the same ends.

Generally, I like to come to my own conclusions, so while it might be interesting to know Ambassador Herbst’s opinion of Ambassador Murray’s effectiveness, it’s not going to change my opinions. I hope it won’t change your opinions, either.

Regarding Murray’s personnel file, I’m not assuming it will make him look good. He had a reputation for womanizing, and that’s in fact one of the possible reasons for his withdrawal. My point is that we don’t know, so I’m not jumping to the conclusion that it was because he was ineffective, as you are. If I had to guess, I’d say that he was withdrawn for disobeying an order, which would be a perfectly valid reason to recall him. But that’s just a guess, and I’m not making any arguments based on my guess.

Also, please explain how all of this relates to the points I made.

Laurence March 25, 2005 at 10:58 am

Colin, I just tried to answer the points you raised.

Ambassador Herbst is a superbly competent diplomat, Murray obviously was not. Herbst helped improve human rights in Uzbekistan and in Ukraine, that is the connection. The “Orange Revolution” would not have happened without him, I’m sure.

That you give Herbst no credit tells me that you don’t want to know the facts. Even the State Department human rights reports indicated progress during his tenure.

I don’t care about Murray’s personnel file very much, only mentioned it because you raised the matter. If Murray was withdrawn, it means he wasn’t doing a good job for the UK, never mind the Uzbek people, which is a pretty good definition of ineffectiveness.

You are welcome to believe anything you like, you have no obligation to be fair, and you have pretty much indicated that you aren’t interested in facts, only views that support total condemnations of Uzbekistan.

So like Nathan, I’ll exit this thread.

Colin Guard March 25, 2005 at 11:28 am

“you have pretty much indicated that you aren’t interested in facts, only views that support total condemnations of Uzbekistan.”

I’ve repeatedly asked you for specific examples of progress in Uzbekistan. You haven’t provided any, and I didn’t see any in two years living in Uzbekistan. I’ve also repeatedly asked you to provide a proposal for how to deal with the GOU that would be more effective than Murray’s actions, and you’ve provided nothing specific here, either, beyond general “engagement” and rewarding the GOU for the improvements that you seem unable to cite.

I’m keenly interested in facts. Please provide some. I don’t see any in your last few posts. Just one of many examples:

“Ambassador Herbst is a superbly competent diplomat, Murray obviously was not. Herbst helped improve human rights in Uzbekistan and in Ukraine, that is the connection. The “Orange Revolution” would not have happened without him, I’m sure.”

I don’t see any facts there, just opinions. This is high school debate club stuff, guys. I asked you to support your positions and you didn’t.

You seem to have two modes here: making vague assertions without suppporting them, and throwing up your hands in frustration when your readers ask you to support them.

Disagreements, aside, I appreciate this forum and your collection of information and links, btw. Just wanted to add that.

Niks Bijzonders March 25, 2005 at 11:33 am

Here is the internal memo which Murray wrote last year. It’s my understanding that he was withdrawn, not because he wrote the memo, but because (whoever was responsible for the leak) it was deemed that he could not continue as Britain’s ambassador after these private comments were publicised in the media. I have to say that I find the allegation about a man having his grandchildren tortured in front of him particularly shocking.

Niks Bijzonders March 25, 2005 at 11:35 am

…and this is the full text:

OF 220939 JULY 04




1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.

3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.


4. In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

5. 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. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture.

6. 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.

7. Sir Michael Jay’s circular of 26 May stated that there was a reporting obligation on us to report torture by allies (and I have been instructed to refer to Uzbekistan as such in the context of the war on terror). You, Sir, have made a number of striking, and I believe heartfelt, condemnations of torture in the last few weeks. I had in the light of this decided to return to this question and to highlight an apparent contradiction in our policy. I had intimated as much to the Head of Eastern Department.

8. I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear that without informing me of the meeting, or since informing me of the result of the meeting, a meeting was convened in the FCO at the level of Heads of Department and above, precisely to consider the question of the receipt of Uzbek intelligence material obtained under torture. As the office knew, I was in London at the time and perfectly able to attend the meeting. I still have only gleaned that it happened.

9. I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true – the material is marked with a euphemism such as “From detainee debriefing.” The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.

10. I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact

11. The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.”

While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present
question also.

12. On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer:

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

13. Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

14. I was taken aback when Matthew Kydd said this stuff was valuable. Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat. That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them. Furthermore MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment.

15. At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family’s links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.

16. I have been considering Michael Wood’s legal view, which he kindly gave in writing. I cannot understand why Michael concentrated only on Article 15 of the Convention. This certainly bans the use of material obtained under torture as evidence in proceedings, but it does not state that this is the sole exclusion of the use of such material.

17. The relevant article seems to me Article 4, which talks of complicity in torture. Knowingly to receive its results appears to be at least arguable as complicity. It does not appear that being in a different country to the actual torture would preclude complicity. I talked this over in a hypothetical sense with my old friend Prof Francois Hampson, I believe an acknowledged World authority on the Convention, who said that the complicity argument and the spirit of the Convention would be likely to be winning points. I should be grateful to hear Michael’s views on this.

18. It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit.

19. This is a difficult and dangerous part of the World. Dire and increasing poverty and harsh repression are undoubtedly turning young people here towards radical Islam. The Uzbek government are thus creating this threat, and perceived US support for Karimov strengthens anti-Western feeling. SIS ought to establish a presence here, but not as partners of the Uzbek Security Services, whose sheer brutality puts them beyond the pale.


Nathan March 25, 2005 at 11:54 am

Colin, part of the reason I’ve thrown up my hands is I’ve got a lot of other obligations over the next few days.

For a good discussion of the issue from some experts, see the testimony linked here and check out this year’s State Department human rights report. You have to take note of some past information, but there was a reduction in religious & political prisoners and there were fewer arrests after the 04 bombings than the 99 bombings (300 vs. 3,000). Things still are bad, but that’s progress and it’s progress achieved because of the State Department and our NGOs. It bothers me that it’s going at a glacier’s pace, but there is movement. I’m not arguing that it shouldn’t be faster. There have also been some economic improvements that I would argue are much more important to most Uzbeks.

OTOH, there are steps back in some areas, leading to what Martha Brill Olcott calls “uneven progress.” I talk about that a lot. It is a problem, but cutting off government-to-government aid probably isn’t the way to address it. The GOU doesn’t respond well to punishment, especially when Russia can substitute rewards that we might be offering with strings attached.

And, my alternative to Murray’s policy (which, honestly, I don’t see very well explained anywhere, so place some burden on him, will you?) is the status quo, though I would tweak a few things. I’d like to see Uzbekistan held to account more for the promises it has made.

As for HRW, they got Shelkovenko wrong. He did commit suicide in the opinion of the US-Canadian forensic team that Freedom House helped bring it. That by no means is to say that the GOU’s hands are clean – R. Sharipov notes that suicide is common in prison because of government treatment of prisoners – or that HRW is always wrong. They do jump to conclusions, and paired with their preachy rhetoric, that’s a problem.

When did you live there, by the way? I’ve noticed that post-9/11 people tend to see things getting worse across the board. I see that there were a fair number of improvements, many of them economic, from 2000-2002.

Colin Guard March 25, 2005 at 12:14 pm

Nathan, thanks for the details. I was based in Tashkent from January 2003 to February 2005.

Decertification/”cutting off government-to-government aid” is a separate issue that we weren’t discussing here. We were discussing public criticism and the tone of that criticism.

As for the declining numbers of arrests, that doesn’t really say anything to me. Maybe there are fewer and fewer people left to arrest? People have learned how not to get arrested? Running out of space in the prisons? Who knows?

More meaningful to me would be sustained declines in the total number of political prisoners being held, along with a reduction in the number of offenses for which one can be arrested, e.g. a guy could have been arrested for attending an unauthorized religious service in 2003 in Andijan, but now folks in Andijan are attending such gatherings openly and not getting arrested. That would be progress.

Nathan March 25, 2005 at 12:35 pm

Well, I’m talking about policy as a whole – and much of the decertification debate in my eyes had to do with the most effective way to criticize the Uzbek government. If we want to focus on tone, that’s fine. All Murray’s tone accomplished was a reduction in the willingness of the Uzbek government to listen to the UK government. Like I said, I’m fine with public criticism. The GOU has been fine with public criticism. Murray’s style has never worked.

Because, come on, how do you react when people moralize and preach to you about things? Even if they are right, and even if you know they are, I think most of us get pissed off by preaching. And damn does that preacher feel good afterwards. As much as we may not want to have to deal with it, the GOU is made up of people who have the same kinds of reactions as people anywhere. If we treat them like adults, they’ll cope with criticism.

As for the declining numbers of arrests, that doesn’t really say anything to me. Maybe there are fewer and fewer people left to arrest? People have learned how not to get arrested? Running out of space in the prisons? Who knows?

If the CSCE site wasn’t down, I’d find the part of the testimony that talks about how the GOU wanted to round up a lot of people on very shaky grounds after the 04 bombings like they did in 99. There are always people to arrest in Uzbekistan and there’s always more room. Surely you were stopped by the police fairly often, right? While it never happened to me, many of my friends got the third degree about drug smuggling from Tashkent cops (in the provinces, it was usually amused curiosity). Imagine you’re an HCN. They don’t accuse you, they shake you down. There’s no way to avoid getting arrested, the police have all the power. I know you led a different lifestyle than me in Uzbekistan, but surely you know these things, right? 300 arrests was a muted reaction and many were subsequently let go.

I know there are more meaningful types of progress, but progress is progress as frustrating as it may be when it comes in drips.

I’d love to see a large aid package offered that results in the release of funds as certain benchmarks are reached.

Hilary Matthews March 26, 2005 at 5:41 am

The US State Department’s view of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan seems considerably more positive than that of Human Rights Watch.

You seem to be suggesting that HRW’s view is overly negative due to ideological factors.

Is it not possible that the State Department’s official view is distorted by the fact that the US has a number of strategic interests in Uzbekistan?

Hilary Matthews April 4, 2005 at 6:54 am

Fascism has always had its appeasers and apologists.

Nathan’s argument seems to be that the West should keep giving money and guns to the Uzbek government, whose security services boil people alive and rape children in front of their parents, in the hope that we can thereby persuade them, in the long term, to boil fewer people and rape fewer children.

Back in the 1930s the British government seriously believed that rearming Hitler and allowing him to occupy large areas of Eastern Europe would somehow deter him from trying to take over the rest of the continent.

Nathan believes that it is “masturbatory” for Craig Murray to say that boiling people alive is morally wrong, and to call for sanctions against the Uzbek government. What really seems to have got his goat is that Murray had the audacity to criticise US government policy.

Nathan April 4, 2005 at 8:39 am

Let’s just straighten up a few things.

How many people have been boiled alive again? What’s that, you don’t know? Now, in my opinion, one is too many, but to just toss it out there the way you do is to suggest it’s a defining characteristic of Uzbek prisons. According to your government’s human rights reports, there are two cases of this having happened. Horrible, but apparently not common. If we want to accomplish any good, we should at least know what we’re up against.

And, the US government has earmarked a grand total of $0 for the government of Uzbekistan this year. The Department of Defense gave a ~$20 million contribution of patrol boats which realistically are much better suited to drug interdiction than boiling or raping people.

To compare me to Chamberlain only highlights how facile your understanding of politics and history is. Are you suggesting Uzbekistan’s an expansionist state and that I want to allow them Osh and Khojent just to stretch their legs a little?

And it is masturbatory to say something is morally wrong and leave it at that. If Murray’s called for any specific form of sanctions, I’d love to hear it. Perhaps I’ve missed it.

I do think that it is morally wrong to torture people and I hope that those guilty of torture pay for it one day. I also think it’s morally juvenile to look at the world in black and white – failing to consider the consequences of absolutist stances. What I advocate is not the strawman you’ve planted, but that we at the very least continue and hopefully increase our funding of exchange and training programs and civil society NGOs working in Uzbekistan to prepare the ground for a new government. I also advocate offering aid – large chunks of it – directly to the government and keeping it on the table for a long time. However, aid would only be released if certain benchmarks were met.

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