My Thoughts on the Latest Murray News

by Nathan Hamm on 12/30/2005 · 18 comments

After a day on treacherous roads, I come home to find many emails alerting me that Craig Murray is back in the news. The blogosphere is going nuts over his release of documents regarding intelligence obtained from the Uzbek government through torture.

Regarding the issues involved, I’ve more or less said all that I have to say on the matter in posts such as this one and this one. The geopolitical and diplomatic context has, of course, changed quite a bit in recent months, making some past commentary out of date. But for me, the issue has long been one of torture in Uzbekistan. To make that a little clearer, I do not think there is a plausible argument to be made that torture of terrorism suspects took place at the encouragement of the United States or the United Kingdom. In one’s concern is that the US or UK encouraged torture in Uzbekistan, I think that can safely be put to rest. (Unless one is concerned with renditions, but I have yet to see any reliable information on how common they were. Nor have I ever thought that’s really what all this was about really. I do think it is safe to assume that if they did, those handed over were wanted in Uzbekistan. Reasonable people can disagree on the propriety of such extraditions, but it’s not an argument I’m particularly interested in having.)

Another issue is of whether or not the US and UK should have accepted the information or used it. I would like to know more about the dynamics of the information hand-over. I recall reading that the UK received its information from the US. And while it is all well and good for Craig to be more interested in the activities of his government, I am interested in know how actively the CIA sought information from Uzbek suspects and what weight it was assigned.

Anyhow, I do think it is crucial for people to divorce these two issues. As recent events have proven, the West has little sway over what Uzbekistan’s government will or will not do to its subjects.

If one goes back to past posts on the subject, it is clear that I also think there’s an aspect of the argument in which the perfect is the enemy of the good. I will be the first to admit that in hindsight the hoped-for good was unobtainable. As for the rest of the argument, please see the past posts.

On the issue of oil, which is brought up in the latest post at Murray’s blog, I think the line around here is well known. Talk of the US Uzbekistan policy being all about oil is rubbish (see the older posts especially), as our friend Tim Newman can explain in greater detail. That an eight year old letter keeps getting dredged up as the best evidence for the argument should not reassure those who support it.

I do have a few other observations as I’ve read other posts out there.

First, my hat is off to Murray for a fine bit of campaigning here. My opinion is that there’s no story here. The only thing new to the latest flap is the release of the documents. They don’t, unfortunately, tell us a whole lot that those who followed the story already have heard. Well played. A whole of lot folks who are out of their element from across the ideological spectrum are frothing at the moth and making fools of themselves.

Second, people are having temporal issues. Slate, who I don’t necessarily expect to catch this foul-up, manages to link to plenty of folks in their round up who keep referring the the US-Uzbek relationship in ways that would leave one with the impression that it is very warm. Since beating back the tide of stupid things said on the subject of Central Asia is at the heart of Registan.net‘s mission, my hat is off to upyernoz for calling people out on these mistakes.

the problem is that since 2001 uzbekistan has served the liberal blogisphere as a posterboy of the bush administration’s toleration of despots and human rights abusers provided that they are considered to be on the right side of the “war on terra.” there are plenty of examples of such despotic and abusive countries, and uzbekistan was among them at least until may 2005. but these days, it simply is no longer a good example for the bush administration’s realpolitik. if left blogistan is to be a responsible critic of the administration, it has an obligation to at least acknowledge the changes that occurred this past year.

To say the least… Continuing,

while i am always happy to consider the timeless “idiot or asshole” question, saunders is simply wrong about the present state of u.s.-uzbek relations. bush has made that phone call to the uzbek government, or at least members of his administration have. it has threatened cuts in foreign aid and other punitive steps since the andijon massacre.

Not only that, but there were aid cuts in 2004 over human rights. Immediately afterwards, the Pentagon replaced that money in a clear sign that some of the biggest problems in our Uzbekistan were ones of execution borne of insitutional competition and poor management.

Third, I have to take to task all those on the right who are suggesting that Murray has only released the documents to drum up sales of his forthcoming book. Examples of this can be found at Michelle Malkin’s blog and at Wizbang. I disagree with Craig Murray on many-a-thing, but I do not doubt for a minute that he has released these documents for any other reason than that he thinks that the public needs to know and that it is the right thing to do. It is fair to disagree with him on that, but I find it unfair to question his motives.


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– 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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{ 16 comments }

Brian December 31, 2005 at 2:38 am

Well the story made the NY Times, so I say anything that brings Uzbek human rights situation into the limelight again is fine by me… even if it does involve shocking yet somewhat non-newsworthy letters.

Nick December 31, 2005 at 6:44 am

Good analysis, Nathan. Of course, nothing in Craig Murray’s revelations is new to those who regularly follow Central Asian affairs, and much of the brouhaha has been whipped up by people who regard Murray in much the same light as other British whistleblowers of recent ilk, casting light on governmental ills (particularly regarding foreign policy) and whatnot: Richard Tomlinson, David Shayler, Katharine Gun etc. I rather suspect that, as in Gun’s case, Murray’s defence will be based upon (and will likely succeed) one of overriding public interest.

Laurence December 31, 2005 at 8:23 am

Nathan, Thank you for your post on the Murray documents. It is an interesting analysis.

When I was in Tashkent, I met a woman who had worked for Enron during its brief business life in Uzbekistan (one that began in the Clinton, not Bush, administration). She told me, with admirable resignation: “I survived the collapse of Communism. And I survived the collapse of Enron.”

Let’s hope that this New Year might be a better one for all of us, whether in Central Asia, the UK, or the USA.

Yangiz Yil Bilan!

Craig Murray December 31, 2005 at 10:19 am

Fair comment from Nathan. In truth, I have been shouting this as loud as I could for a long while, as this blog knows.

What I think has changed is the audience. 18 months ago, the whole question of Uzbekistan and torture was so outlandish it didn’t resonate. Now people have already a folder in their consciousness, marked “torture and extraordinary rendition”, into which my thoughts neatly plug. So now there is an audience. What is new is not what I am saying, but that people are listening.

Sorry for the cod psychology, but you know what I mean.

Incidentally, I won’t bother you with the legal complexities, but I really do need UK government permission to publish memoirs of my time as an Amnbassador, and it really is being witheld.

Craig

Nick December 31, 2005 at 11:22 am

Craig,

Couldn’t you do what Peter “Spycatcher” Wright did and publish outside the UK first?

Ian December 31, 2005 at 4:35 pm

Nathan, isn’t there a distinction to be made between implicit and explicit encouragement of torture? It’s perfectly clear from the words of Mike Scheuer, the CIA officer who designed the rendition program under Clinton, that interrogation using torture was the implicit goal, even though the C.Y.A. claim was that rendition destinations had to have open legal processes against the suspects. That way they could (and Condi Rice still does) claim that the legal “purpose” of rendition was not torture, while at the same time happily accept whatever collateral intelligence benefits.

And who cares how common it is? What degree of frequency would bring you to the point of finally admitting that it has policy implications? It certainly happened and it’s not exactly something people in Western democracies can be proud of.

I agree that this is hardly news, and its significance has less to do with Uzbekistan than it does with Egypt, Tajikistan, and other countries that jail and torture the political opposition, and where the realism/idealism balance is still being worked out. If anything, the Uzbekistan case is a good example of why the rendition policy in the US is a form of implicitly winking at bad behavior in general, and how it can be seen to lead to more and worse behavior specifically.

Jim Hoft December 31, 2005 at 7:09 pm

Glad to see your comments, Nathan. It sounds like I was not the only one anxious to here the words of the great Hamm or Nathan Hamm, I should say.

There was more news today about the rendition program launched by Bill Clinton. I am also glad that awareness of the suffering in Uzbekistan is getting some press.

Nathan December 31, 2005 at 7:27 pm

Maybe I’m missing something, but is rendition really the issue here? There seems to be some conflation of different issues going on. Having followed this story for a while, I’m a little confused as to why rendition is being brought up so much. While I do not find it the least bit implausible that prisoners were handed over to the Uzbeks, I’ve yet to hear anything about numbers, frequency, etc. I can say that I’m not entirely convinced that we have a moral duty to indefinitely hang on to people nabbed in Afghanistan wanted by the Uzbek government.

Anyhow, Ian, in the case of Uzbekistan, I have a hard time believing what the West did or did not do had too much to do one way or the other when it came to treatment of prisoners. Like I said, I don’t think we necessarily have a moral obligation to keep prisoners indefinitely. I think there are negative policy implications in doing so (such as that the world now throws a fit when each and every combatant isn’t afforded the right to a trial while hostilities are still underway).

Brian December 31, 2005 at 8:09 pm

I agree with Nathan that we are clouding the issues a bit here… rendition of prisoners is one issue, systematically receiving ‘intelligence’ obtained by a government through torture-regardless of how the prisoner was obtained-is another. With that said, rendition is one thing, extradition is another. Extradition of prisoners is a long-accepted legal process that few really has a problem with because it generally involves due-process. Rendition is secret, does not involve any due-process and seems to be done not to enforce ‘justice’ but in order to extract as much information from the person as possible… which probably involves all sorts of nasty things to many people. True, we don’t have to hold on to our prisoners forever, but America has had foreign prisoners since its birth, but has only had this shady rendition project for several years.

Brian January 1, 2006 at 4:05 am

I would also like to bring up the notion that I belive many people have been thinking but few (I believe) have spoken about: that recent events in Andijan and afterwards have somewhat vindicated or at least lent more credibility to Craig Murray’s allegations, namely that the human rights situation in Uzbekistan should be taken seriously. I don’t mean to speak for him (and I may be totally wrong), but I think the broohaha of Murray’s accusations of the UK using information given by the CIA obtained through torture by the Uzbek government is peripheral to his primary concern: that the government of Uzbekistan is abusing and dehumanizing its own population. Based on what I’ve read of his speeches, this seems be what he cares about most, not about UK foreign policy. I think bringing UK foreign policy into the argument is very valid and I’m sure he cares about this deeply, but even more important is that it’s a great vehicle for advertising how bad human rights are in Uzbekistan. So now Craig Murray has released letters that are seemingly not as shocking as they first appear to be, but what has it done? It’s brought Uzbek human rights back into the headlines, and I think this may have been his point for releasing these letters all along.

Or I may be wrong. Maybe it’s all about fame.

Nathan January 1, 2006 at 4:15 am

Brian, I think you’re right. But, as it’s always been, I think this is at least partially an argument about how to better the situation.

Ian January 1, 2006 at 2:53 pm

“It’s convenient in the sense that it allows American policy makers and American politicians to avoid making hard decisions,” says [Michael] Scheuer [designer of the CIA rendition program]. “Yes. It’s very convenient. It’s finding someone else to do your dirty work.”

Here’s the link to the CBS story with the full comm

Nathan, I think we’re just coming at this question from different angles. I guess you can conceptually separate the idea of rendition from the idea of receiving and using intelligence obtained through torture. But I’m concerned and convinced that cloudy, self-contradictory policies towards specific countries encourage the bad behavior of which Central Asian citizens are the victims.

And let me clarify that I am in no way endorsing the detention of people indefinitely (nor releasing legitimate enemy combatants while the specific battlefield they came from is still hot.) I third, with your second, Brian’s call for good due process. Such a nice old American idea, quaint though it may be.

But again, Nathan, I’d like to ask you, what kind of frequency, numbers, etc. would convince you that rendition has negative policy effects in rendition partner countries? Five a year? Fifty? Given the facts that if an Uzbek leaked those numbers he’d probably be arrested, and if an American leaked those numbers the Justice Dept. would open an investigation, I’ll have to wait for a Sunshine Revolution in one or both of these countries before we can settle the bet.

Nathan January 1, 2006 at 3:21 pm

Let me just say again that the issue at hand here is not rendition. I don’t particularly like the policy and do agree with those who argue that torture tends to produce useless information. If we were handing random people over to the Uzbeks, then I take strong issue with the practice. If it was people wanted by the Uzbek government, then I’m not as disturbed (about the practice as I am about the behavior of the Uzbek government).

The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t find plausible the claim that our handing over of prisoners to the Uzbeks encouraged torture. Perhaps that is the case in other countries, but I’m just having a hard time being convinced that it was the case in Uzbekistan.

As I mentioned in my last comment, the argument I’ve had with Murray’s position in the past is over how to improve the situation. He has advocated criticism and disengagement. I’ve never understood how that would improve much but the way we feel about ourselves.

Ian January 1, 2006 at 4:21 pm

Nathan,

I want to say before anything else that I respect you and this blog immensely, and I’ve been reading it daily since the summer. Congratulations on a fantastic year.

I’ll admit that I’m perhaps too willing to accept circumstantial evidence. Leased CIA planes that have done renditions to Egypt, Jordan, and other documented rendition destinations have been recorded landing in Tashkent. It’s not iron-clad proof that renditions to Uzbekistan took place and that those suspects were subsequently tortured and information gleaned from Uzbek interrogations was passed back to the US/UK; but it’s not comforting information, either, especially in light of the Murray documents.

I agree that there must be a better policy path than to criticize recklessly and get tossed out unceremoniously. The IREX and BBC fiascos should never have happened.

What I haven’t seen here or anywhere is a way to criticize effectively and engage morally with regimes like Karimov’s. Though Uzbekistan already looks like a lost cause, we have other relationships that could use scrutiny. Tajikistan, for one. It seems like military and law enforcement cooperation would be the first things off the table when dealing with such a putative narco-dictatorship.

Way off topic, but it also seems like you’d advocate for opening diplomatic relations with Iran. Am I wrong?

Nathan January 1, 2006 at 6:13 pm

You’re not wrong at all, actually.

It is a bitch to try to figure out a policy that actually works. I have mixed feelings about defense ties. I think they can be a long-term positive. But they can also bite us in the ass.

Unfortunately, what it seems to all come down to is whether or not the government to be engaged views itself as having incentive to reform. I think it’s become fairly obvious that Karimov doesn’t. Nazarbaev, on the other hand, does seem to, making engagement easier and more potentially fruitful. Tajikistan I unfortunately am not as well versed on, but my feeling is to give governments a shot. But the message needs to be made painfully clear that we are serious about the agreements we make and policy needs to be better coordinated.

Tim Newman January 3, 2006 at 7:19 am

Craig Murray’s letter dated 18th March 2003 begins with a summary paragraph as follows:

As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.

If he wanted to be taken seriously by anybody, let alone the British Government, he should have made more effort to sound less like those making the same tired arguments you can read on left-wing blogs anywhere.

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