The following is a transcript of an unscripted talk given for the Bush Crimes Commission at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. ...
MODERATOR: Our third witness this evening is [former] Ambassador Craig Murray. Craig Murray was a career diplomat in the British Foreign Service. And as he will explain to you, his last position was the representative of Her Majesty’s government in Uzbekistan. And in that position some very disturbing documents began to cross his desk, which led him eventually to resign from the Foreign Service and to expose what was happening in that country and what the United States and the British governments’ attitude towards it was.
I give you Craig Murray.
I was the British ambassador in a place called Uzbekistan. This came at the rather premature end of my diplomatic career. I’d been a career diplomat for 21 years. I’d served in a number of positions, including some senior positions.
I was also an expert in Iraqi weapons procurement, having led the British effort on monitoring Iraqi attempts at weapons procurement during the early 1990s and during the first Gulf War.
I was posted to Uzbekistan, and I didn’t have that much idea where it was at the time I was posted there. In fact I was – I was a British deputy high commissioner in Africa in Ghana in Accra, and I received a phone call from the office. Said, “Craig, you’ve been promoted to ambassador.”
And I said, “Great.”
And they said, “In Uzbekistan.”
And I said, “Yes, uh –” (laughter), and I put down the phone, and I shouted to my secretary, “Christina, go buy an atlas,” to see where I was going.
So a wonderful place. Immediately north of Afghanistan. Contains some incredible historic cities like Samarkand and Bukhara. It’s the place where actually Alexander the Great remained there for two years. It’s where he married Roxanne. He stayed longer in that spot as (inaudible) than he stayed anywhere else. It’s where Omar Khayyam wrote The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
It’s got a wonderful history to it. ...
And now it’s having some of its worst times. It was [once] part of the Soviet Union. ... It’s reckoned by Amnesty International, by – by Freedom House, by Human Rights Watch to be among the five worst despotisms on earth. In the same category as North Korea, Burma, and various others. And it is awful. It’s an absolutely totalitarian dictatorship of a Stalinist kind.
The people who are in charge are precisely the same people who were in charge during the Soviet Union. President Islam Karimov was President Karimov of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Soviet system has essentially stayed in place with an added level of brutality and an even greater level of – of corruption. There’s no freedom of speech at all. There’s no independent media at all. Opposition is not allowed at all. And no – no elections in which the opposition can compete.
There’s no freedom of religion. There are maybe – it’s hard to be certain, but there are at least 10,000 political and religious prisoners. And torture is practiced on a widespread scale, on an industrial scale. Thousands of people are subjected to torture. At the end I will come on to more detail on that.
But I’ll also tell you something of the economy. It’s the world’s second largest exporter of cotton. Undoubtedly at least a quarter of you in this hall are likely to have Uzbek cotton in the garments you are wearing. You won’t know that because your garments tell you where they’re made; they don’t tell you where the cotton came from.
The Uzbek population, 60 percent of them, live on state farms. Cotton production and cotton trading is a government monopoly. The people who live on those state farms are slaves. They are cotton slaves. They don’t only still have the Soviet system of exit visas. They have a system of internal visas. If you want to move from one village to another village, you need a visa. And if you’re a cotton worker, you won’t get it because you’re needed on the farms to pick the cotton. It’s still 95 percent of it picked by hand. Now, cotton workers work 12 hours a day, six days a week. And they are paid $2 a month. $2 a month, which they don’t always get.
So here you have a brutal dictatorship, which is noted for its persecution of all religions. Most of the religious prisoners are Islamic, but they include Jehovah’s witnesses, they include Baptists. Lot of Baptists in Uzbek prisons.
So you have a communist government oppressing its people and persecuting Baptists. And that doesn’t sound automatically like a good ally for George Bush, does it? But it was. When – in the period I was there – and I was there from August 2002 to October of 2004 – Uzbekistan was a close ally of the United States. In 2002 alone you, the American taxpayers, gave $500 million in aid to the Karimov regime. ... You gave $500 million to the Karimov regime, of which $120 million was in military aid, basically military equipment for the Uzbek army, and $80 million was to be Uzbek security services, the people who do the torturing.
Now, you might wonder why. Why was America do this? Well, I’m going to read you a letter. It’s an interesting letter. It’s dated the 3rd of April, 1997. And it’s addressed to “the Honorable George B. Bush, Governor of the State of Texas.” And it’s from an interesting man, Kenneth L. Lay, chairman and chief executive officer of Enron, a gentleman who I should say has never been convicted of anything – yet. And it reads as follows:
“Enron has established an office in Tashkent. And we are negotiating a $2 billion joint venture with Neftegas of Uzbekistan and Gasprom of Russia to develop Uzbekistan’s natural gas and transport it to markets in Europe, Kazakhstan, and Turkey.
“This project contains significant economic opportunities to Texas as well as to Uzbekistan” – That’s particularly to one individual in Texas – “The political benefits to the United States and to Uzbekistan are important to that entire region.
“I know you and Ambassador Safaev will have a productive meeting which will result in a friendship between Texas and Uzbekistan.”
And that meeting happened. Governor Bush met the Uzbek ambassador with an Enron representative present at that meeting. And they agreed this deal for Enron to develop the Uzbek gas fields.
So at that time while Governor Bush was governor of Texas the policy of the United States of America was not to have anything to do with Uzbekistan because of its appalling human rights record. Madeleine Albright made a very strong speech condemning the human rights record of Uzbekistan.
But Governor Bush was developing his alternative foreign policy, and when the Bush administration came into power relations with Uzbekistan warmed up enormously. And that was before September the 11th.
After September the 11th the United States moved in and, after an agreement with President Karimov, established a military base in Uzbekistan in the town of Karshi, where three squadrons of the United States Air Force were stationed and a population of U.S. Marines that was normally around 3,000 U.S. Marines. So a large United States air base.
And also the C.I.A. moved in. And it became a key U.S. interest to keep President Karimov in power and keep any dissidents or opponents down.
Now then Uzbeks are human beings like you and me. They no more want to be slaves on the cotton farm than you or I do. They value freedom of speech. They would value the opportunity to dissent as much as you or I. And some of them try to do it. What happens to them?
They try. They are clapped into jail immediately, and they are tortured. When I say torture I’m not talking about definitions of does it count as torture if you’re deprived of sleep for a couple of days, which I think it does. But we’re not talking about that.
I’d been ambassador for about three weeks when some photographs appeared on my desk which had been sent to me by an old Uzbek lady, Fatima Mukhadirova (?). She she had been presented with the body of her son in a casket. He had been in Jaslyk, an old Soviet gulag in the middle of the Kyzylkum Desert.
She was ordered to bury the casket the next day, not to open the casket, and a guard was set on the casket. He fell asleep in the middle of the night. And this, an extraordinary lady, old lady, managed to get the casket open and get the heavy body of her son out onto the kitchen table, and take detailed photographs, which she sent to me.
I sent them on to the pathology laboratory of the University of Glasgow. I received a report based on those photographs which said that the gentleman’s finger nails had been ripped out. He had been severely beaten about the face. And he had died of immersion in boiling liquid. And it was immersion not splashing, because there was a tide mark around his upper torso and upper limbs.
And when people talk of torture and of the complicity worldwide of the United States administration in torture, that’s what you’re talking about. That’s what torture is. It’s not some hypothetical clean thing. It’s vicious. It’s disgusting. It breaks people. It wrecks lives.
Now, then, let me explain to you why I talk of the complicity of the United States administration and the British administration. I was seeing a stream of intelligence material which came from the C.I.A. There was a very large C.I.A. station in Tashkent. There was actually no MI6 station in Tashkent. It was too dangerous for MI6. Forget James Bond. That’s a myth. They don’t go dangerous places. ...
But the CIA, to be fair, were – were there in great numbers and closely linked. Now, remember, the Uzbek security services who boiled that guy to death in 2002 alone received over $80 million from the American taxpayer. You guys heated the water.
The C.I.A. were presenting this regular stream of intelligence material. And I found – at first I found it puzzling. As time went on I understood it. And what the intelligence material was saying was that any dissident in Uzbekistan, any opposition figure was a member of al Qaeda, was an Islamic militant.
And very often, very, very often, the material said specifically that this named Uzbek opposition member was a member of al Qaeda and had traveled to Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden. I saw this stuff so often that I was really amazed. Because this was 2002, at which time Osama bin Laden was presumed hiding. And yet he was able to see all these scores of visitors from Uzbekistan, which was – who seemed to have no difficulty finding him when the rest of the world couldn’t. Uh, you know, this gave me some reason to doubt the validity of the C.I.A. intelligence.
I doubted it even more when one Uzbek opposition figure was named as a member of al Qaeda when I knew he was a Jehovah’s witness. There are very few Jehovah’s witnesses in al Qaeda (laughter). It is not among their priority of recruitment areas. Now, what the hell is going on? Why is the C.I.A. sending this stuff?
There was more. There was C.I.A. material about an al Qaeda training camp in the hills above Samarkand in which the terrorists were going to swoop down and annex the city of Samarkand. But we knew the location. We had been, my defense section had been, to the specified location. And there was nothing there. And if I could find there was nothing there, the CIA, who had 20 times as many staff as I did, could find there was nothing there. Why were they feeding this false intelligence?
I started reporting back to London this is false intelligence. I should explain something to you of the background to this, which is the UK-U.S. intelligence-sharing agreement. Under an agreement between Roosevelt and Churchill reached during the Second World War, very good agreement, which was much needed at the time, the UK and the U.S. share all our intelligence material. The C.I.A. and MI6 share everything. NSA and GCHQ, which is our listening station, share everything.
So I was receiving these C.I.A. reports as a customer, just as people in the administration in Washington would be receiving them and just as British ministers would be receiving them. So I – I would see exactly what Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice would see if it was an important enough report to reach up to that level. And most reports with Osama bin Laden’s name in did reach up to that level.
And these reports said something else. They all said that there was some detainee debriefing by friendly intelligence agency. Well, *as I said, I know about Uzbekistan.* They’re plainly – and issued in Uzbekistan. They were plainly from the Uzbek security service.
And I knew by now the methods of the Uzbek security service. I was meeting people who had been tortured themselves. I saw the physical evidence of torture on their bodies. I saw photographs of people being tortured. I spoke to families of people who had been tortured. I had letters from people who’d been tortured, smuggled out of jails.
And I was learning what the people who had been tortured were being forced to sign up to. And guess what? The stories they were being forced to sign up to were identical to the stories which were turning up in the C.I.A. intelligence reports. They were being made to sign to say that they knew that this opposition guy was a member of al Qaeda and had been to Afghanistan and seen Osama bin Laden. Often they were being made to sign to say that people who’d they never heard of them were members of al Qaeda.
I met an old man whose children had been tortured in front of him until he signed something to say his two nephews were members of al Qaeda. And the truth is if you torture someone’s children in front of them, they will sign anything. There’s almost nobody in this whole world who wouldn’t sign anything if you torture their children in front of them.
And the C.I.A. is prepared to accept material got by that kind of method. Now what kind of bloody state have we come to when we have fallen to that level of depravity in pursuit of a so-called war on terror? It is we who are fostering the terror now.
But why do it? Now, the material is false. Why do it? Well, it’s exactly what Scott Ritter said. You know, all the material on weapons of mass destruction was false. We had the British government produce that dossier of the intelligence. And of course what isn’t often said is, for the reason I’ve just told you about intelligence sharing, most of it was actually American source, not ours. But we produced the dossier because that was felt to be a better public relations thing for the United Nations that it came from the British not from the U.S. Dossier of weapons of mass destruction containing 38 key facts, every single one of which turned out to be a lie.
But it was useful. They found the intelligence useful. Because it justified the war. And equally they found the intelligence on Uzbekistan useful because they could say all these people who wanted democracy in Uzbekistan, they didn’t want democracy. They were actually al Qaeda. That justified all the money being given to President Karimov. And the purpose of that was the Enron oil and gas contract.
And ask yourself this. Nowadays, of course, it wasn’t WMD, it’s democracy. So you go to war for democracy in Iraq and at the same time you’re paying hundreds of millions of dollars to stop democracy in Uzbekistan. Where’s the logic there?
The answer is, of course, it’s nothing to do with democracy. It’s about oil and gas. And you go to war to get the oil and gas in Iraq. And you pay a dictator to get the oil and gas in Uzbekistan. And that’s the naked truth behind the policies of the current U.S. administration, which to my huge shame, are simply followed by the United Kingdom government.
I protested. I protested back to London. Before I protested, I asked my – my deputy to call up the American embassy and say to them, “My ambassador is extremely worried. He believes the C.I.A. material is coming from torture by the Uzbek authorities. He’s going to protest to London. Do you have anything in place to make sure this material doesn’t come from torture?” I didn’t want to make a fool of myself by protesting if there was going to be an easy answer.
The American embassy replied to her, “Yes, it probably does come from torture, but we don’t see that as a problem in the context of the war on terror.” And I want to be absolutely plain to you that the C.I.A. knew everything I just told you. They knew how intelligence was got. Why did they want it if it wasn’t true?
They wanted it to justify the policy, to justify the policy which was there to benefit specific American commercial interests.
The irony of all this is it didn’t work. One thing history should tell us – it’s not that long ago since the United States was funding and backing Osama bin Laden. They funded him in Afghanistan. I had Uzbek friends who were actually fighting him on the Soviet side at that time. They backed and funded Saddam Hussein. It was specifically Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney who started off the Iranian nuclear program. And the truth is that when you back dodgy dictatorships you’re always going to get your hand bitten.
And after Enron collapsed, President Karimov, who had taken a large bribe from Enron, said, “The deal’s off. Enron’s collapsed.” The Americans tried to persuade him to go with Texaco or Exxon instead. And he said, “No. Get lost. I’m going to Gazprom,” because he got $88 million from them. He got paid twice, which was very good. And the American base got kicked out. And Bush lost.
So you lost a billion dollars of American money, you lost a great deal of integrity, and you got nothing out of it in the end. And that’s part of the problem. The policy is stupid. And it’s no way of fighting terrorism.
You know, there was virtually nobody in Uzbekistan who was anti-American before 2000, virtually nobody. After three years of solid American support for that dictatorship a huge number of people in Uzbekistan hate the United States. And that’s because of George W. Bush. And that’s true all over the world.
In 2001 the total membership of al Qaeda worldwide was probably about 800 people maximum. Minimum 300, somewhere between there. Intelligence analysis is not an exact science. But 800 maximum. Now, according to the U.S. military, there are 30,000 just in Iraq. How are we winning the war on terror when we’re causing hatred which multiplies it? And of course we’re causing hatred that multiplies it.
I’m not a violent man. I’m not a militarist. But I tell you something. If someone took my brother and boiled him to death, I’d get a bloody gun and go and try and shoot someone. It’s a natural reaction. ...
We talk about the insurgency in Iraq. Now, let’s look at the words being used here. What’s the word “insurgent” mean? Means someone who surges in. Yeah. Now, the Iraqis were there in the first place. They’re not the bloody insurgents, are they? We are. We’ve surged into their country and invaded them. Then when they protest about it, we’ve the cheek to call them insurgents.
I found this absolutely astonishing. And it’s counterproductive. We are not winning the war on terror. And we are obviating the system of international law.
When I protested to London, I was told that we were not breaking the United Nations convention against torture because we neither did the torturing ourselves nor specifically requested that a named individual be tortured. And they said as long as that’s the case we’re in the clear. It’s legal. And that’s the legal advice on which the British government and the U.S. government are proceeding.
And when you get that bit of intelligence from the C.I.A., the C.I.A. have removed before they issue the report – you don’t have the name of the man who was “debriefed.” You don’t have the detainee. Doesn’t tell you his name. Just tells you the information. And that’s removed on purpose so you can’t check if he was tortured or not.
And that enables Condoleeza Rice to say, as she has said, as she said when she was questioned before the Council of Europe, “I have never knowingly seen intelligence obtained by torture.” Because it’s deliberately sanitized on the way up to her to give that deniability. But the deniability is lies. And there’s a structure of lies on which this whole war on terror is based.
And on the basis of this material obtained by lies they continually tell us about an ever-expanding terror threat. They try to terrorize us into complicity. They get some poor guy, they torture him into saying someone else is a terrorist. They then take that guy in, hold him without any trial. It doesn’t go to trial. He doesn’t have a chance to defend himself. And then they tell us about the number of terrorists that they’ve defended us from.
Well, it’s nonsense. We are losing our civil rights. We are losing our moral values. We are losing the fabric of international law. And we are creating a hatred for ourselves in the Islamic world which will last our lifetimes even if we stop now.
We have to fight it, ladies and gentlemen. This goes to the banality of evil. The people I worked with they all supported me. They all said – you know, I’d been in the service for 20 years. They all said, “Craig, you’re a brave man. You’re doing a great thing. We support you. I wouldn’t stick my neck out like that.”
And they wouldn’t. Because they want to keep their jobs. They’re not bad people. [One might beg to differ on that — AW.] But all this torture material is being processed. All the British ambassadors in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, my replacement in Uzbekistan, in Morocco, the C.I.A. people, the American ambassadors, the American diplomats – hundreds of people are involved in this. ...
The truth is we are on the kind of path where we don’t respect individuals, where we demonize a minority. We demonize Islam. We say that Muslims are a danger. They’re going to blow us all up. And they have to be controlled. And they have to be detained without trial. And they can be tortured. And they’re not really people. And they don’t have human rights. And honestly, I believe that we are on the start of the path that leads towards fascism (applause).
And history shows that you have to stop it at the start. Because if you don’t stop it at the start, you’ll very soon find it’s just too late and you have lost your ability to do something about it. So I ask you, those of you who haven’t been much involved, make today the day you wake up, you realize what’s happening, and you pledge yourselves to work to stop it.