Murray: 'I feel I was stitched up. I felt I had no option but to go public'

Click to follow
Indy Politics

He says he is a "victim of conscience" for speaking out about how Britain has used information extracted under torture in the central Asian country where he was based.

He says he is a "victim of conscience" for speaking out about how Britain has used information extracted under torture in the central Asian country where he was based.

The UK Government says he has been fired as ambassador to Uzbekistan because he lost the confidence of senior officials and colleagues. But it seems that Craig Murray is the first British ambassador publicly to lose his job because he broke the unspoken golden rule of diplomacy: don't rock the boat.

Mr Murray, who is taking legal action against the Foreign Office to save his diplomatic career, caught the train from London to Edinburgh yesterday in disgrace and with his health ruined. "I feel I was stitched up," he told The Independent. "I feel that I had no option but to go public in the end."

The campaign of smear and innuendo about Mr Murray, accused of heavy drinking and issuing British visas in return for sex, began when he dared to criticise the leader of Uzbekistan, a prominent ally of America in the war on terror.

President Islam Karimov has been the scourge of human rights groups for having two of his opponents boiled to death. The 45-year-old British ambassador, who has served in Ghana and Poland, also highlighted human rights abuses and torture in Uzbekistan, where thousands of Muslim dissidents have been jailed for allegedly engaging in terrorism. One of his memos was attached to the Foreign Office's annual human rights report as an appendix.

Soon after his arrival in Tashkent in 2002, he told a human rights group: "No government has the right to use the war against terrorism as an excuse for the persecution of those with a deep personal commitment to the Islamic religion and who pursue their views by peaceful means."

But the timing of his criticism became increasingly tricky as the Americans had negotiated with the Uzbek government to pay $75m (£42) per year for the use of a military base, having decided to turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses by the President. This was now a president worthy of a visit to the White House, after he agreed to let the base be used for the war in Afghanistan.

Mr Murray's troubles began in December that year when he sent a telegram to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, complaining about the use of information from detained militants who had been tortured. Such a practice is legally and morally wrong, he argued, and tended to produce unreliable information which would then be passed on the Americans. He fears that the aim of the Uzbek government is to torture prisoners into confessing so that it can convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe.

Mr Murray raised the issue again in February last year in another internal memo after the Government did not act on his warning. In March, he was called to a meeting in London to discuss the matter. At that point, the Foreign Office stated its view that although Britain did not torture people to obtain information, the intelligence gained through torture was worth the risk to protect British nationals. "I was surprised to hear that," Mr Murray said.

At the end of March 2003, with the war on Iraq in full swing, Mr Murray received a visit in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, from his line manager. "He told me I was unpatriotic. I was really taken aback by that as I consider myself to be quite patriotic."

After that visit, he said, "it then went strangely quiet". But rumours began circulating about partying at the embassy and alleged drunken behaviour. Even the collapse of his marriage appeared to be held against him, when he went off with an Uzbek hairdresser.

In July last year, Mr Murray was recalled from vacation in Canada to be told that he faced 16 charges of misconduct. They included an allegation that the embassy Land-Rover had been driven down steps to a lakeside beach.

The allegations were unproven - Mr Murray does not drive - but two of the embassy staff were removed. Two more charges were added during the course of the investigation into his conduct, which triggered a nervous breakdown. One of the new charges involved a "dodgy visa application". It proved unfounded and was also dropped. But the final charge stuck: he was found guilty of talking about the allegations laid against him.

Mr Murray did not need to be paranoid to think they were out to get him. He had transgressed Foreign Office culture by speaking out. Newspaper articles began to appear suggesting that the ambassador might be slightly batty.

After returning to Tashkent having been cleared of the spurious charges and reinstated as ambassador, he still refused to go quietly. In May this year, he publicly scolded the Uzbek media for regurgitating state propaganda in a republic where opposition parties have been silenced. "It is time to fight for democracy," he said.

Last July, Mr Murray fired off another memo to the Foreign Office. He wrote: "Tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe - that they and we are fighting the same war against terror ... This is morally, legally and practically wrong."

The Foreign Office tried another tack - to strip him of his security clearance, meaning that he would no longer be able to read secret cables or hold sensitive meetings. The final act came this week after the Financial Times published that internal memo to the Foreign Office, which Mr Murray insists he did not leak. On Thursday evening, at about 8.30pm, it emerged he would not be returning to Tashkent.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Mr Murray remained a member of the diplomatic service and would be allocated new duties. But inside the Foreign Office Mr Murray has few friends, having broken the code of going "outside the tent" with complaints.

One of his friends expressed deep concern about the decision to withdraw his security clearance, which cannot be appealed. "It is turning sinister," the friend said. "He is being censured for doing his job. Surely he was right to point out that we should not be in bed with this dictator when we have gone to war to get rid of another one," referring to the war to topple Saddam Hussein. Mr Murray has also expressed concern about the "the politicisation of the Civil Service".

Steve Crawshaw, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, said: "The UK Government can't keep saying they are against torture when they are making use of the torturers' work elsewhere." According to the Convention against Torture, to which Britain and more than 130 countries are party, evidence obtained under torture is inadmissible in "any proceedings" before a court.

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, said: "So far as Mr Murray appears to have challenged the use of information based on torture, he deserves to be commended."

TWO YEARS IN UZBEKISTAN

August 2002: Craig Murray arrives in Tashkent. At 45, he is Britain's youngest ambassador.

October 2002: Mr Murray gives a dramatic speech criticising the regime of President Islam Karimov for human rights failings .

November 2002- April 2003: Mr Murray sends a series of frank memos to London detailing concerns about human rights.

May 2003: Clare Short, the former International Development Secretary, visits Tashkent and is reported to have told Mr Murray: "I love the job you are doing down here, but you know, don't you, that if I go, you go."

August 2003: Mr Murray is recalled to London to face disciplinary charges ranging from being drunk at work to issuing visas in return for sex.

September 2003: Mr Murray claims to have had a nervous breakdown.

October 2003: Mr Murray returns to London "for medical reasons".

14 October 2004: Mr Murray is officially dismissed.

Comments