Confidential letters from Ambassador Craig Murray...


Letter #1
FM Tashkent
TO FCO, Cabinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts
16 September 02
SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism

US plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy:
increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism.
Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.

The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many
thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families
and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism
of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of
an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained,
many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture
is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible
case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two
leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago
committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating
on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt
that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under
the guise of counter-terrorism.

Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was
improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional
requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid
to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a
commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim.
Again we are back in the area of the US accepting sham reform [a reference to
my previous telegram on the economy]. In August media censorship was
abolished, and theoretically there are independent media outlets, but in practice
there is absolutely no criticism of President Karimov or the central government in
any Uzbek media. State Department call this self-censorship: I am not sure that
is a fair way to describe an unwillingness to experience the brutal methods of the
security services.

Similarly, following US pressure when Karimov visited Washington, a human
rights NGO has been permitted to register. This is an advance, but they have little
impact given that no media are prepared to cover any of their activities or carry
any of their statements.

The final improvement State quote is that in one case of murder of a prisoner the
police involved have been prosecuted. That is an improvement, but again related
to the Karimov visit and does not appear to presage a general change of policy.
On the latest cases of torture deaths the Uzbeks have given the OSCE an
incredible explanation, given the nature of the injuries, that the victims died in a
fight between prisoners.

But allowing a single NGO, a token prosecution of police officers and a fake press
freedom cannot possibly outweigh the huge scale of detentions, the torture and
the secret executions. President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year
but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition
parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly
controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and
access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and
much international media (including, ironically, This is in
essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for
example, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any
judicial independence would be impossible here.

Karimov is a dictator who is committed to neither political nor economic reform.
The purpose of his regime is not the development of his country but the diversion
of economic rent to his oligarchic supporters through government controls. As a
senior Uzbek academic told me privately, there is more repression here now than
in Brezhnev's time. The US are trying to prop up Karimov economically and to
justify this support they need to claim that a process of economic and political
reform is underway. That they do so claim is either cynicism or self-delusion.
This policy is doomed to failure. Karimov is driving this resource-rich country
towards economic ruin like an Abacha. And the policy of increasing repression
aimed indiscriminately at pious Muslims, combined with a deepening poverty, is
the most certain way to ensure continuing support for the Islamic Movement of
Uzbekistan. They have certainly been decimated and disorganised in Afghanistan,
and Karimov's repression may keep the lid on for years – but pressure is building
and could ultimately explode.

I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back
Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help
fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points
out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a
complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism
picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy
underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the
World into two camps in the "War against Terrorism" and that Karimov is on "our"

If Karimov is on "our" side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of
good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term
US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September
commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last
week was also another anniversary – the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in
Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than
died on September 11. Should we not remember then also, and learn from that
too? I fear that we are heading down the same path of US-sponsored dictatorship
here. It is ironic that the beneficiary is perhaps the most unreformed of the
World's old communist leaders.

We need to think much more deeply about Central Asia. It is easy to place
Uzbekistan in the "too difficult" tray and let the US run with it, but I think they
are running in the wrong direction. We should tell them of the dangers we see.
Our policy is theoretically one of engagement, but in practice this has not meant
much. Engagement makes sense, but it must mean grappling with the problems,
not mute collaboration. We need to start actively to state a distinctive position on
democracy and human rights, and press for a realistic view to be taken in the
IMF. We should continue to resist pressures to start a bilateral DFID programme,
unless channelled non-governmentally, and not restore ECGD cover despite the
constant lobbying. We should not invite Karimov to the UK. We should step up
our public diplomacy effort, stressing democratic values, including more resources
from the British Council. We should increase support to human rights activists,
and strive for contact with non-official Islamic groups.
Above all we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from
poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.
Letter #2
Fm Tashkent
18 March 2003

1. 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.

2. Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a
quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and
ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a
one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without
freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion.
It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the
population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.

3. Uzbekistan's geo-strategic position is crucial. It has half the population of the
whole of Central Asia. It alone borders all the other states in a region which is
important to future Western oil and gas supplies. It is the regional military power.
That is why the US is here, and here to stay. Contractors at the US military bases
are extending the design life of the buildings from ten to twenty five years.

4. Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary,
in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly
less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody
can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to
comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov.
While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease
domestic opinion, they view Karimov's vicious regime as a bastion against
fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the
US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a
beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate
the West?

5. I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion
on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission
for Human Rights in Geneva. I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the
US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly
quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of
censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened (I see
these are quoted in the draft EBRD strategy for Uzbekistan, again I understand at
American urging).

6. From Tashkent it is difficult to agree that we and the US are activated by
shared values. Here we have a brutal US sponsored dictatorship reminiscent of
Central and South American policy under previous US Republican administrations.
I watched George Bush talk today of Iraq and "dismantling the apparatus of
terror… removing the torture chambers and the rape rooms". Yet when it comes
to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as
peccadilloes, not to affect the relationship and to be downplayed in international
fora. Double standards? Yes.

7. I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at
senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.

Letter #3
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
"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

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.