Allegations of UK Complicity in Torture - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 77-99)


28 APRIL 2009

  Q77 Chairman: This is a public evidence session of the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights as part of its ongoing inquiry into the United Nations Convention Against Torture and allegations of complicity in torture. Our first witness today is Mr Craig Murray, former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan. I should start by reminding everyone of the remit of the Joint Committee which relates only to human rights in the United Kingdom, so it can focus only on the activities of UK agents who are subject to the Human Rights Act and not on UK foreign policy or the activities of foreign government or agents, except to the extent they are strictly relevant to the issue of whether any UK personnel are complicit in acts of torture. We also cannot investigate individual cases. Those are the terms of reference set by the House of Commons and House of Lords. Mr Murray, perhaps I may start by pinning down what you do not allege before going on to what you do allege. Your memorandum refers to torture in Uzbekistan in 2002/03. Was all of that torture conducted by the Uzbek authorities or were any UK or US agents directly involved?

  Mr Murray: Torture was not conducted by any UK authorities and to my knowledge no UK agents were ever directly involved in committing torture. The US secret services, in particular the CIA, had very close liaison with the Uzbek security services of which I was well aware at the time. While I was ambassador I was not aware of any direct US involvement in torture. My understanding was that they were supplying questions and getting answers.

  Q78  Chairman: These are American agents?

  Mr Murray: Yes. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet a defector from the Uzbek security services, a Major Yakubov, who has since been given political asylum in this country. I had a long talk with him and he seemed to me very credible. He alleges that he was present at an interrogation session during which a prisoner was beaten and a CIA agent was in attendance.

  Q79  Chairman: But not a UK agent?

  Mr Murray: No.

  Q80  Chairman: It has been suggested in relation to other cases involving detainees in Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco that UK agents proposed questions to be asked under torture. Do you have any evidence of that having happened in Uzbekistan?

  Mr Murray: No. I do not believe that we passed on questions for specific interrogees in Uzbekistan.

  Q81  Chairman: There have also been allegations in relation to Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco that UK agents who interviewed suspected terrorists should or must have known at some stage that those suspects had been tortured on a previous occasion whilst in the custody of those countries. Is there any evidence of that having happened in Uzbekistan?

  Mr Murray: I do not quite understand what you mean.

  Q82  Chairman: For example, it has been alleged that in Pakistan in some cases suspects have been tortured by the Pakistan Secret Service and a British agent has come along and asked questions afterwards and it should have been obvious to that agent that the individual had been subjected to torture.

  Mr Murray: There were no UK agents meeting interrogees in Uzbekistan at all as far as I am aware.

  Q83  Chairman: There is no evidence of any UK nationals or residents being tortured in Uzbekistan?

  Mr Murray: Not that I believe, no.

  Q84  Mr Sharma: When you raised concerns with the FCO about the US intelligence material what response did you expect?

  Mr Murray: I genuinely believed that there must be no awareness in Whitehall that the intelligence it was receiving came from torture. That was the premise on which I acted. Having first checked with the American embassy by my deputy that it was credible that these intelligence reports came from torture, I sent a telegram in late October or early November 2002 to say we were receiving intelligence from torture. I genuinely expected to get a response that we must stop receiving that kind of intelligence from Uzbekistan. I received no reply at all. Essentially, I sent the same telegram again at the end of January/beginning of February 2003 to which also I received no written reply, but I was summoned back to a meeting in London in early March 2003 at which I was told it was better not to put these things in writing.

  Q85  Mr Sharma: In your experience had the US and UK authorities previously taken a strong line against the use of information received under torture or had you not encountered these issues before?

  Mr Murray: I had encountered the issue before when I was working in a unit known as the embargo surveillance centre which was tasked with preventing Iraqi attempts at weapons procurement in the run-up to the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Essentially, we were an intelligence analysis unit and we commissioned action. The question of intelligence that appeared to have been obtained from torture did arise on that occasion. I had direct contact with the question then. As a unit we reported directly to 10 Downing Street, not to a government department.

  Q86  Chairman: Did you get the impression that there was UK complicity on those occasions?

  Mr Murray: On that occasion we received a clear direction from the then prime minister, Mrs Thatcher, now Baroness Thatcher, that we were not to use any intelligence that might have come from torture.

  Q87  Earl of Onslow: You tell us in your memorandum that a senior FCO official told you that the Security Services found the Uzbek intelligence received from the US to be useful. What value do you think the Security Services got from this material?

  Mr Murray: I found that puzzling, and I still do, because whenever the British embassy in Tashkent was able to check it out separately against facts on the ground it never once found any of piece of intelligence that was valuable. None of it related to any security threat to the UK. It was virtually all concerned with alleged Islamist threats to President Karimov and his Government in Uzbekistan. It was quite easy to demonstrate that much of it was simply untrue. To give one example of many, there was intelligence pointing to a jihadist training camp in the hills just over the Uzbek border.

  Q88  Earl of Onslow: Was this in Afghanistan?

  Mr Murray: It was in Tajikistan[1]. My defence attaché, Col Ridout, had been to the precise co-ordinates given and knew for a fact that there was nothing there. That was fairly typical. The intelligence material was being provided to the CIA by the Uzbek Security Services and the point of it was to exaggerate the threat to the Uzbek Government in order to justify the alliance with the Karimov regime.

  Q89 Earl of Onslow: Did you see the majority of this intelligence so you could make that judgment?

  Mr Murray: I believe I saw all of it.

  Q90  Earl of Onslow: In your view it was basically totally useless and was concerned only with the internal Uzbek situation?

  Mr Murray: Over 95% of it was concerned with internal Uzbek matters. Some of it was concerned with other parts of central Asia. I recall one piece concerned with Germany but none of it related to anything like a specific terrorist plot in Europe.

  Q91  Chairman: Did that information come via the CIA or direct to you from the Uzbeks?

  Mr Murray: It came to me from MI6 which had received it from the CIA.

  Q92  Chairman: I meant the embassy.

  Mr Murray: It would go from the American embassy in Tashkent back to Washington and from Washington to London and then from London to me. That was the route by which I received it.

  Q93  Chairman: None of it came directly to you or anyone in your embassy from the Uzbeks?

  Mr Murray: No.

  Q94  Earl of Onslow: It has been argued that the UK intelligence-sharing agreement with the US will be jeopardised if the UK asks not to receive evidence obtained from torture. Does this suggest that ministers were reluctant to see such material but did not want to risk arguing with the Americans? Since you have just said that Lady Thatcher said under no circumstances was torture to be used presumably the statement you have just made blows a hole in the whole argument that we should be careful about using information obtained by torture provided by the CIA.

  Mr Murray: What happened was that the policy had changed since Lady Thatcher's day. At the time I drafted the first telegram, to which I referred in answer to Mr Sharma, I did not know that the policy had changed since Lady Thatcher's day. If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was just seeing a little corner of it in Uzbekistan.

  Q95  Earl of Onslow: Did you accept the legal advice of Sir Michael Wood?

  Mr Murray: No, sir.

  Q96  Earl of Onslow: I would like to pursue a little further the change of policy. If Lady Thatcher said that the information was not to be accepted and Mr Major, Mr Brown or Mr Blair said the same thing presumably the Americans would react in the same way as they did Lady Thatcher.

  Mr Murray: I do not think that the particular material under consideration when we had guidance from Number 10 not to look at anything that might come from torture at the time of the first gulf crisis was actually CIA material. It might have come from another source. But certainly in terms of the change of policy I was very surprised. I had been on Foreign Office human rights training courses and the fact we had a policy not to accept intelligence from torture was what I would have expected the position to be. When in early March 2003 at the meeting in London I was told that it was now policy to accept intelligence that may have been obtained from torture I was very surprised. I was told directly that that had been agreed, that it had the authority of the secretary of state and had come from Jack Straw. I was told that he had discussed it at a meeting with Sir Richard Dearlove. Whether or not there were other meetings about which I was not told I am unaware, but I know for sure this was the situation because I was querying it. I said this was not what we did, it was not our policy and I was told directly that, yes, it was the policy; I was a civil servant and I must follow it. We will accept intelligence that has come from torture as long as we do not do the torture ourselves in accordance with the legal advice of Sir Michael Wood which I was given on that occasion.

  Q97  Chairman: Was the policy of Mrs Thatcher's government set out in writing in any document? Did you see anything like that, or were you just informed that this was how it was?

  Mr Murray: I think we were just informed that this was how it was. I do not recall seeing a policy paper on the subject, but there is no doubt that that policy was taught on Foreign Office human rights courses.

  Q98  Mr Timpson: You have touched on the legal advice from Sir Michael Wood, the senior legal adviser at the Foreign Office. Your previous answers seem to suggest that you do not agree with the advice that the receipt or possession of information obtained under torture is not prohibited by UNCAT. Did you accept that legal advice? If not, did you seek to challenge it?

  Mr Murray: Sir Michael Wood was the legal adviser which is a formal title. He had many other legal advisers under him. Within government circles there is no internal method of challenging the legal advice of the Foreign Office legal adviser on a point of international law. In my telegram of 22 July 2004, which in my 20-year career was the last telegram I sent before I was sacked, I challenged Sir Michael Wood's legal advice. I pointed out that he appeared not to have taken into account article 4 of the convention about complicity in torture. I presume the Joint Committee is aware of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and the record of that country for torture. My team investigated scores if not hundreds of cases involving the arrest of political dissidents in Uzbekistan. I never came across a single case in which torture was not credibly alleged. I do not believe in shock value so I will not enumerate them, but the most horrible forms of torture imaginable were always used against dissidents under questioning in Uzbekistan. In early 2003 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Theo van Boven, produced an official UN report.

  Q99  Chairman: We are straying a little beyond our terms of reference.

  Mr Murray: I do not agree.

1   Footnote from witness: This might be better expressed as "in the Tien-Shan mountains". The borders in this mountain area are very convoluted, to the extent of there being at least five enclaves of countries within other countries. I am afraid other than in the hilly border country, I cannot recall the exact location-but that does not in my view invalidate the example. Back

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