Sweet Harmony

My wakeup call today was from the M brothers, who have a great big rickety old house containing lots of antiques they'd like to sell. They needed my help to get some of the items downstairs so a buyer could inspect them all in one room.

There's a highbacked chair 300 years old, and a charcoal sketch 400 years old, but I rather liked the harmonium. Less than a hundred years old, and small enough to carry in a wheelbarrow, it's oddly difficult to keep pedalling a steady stream of air through the bellows while changing chords in rhythm.

In a break, I looked for local TEFL courses on the net. With a town full of 20+ schools, about 10 colleges, and around 40 university sites, plus TEFL being a longtime growth industry, could I find any? Could I bollocks.

Last year, loads. This year, nothing. Zero, zip, nil. I found a course in NLP, several in Reiki, and reams of basic introductions to IT. If you want to study the bleeding obvious or total crap, there's no end of courses.

All I want is a reasonably stable career doing something I don't hate! It can't be that difficult, surely.

In the evening, a public meeting, with Craig Murray (1, 2) presenting and answering questions. I can't claim to remember everything he said, or to have all the details perfect, because it was quite complex. But here's what I do recall:

The assignment
Murray had a 21 year career in the British Foreign Office, most of it posted overseas as ambassador. He is an expert in African matters, but for the last 3 years of the job was posted without explanation as ambassador to Uzbekistan - before being sacked for questioning British policy there.

He was given no official brief wider than to look after British business interests in Uzbekistan. In practice his job was to manage British involvement with American business dealings there.

The first trial
Unlike most ambassadors, he took an interest in Uzbek people and culture. He attended a trial as an observer, of six men charged with a series of robberies to fund terrorist activity.

The defendants sat in a cage, surrounded by guards with kalashnikov rifles. The judge spent most of his time shouting - either anti-muslim abuse at the prisoners, or intimidation at witnesses who got their lines wrong.

Three of the men were charged with holding up a jewelery shop, but the witness managed to confidently indentify the three others as the prepetrators. The judge screamed insults at him, then pointed out the three who were accused, asking him to confirm that they were the robbers. The witness got it right this time.

All six defendants were sentences to death.

The Body
Murray's silent presence at the trial started to get him a reputation among the ordinary people as someone who cared, and might be able to help. So he started to get a lot of visitors in his office - victims of the Uzbek regime who thought the British government might intervene on their behalf.

One of the first was a widow in her 60s. Her son had been a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pacifist islamic organisation which campaigns for a united arabic islamic world. He had died under police interrogation, and the body returned to her in a sealed coffin, with strict instructions that it not be opened.

There were local customs about cleaning bodies prior to burial, and she was an independant lady, so she prised open the lid. After she got over the shock, she got angry, and took detailed photos of her son's corpse, and it was copies of these she gave to Murray.

He sent the photos to the pathology lab at Glasgow university, and they sent back a report. The son had been beaten severely around the face, his fingernails had been torn out, and the cause of death was immersion in boiling liquid. He had been boiled to death.

Murray also recieved a note from the Foreign Office in London, saying he was becoming "overly concerned with human rights issues".

The second trial
At another trial, a witness was asked to confirm the statement he'd made in police custody. After a pause, he stood up straight and said "No, it is not true. They beat my children until I signed it". He must have known he was signing his own death warrant.

Does Al-Quaida exist?
At the time of 9/11, there was no organisation using that name. There was an organisation, with Osama bin Laden as one major player, with 500 - 800 members. It is currently believed to have 2000 - 3000 members. There is no reason to believe it was connected with 9/11.

Since 9/11, hundreds of individuals and small groups have adopted the name, or claim to be inspired by the group.

The CIA claims that in Iraq alone, there are 30,000 Al-Quaida activists. By which they mean, they have the names of 30,000 Iraqi indiviuals who have opposed the occupation in one way or another.

The point was raised that the occupation of Iraq can't just be about profits, because it has cost USD300,000 so far, but projected profits are only 25,000.

Murray answered: You can't think of the American economy as a single block of wealth. It's got groups and layers. The occupation has cost the American taxpayers USD300,000, but the profits (if they ever materialise) will go to the big oil corporations. Who pay negligable tax.

David Kelly 1
There were two questions from the floor about Dr David Kelly, the WMD expert and inspector who, after telling the BBC there never had been WMDs in Iraq, was found dead in a field, with slit wrists and a 10 paracemols in his stomach. First, was it really suicide?

Murray said plainly that he had no special information here. But he did note it's almost impossible to kill yourself by slashing your wrists - the veins (not arteries) don't bleed nearly enough, even in warm water.

People attempting suicide in this way often swallow asprin to thin the blood to make it flow better, but paracemol doesn't have this effect, and in any case it would take more than 20. Kelly, being a scientist, would know this.

David Kelly 2
The second question: Did Murray fear the same might happen to him?

After he officially complained about the use of information gained through torture, the Foreign Office instigated an investigation into his competence. He was not permitted to know it's deliberations, or to defend himself.

The embassy decided the investigation was making him stressed and depressed (true), and suicidal (false). So he was placed in psychiatric care for a few months, under constant supervision.

After his release, he was hospitalised with severe pulmonery embolism - several large bloodclots in both lungs. The doctors admitted they had no idea what could cause such a severe case so suddenly and with no history. Except possibly poison.

Murray feels it's now unlikely he will be suicided.

The nature of the famous "special relationship" between the US and the UK is all about military intelligence. The CIA, NSA, MI6 and GCHQ all share whatever information they have with each other. No other pair of countries has this agreement.

Some of this information comes from spies, and is somewhat less reliable than the daily newspapers. But most comes from two sources - informers and interrogation. Informers are members of a regime (which may be an ally or an enemy) who betray state secrets in return for money. The trouble is, a disgruntled general or civil servant, recieving a suitcase full of cash in a hotel room, tends to embellish what they have to tell. Or simply invent it all.

The intelligence on WMDs was real, in that it was paid for and given by a real source. It's just that it was all a pack of lies, told by an Iraqi general with a cashflow problem.

Interrogation is torturing suspects (who may have been picked up on the word of informers) to get them to reveal secrets. Obviously, fanatics won't spill the beans if you just ask them, so the thinking is they have to be persuaded. The trouble is, torture makes people say anything and sign anything just to make the pain stop.

The intelligence which led to the various well publicised police operations in the UK was genuine. The police kicked down the door of a house, arrested whoever was inside, and detained them for weeks to extract confessions. Then forensics found no evidence and the detainees retracted their confessions, saying they'd been pressured and beaten into it. Then a few weeks later the police do it again, somewhere else, on new information.

On each occasion, the police were genuinely acting on tip-offs provided by police elsewhere in the world, interrogating suspects - the last tip-off came from Pakistan. It's just that it's always a pack of lies, told by someone giving the interrogator what he thinks they want.

Critereon of truth
MI6 doesn't have a station in Uzbekistan - it's deemed too dangerous. But the CIA does, and Murray asked an American collegue about the reliability of information obtained from informers and interrogation. The response was that the information is "Operationally Useful".

Surprised, Murray asked how they verified the truth of the information. He was told the information was treated as true if it was..."Operationally Useful".

That's right. We believe it if it justifies what we wanted to do anyway.

Justice and justification
On another occasion, Murray asked a British colleage and friend (name of Michael Wood) about whether interrogation breached international law on human rights. The line (formulated by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw) is that we (Brits and Americans) are outside the remit of the law, if we use information gained through torture, provided (1) our nationals didn't do the actual torturing and (2) our governments didn't specifically request that the individual be tortured.

Governments have always used torture to gather information
It's cirtainly true that governments all over the world consistantly turn a blind eye to the torturing of political prisoners, and always have done.

However, it's not since the time of Charles I that the British government has openly endorsed it. Bush and Blair are quite candid and unashamed about it, which is a big change.

Our newspapers told us the Taliban planted vast opium fields, and sold the drug to the west to finance their reign. This is an inversion of the truth. Prior to the Mujahideen (and specifically Taliban) gaining power, there were significant, but not vast, opium fields. The Taliban - being zealously anti-drugs - destroyed the fields.

The current puppet government of Afganistan, patched together from "moderate" Mujahideen groups by the US and UK, now presides over opium fields much larger than there were before. Last year, opium yield was up 60% from the previous year - which had broken all Afgan records.

Indeed, wheras previously the opium was sold to western drug cartels for processing into heroin, now the Afgans do it themselves - in factories whose building and running could hardly escape the notice of the government.

Careless talk costs lives
Murray has lived and worked under several totalitarian regimes. Most just control the economy, censor the media and ban opposing political groups. But in Uzbekistan the government also micromanages people's daily lives, and makes them live in constant fear.

The city of Tashkent has a population of 2 million, of which 20 thousand are police. In addition, there is an extensive network of secret police and snitches - it's estimated that 1 in 8 people in Tashkent belong to this group on some level.

There is a palpable sense that everyone is afraid to engage in coversation that veers anywhere near political subjects, for fear it could be construed as criticism. It's common to see people in the streets with disfigurements and missing limbs - ordinary members of the public who at some point have been guests of the secret service.

So why don't we in Britain hear about this? Why are the mad tinpot dictators of Iraq and Iran front page news, but Karimov barely gets a mention? The answer of course is that, just as we in the free west worked with Saddam Hussein, and indeed Osama bin Laden, for decades while they were useful to us, we keep our noses out of Karimov's regime while Uzbek lends us it's troops in Iraq and Afganistan.

The Uzbek government did a deal with Enron for it's oil, just before Enron collapsed. Other American companies tried to reinstate the deal with themselves, but Uzbekistan got a better offer from a Russian oil company, much to American annoyance. If they do something like that again, I suspect we'll suddenly hear about the Uzbek tyrany on the BBC news.

If they pull out of the "coalition of the willing", we cirtainly will, and the axis of evil will gain a new member.

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