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Craig Murray: A Man of Genuine Integrity

There have been a spate of documentaries on The Bliars (Tony and Cherie) on British TV these past few weeks, and as an antidote to the nausea I feel whenever I hear either of them described as advocates of human rights, I'm posting a review I did for Green Left Weekly last year of a book by a genuine man of integrity, Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. I highly recommend his website.

Dubious alliances in the 'war on terror'
Alex Miller
30 November 2006

Murder in Samarkand: A British Ambassadors Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror
By Craig Murray
Mainstream Publishing 2006
400 pages $59.95 hardback.

Craig Murray was appointed British ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002 and was removed from his post in 2004 after exposing continuing widespread human rights abuses in the former Soviet republic. In this gripping book Murray tells the story of how he became actively involved in a campaign against the dictatorship of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and as a result fell out of favour with the British foreign office and the Blair government.

Along with the George Bush administration in the US, Britain has been courting the Karimov regime because of Uzbekistan’s strategic importance for the so-called “war on terror” being conducted in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Murray paints a vivid picture of life in Uzbekistan, in which the SNB (descendant of the KGB) murder and rape at will; in which torture of dissidents is commonplace (Murray describes in some detail how one unfortunate man was boiled to death having had all of his fingernails ripped out), and in which drug trafficking and corruption are rife on an enormous scale. Murray details the massive repression imposed on Uzbeks in the name of Karimov’s battle against “Islamic terrorism” and provides yet another wake-up call for those not worried by the attack on civil liberties in the US, UK and Australia imposed in the name of the same.

Karimov’s Uzbekistan is a truly totalitarian regime in which every educational course, from infant school to PhD level, requires compulsory study of the president’s books (described by Murray as “execrable”). One student taking a PhD in mathematics explains how she had to submit a paper titled “What the independence of Uzbekistan means to me” and also how she had been raped three times by Karimov’s police.

Despite all of the flannel about ridding Iraq of the dictator Saddam Hussein in the name of freedom and democracy, the US and British governments showed no interest in Murray’s protests about the nature of the Karimov regime: indeed, the British and US security services had no scruples whatsoever about receiving information from the Uzbek authorities that they clearly knew to have been extracted by torture.

Murray himself was forced out of office when his continual exposure of British-US hypocrisy became too much of a source of acute embarrassment to British PM Tony Blair and then-foreign secretary Jack Straw, who pulled every dirty trick in the book to smear Murray and destroy the good reputation he enjoyed among the diplomatic community. Although Murray is no saint, it is obvious that he is nowhere near being the incompetent and corrupt drunk alleged by Downing Street and the British foreign office. His story is all the more telling, coming as it does from someone who genuinely believed that economic liberalisation would ease Uzbekistan in the direction of democracy and who previously had the high degree of security clearance required to be a British ambassador. (Murray describes how British ambassadors usually get to have an audience with the Queen prior to their posting, though he had to make do with Prince Andrew because the Queen was busy with her golden jubilee celebrations).

Apart from exposing the hypocrisy of the sham “war on terror” from a position deep inside the diplomatic establishment, Murray’s book is a deeply moving story, with all the ingredients — frailty, courage, love and loss — necessary for a truly human narrative. There are also some hilarious insights into diplomatic life. Overall, Murray emerges as a man of genuine principle and humanity, sacrificing a lucrative and glamorous career because he cannot stomach the lies and hypocrisy of the Blair government. No-one wishing to understand the true nature of the bogus “war on terror” can afford to miss Murray’s important book.

[Murder in Samarkand is now also available in paperback. Craig Murray continues his campaign against Western policy in Central Asia on his blog ]

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