Daily News 30 June 2011 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2011/06/30/fea17.asp

David Miliband with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Apr 29th 2009 in Colombo

I found reading Craig Murray’s ‘Murder in Samarkand’ extremely disturbing. I had of course known before that to expect international relations to be conducted on the basis of morality was absurd. However I was not prepared for what seemed the total lack of principle that seems to have governed New Labour in its relations with the world.

I must confess to some prejudice in this regard, for I had realized that the British government was totally amoral in its approach to Sri Lanka. I do not mean the government as a whole, for I have the highest regard for most British officials, and I believe the Security establishment worked positively with us to eliminate terrorism. Yet even the police, when dealing with demonstrations in Britain that contributed to rousing public opinion against us, behaved with an indulgence that suggested a lack of concern about how terrorism gains strength.

This could not have arisen from their own judgments, for I felt the senior police officials whom I met once with our High Commissioner knew very well the implications of their failure to deal firmly with the demonstrations outside the House of Commons. But it was clear that they would be allowing the organizers a free hand, and I have no doubt that the decision in this regard was a political one.

David Miliband

It was obviously meant to send a conciliatory message to Tiger sympathizers. We realized why this was being done, and we must be grateful to Wikileaks, and to the more clearsighted Americans, for making clear David Miliband’s desire for votes, that led him to behave so callously towards us. Had he succeeded in his efforts, there is no doubt that we in Sri Lanka would still be living under the shadow of terrorism. He would have cared nothing, not for the obvious victims of bombs, not for the poor youngsters forced into brutality and death on a battlefield they did not understand by a ruthless Tiger leadership.

Joint Forward Interrogation Team (JFIT) which operated in Iraq – used illegal "coercive techniques" and was not answerable to military commanders in Iraq.

But that he should have done this, and dared to preach to us about human rights, while part of a government that had knowingly connived at torture, seemed to me to have pushed cynicism beyond acceptable limits. I should note that my comments here are based on Murray’s book, and it is possible that he has exaggerated. I have tried to get the views of the Foreign Office on this, as I was advised to do by Linda Duffield, a former British High Commissioner here, but I have not as yet received a response. This is not surprising, given that their information desk must be occupied with disseminating information, and possibly disinformation, about Libya, but meanwhile I can only proceed on what seems plausible in Murray’s account.

I should add however that he does exaggerate, with regard for instance to Linda herself. I was given the book by a Britisher, who told me she came out very badly, having been the Head of ‘Wider Europe’ as the area in which Murray served was called. Reading the book myself, I felt that she was not especially sympathetic, but it struck me that she was probably not responsible for the harsh measures meted out to him. In fact, having then gone to the full text of one of their exchanges, I felt that she had actually been trying to deal with him gently. What seemed his resentment against her did not strike me as reasonable, though I presume it was understandable given that he felt let down by an institution he had once been proud to serve.

More worrying was the picture of David Warren, an exact contemporary at University who had been the first in our year to become President of the Union. He had had to act as hatchet man for Murray, having been Head of Personnel when the decision was made to remove Murray as ambassador and then suspend him from duty. Having seen him on television after years, being interviewed since he is now British ambassador to Japan, I remembered the bright young man of promise I knew, and asked another friend, who had been a journalist, whether she knew more about what had happened.

She did not, about the Murray affair itself, but noted that ‘My impression, which may be totally unfair, was that he was a very conventional man, intelligent, probably, (but no more than you are and I am) but someone who would have an instinct to obey and conform to his superiors.’ Interestingly, all this occurred when Warren’s superiors were New Labour, and Warren himself had been on the conservative side of the Labour Club in his student days, with most of his friends being conservatives. His great rival had belonged to the more radical side, and I remembered that, when Warren was advocating or doing something I thought improper, as part of the relentless rivalry in the Union in those days, I remonstrated – whereupon he told me that I did not understand, the people on the other side were evil, and needed to be dealt with firmly, ie it was an error to have scruples in trying to best them.

Lance corporal Darren Larkin standing on an Iraqi detainee and corporal Daniel Kenyon taking a photograph in the rear. Photo:Reuters

I wondered then whether David had carried that outlook into the larger world. Certainly I can see that dealing with threats on the lines of the 9/11 attack or bombs on the underground may require stronger methods than usual, but what Murray was objecting to was what seemed to him systemic use of torture. He noted too that this led to faulty intelligence, and his view indeed was that the Karimov regime happily created evidence of Islamic fundamentalism in order to continue to be indulged by the West.

In his account of what he found, he writes that, ‘Before drafting a hard-hitting telegram, I wanted to make quite sure I was on firm ground and would not be making a fool of myself. I therefore asked Karen to go and see her US opposite number, David Appleton, to check with him that the CIA did not have procedures in place to ensure that any material they received from the Uzbeks could not come from torture. She returned and reported that David was not available, so she had met another senior member of the Mission. He had said that, yes, come to think of it the intelligence probably did come from torture. He had not thought of that as a problem before, and he commented to Karen that it was an indication of how far 9/11 had shifted moral perceptions.

So, confident I was on safe ground, I sent off my bullet. I can’t reproduce the telegram, because it was classified Top Secret. But it said that we were obtaining intelligence material from the Uzbek security services. It was probably obtained through torture, which the Americans, who supplied it to us, were not denying. We should stop getting it on legal, practical and moral grounds.

Legally, we were in contravention of the UN Convention against Torture, Article 4 of which banned ‘complicity’ in torture. To obtain such intelligence on a regular basis undoubtedly made us complicit. I said that in supplying this intelligence to ministers, I was afraid we might be putting ministers at risk of breaking UK and international law.

Practically, I said, the information was useless. It was not just wrong, it presented a deliberate distortion. It all had a common theme: it aimed to exaggerate the Islamic threat to Uzbekistan with the aim of justifying continued support to the Karimov regime.’

Having quoted at length from Murray’s book, I will need another article to discuss his account of what happened thereafter.

Daily News 30 June 2011 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2011/06/30/fea17.asp