the Disillusioned kid: Protecting Our Precious Bodily Fluids
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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Protecting Our Precious Bodily Fluids

It's possible that I might have mentioned anti-terrorism legislation once or twice. I might even have implied that perhaps I didn't think that the laws we've got got had been implemented in an entirely satisfactory manner and that some of the proposals for further legislation were just a little authoritarian. At least, I think I said something like that. Certainly sounds like me. Strangely enough the Government looks like it's going to ignore my concerns and go ahead with the legislation anyway. Which seems to be how we got here...

All this very important precious bodily fluid protecting legislation was being debated in Parliament on October 13 when the discussion turned to the government's proposal that 15 organisations be proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Among these groups is the Islamic Jihad Union (hereafter IJU) and this is where things get interesting (or they do if your me).

Various MPs expressed concerns about the proposed ban on the organisation, Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, for instance, pointed out that the hundreds of civillians massacred at Andijan in May "were killed not by the Islamic Jihad Union but by the brutality of the Karimov regime that it is trying to overthrow," He asked, not unreasonably in my opinion, "Should we not tread very carefully before proscribing an organisation that has less blood on its hands than a Government with whom we still maintain diplomatic relations?"

Seeking to defend Government policy Home Office Minister Hazel Blears (of ethnic rebranding fame) set out the case for the prosecution:
There is a range of activities that all these organisations will be undertaking. We have attempted in the explanatory memoranda to outline, as far as we can, the activities that have taken place. As for the Islamic Jihad Union, in March 2004 there was an explosion in Uzbekistan that killed nine people who were involved in the construction of portable improvised explosive devices. Over the following three days, there was a series of shoot-outs and suicide bombings that were carried out in Tashkent, Bokhara and Uzbekistan, leaving about 25 dead and 35 wounded. I also asked about the impact on British interests to satisfy myself that the order was an appropriate way forward.
Note the careful wording. She never says that the bombing was carried out by the IJU, just that it happened. Any other conclusions you draw are entirely your own. This presumably reflects the fact that evidence backing up IJU culpability is at best limited.

In fact, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and vociferous critic of the Karimov regime, Craig Murray suggests that the bombings may not have happened at all, at least not the way Blears alleges:
As Britain's ambassador, I visited the site of each of the bombings within a few hours - or, in one case, minutes - of the alleged explosion.

The physical evidence on the ground did not coincide with the official explanation. For example, each suicide bomber was alleged to be using explosives equivalent to 2kg of TNT. But nowhere, not even at the site of an alleged car bomb, was there a crater, or even a crack in a paving stone. In one small triangular courtyard area a bomb had allegedly killed six policemen. But windows on all sides, at between 10 and 30 metres from the alleged blast, were not damaged; nor was a tree in the middle of the yard. The body of one of the alleged suicide bombers was unmarked, save for a small burn about the size of a walnut on her stomach.

A full account of my investigations of these bombings is to appear in my forthcoming book: one reason, perhaps, why the Foreign Office will seek to block its publication. There is no more reason to believe this version of events in March 2004 than to believe the Uzbek government's version of the Andijan massacre in May this year. What is more, as ambassador I sent back the details of my investigation to London, and the Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre (Jtac) agreed with my view that there were serious flaws in the Uzbek government account - agreeing with my view that the US was wrong to accept it. I concluded then, and still believe now, that these events were a series of extrajudicial killings covered by a highly controlled and limited agent-provocateur operation.
Even if Murray is very wrong - a possibility I grant, although I trust him more than I do the present Government - it should be clear that the picture is not as black and white as Blears' suggests. One might be forgiven for asking then where Blears gets her information from.

The Minister insists, "The information that we receive is from our own security and intelligence services." Murray interjects, however,
There was no intelligence material from UK sources on the above events. The UK has no intelligence assets in central Asia. We are dependent on information given to us by the United States' CIA and NSA. There was information from the NSA. We had NSA communications intercepts of senior al-Qaida figures asking each other if anyone knew what was happening in Tashkent (no one did). Despite the only intelligence we had indicating plainly that al-Qaida was not involved, Colin Powell immediately went on the record in Washington to support the US's ally, stating specifically that Uzbekistan was under attack from Islamist militant forces linked to al-Qaida. Almost certainly MI6 and MI5 happily accept this nonsense, as it suits their own agenda. But if they pretend that they have independent information, that is a lie.
The UK, presumably, has also received information from Uzbek authorities, although I guess any such flow is likely to have dried up in the past few months. Any information garnered this way will of course be tainted by the dictates of authoritarian governance and the distortions which result from the gathering of intelligence by torture. In short it's chronically unreliable.

Terrorism is a real threat. The terrorist attacks in London and in Bali in September underline that fact. It's difficult to see, however, how basing our response on bad intelligence and authoritarian propoganda makes us any safer. Then again, reading over that last line again I'm reminded of the role of intelligence and propaganda in build-up to the war in Iraq. If nothing else, they are consistent.

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