Lib Dem Ministers Complicit in Torture

Scary, huh? I always thought they were prim, well-meaning political vegetarians, not raging carnivore fascistoid extremists.

But Craig Murray knows different. (Warning: he displays a large picture of an Uzbek torture victim.)

Behold Craig’s attempt at analysis of Sir John Sawers’ speech yesterday:

These are Sawers’ key words:

"Suppose we received credible intelligence that might save lives, here or abroad. We have a professional and moral duty to act on it. We will normally want to share it with those who can save those lives."

Sir John said the UK’s security service had a duty to ensure any partner service would respect human rights but admitted this was "not always straightforward".

He said: "Yet if we hold back and don’t pass that intelligence, out of concern that a suspect terrorist may be badly treated, innocent lives may be lost that we could have saved.

"These are not abstract questions just for philosophy courses or searching editorials, they are real, constant operational dilemmas. Sometimes there is no clear way forward. The more finely-balanced judgments have to be made by ministers themselves."

Now parse that very carefully. It says we do receive intelligence from torture, and we know we do. It says this happens all the time – "real constant
operational dilemmas" – and that the decisions to receive intelligence from torture have specifically been approved by ministers. That means Lib Dem ministers are complicit in this policy.

Let’s analyse (not ‘parse’ – he does not know what that word means) Craig’s analysis.

John Sawers did not say that we ‘receive evidence from torture … all the time". He instead suggested that the very nature of operational secret intelligence work throws up all sorts of moral dilemmas. 

The suggestion in his speech was the exact opposite of what Craig said. John is highlighting one possible dilemma, where we get information from a reliable non-torture source which, if passed on to another government where an attack is planned, might lead to suspects there being abused. 

Plus, of course, Craig does not quote this passage from the speech:

If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we’re required by UK and international law to avoid that action. And we do, even though that allows the terrorist activity to go ahead.

Some may question this, but we are clear that it’s the right thing to do. It makes us strive all the harder to find different ways, consistent with human rights, to get the outcome we want.

Unlike Craig the Independent tackles this head-on:

This is a somewhat startling statement by the head of MI6 declaring that information about a plot involving violence and loss of lives may not be passed on if the country where it is taking place abuses detainees and political opponents. The moral dilemma in those circumstances would be acute and grim.

In reality such intelligence is sometimes passed on through a third party or assurances are sought that the regime receiving it will not behave brutally towards suspects. But Sir John’s statement indicates this may not always happen and innocent people have been injured and killed to protect the civil rights of terrorist suspects.


Craig should be ashamed of himself, expoiting the memory of Mr Avazov to make his trivially inaccurate criticisms of people doing the grown-up foreign policy work he was quite unable to do himself.

Here is the comment I have posted on Craig’s site:


Hmm, torture and vile regimes again. Let’s recall one vast example.

I have just returned from a Mass of Reparation in Buckinghamshire recalling the fates of thousands of Slovenes who were sent back to Slovenia by British forces as WW2 ended, to be murdered en masse by Tito’s communists. A young officer Harold Macmillan featured prominently in that horrifying episode.

It still is not clear what motivated the British officers involved. Although it is impossible to believe on the facts of what happened, maybe they genuinely thought that they were doing the right thing – Tito had been fighting the Nazis, as had Stalin. Churchill indeed famously sat down with Stalin, one of the greatest killers and villains in history, to negotiate post-war political issues. Was he wrong to do so?

In all your voluminous writings on the subject of torture as you rail against the status quo, you rarely if ever tell us what you think Western governments actually ought to do.

Your own record as HM Ambassador in Uzbekistan was at best ambiguous. You boast in your book about how many Ministers from this regime you entertained at taxpayers’ expense. You seemed to think that by patient (and as necessary firm) diplomatic means you could get them to change their ways or at least pursue UK commercial interests.

But above all you engaged with them as they were. What would you have advocated in the way we dealt with Uzbekistan had the Iraq invasion NOT happened?

This is exactly what Sir J Sawers said yesterday. When it comes to protecting the public HMG needs to engage with people and regimes we all dislike, perhaps especially with people and regimes we dislike. What’s your precise alternative?

What would you DO if you were a LibDem Minister who is given a GCHQ intelligence intercept from a foreign regime reporting a likely terrorist attack in London based on interrogating a suspect? You fear that that suspect has been tortured by the regime. Do you nonetheless decide to do nothing, in effect ordering the UK police and MI5 not to act on that report (or even try to verify it)?

If that terrorist attack which we might have prevented happens, and 50 people are killed, what is your political and personal responsibility then?

Just for the record, the way you ‘parsed’ the Sawers speech is trivially dishonest. You say: "It says we do receive intelligence from torture, and we know we do. It says this happens all the time – "real constant operational dilemmas" – and that the decisions to receive intelligence from torture have specifically been approved by ministers. That means Lib Dem ministers are complicit in this policy."

Literally none of that follows from what Sir John said. Feeble.