The removal of Craig Murray, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, has emerged as the culmination of a series of events linked to his critique of the government of Uzbekistan. The actual causes belli centered upon allegations Murray made in an internal memo circulated within the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in which he suggested that U.S. and UK intelligence services were benefiting from information passed to the CIA and MI6 by their counterparts in Uzbekistan, who had used torture to obtain the information. The pressure to get rid of a diplomat that had opened a long-running sore between the UK and Uzbek governments finally came to a climax, and his dismissal, when it was announced, pinned the blame on Murray and pointed to the loss of confidence his actions had caused among senior officials and colleagues. However, his allegations and subsequent dismissal raise questions over the conduct of the war on terror and its consistency with the values of liberal democracy (AP Worldstream, October 14).
In August 2003, Murray returned to the UK amid increasing reports and rumors of scandal that had reached his superiors in London. He faced possible disciplinary action concerning eighteen charges, including that he held sex sessions in his Tashkent office in return for issuing visas and that he was a regular visitor to bars and clubs in the Uzbek capital as he searched for opportunities to satiate his sexual appetite. Murray’s friends rose to his defense, pointing to the absurd nature of the allegations and quickly highlighted the connection with the ambassador’s outspoken attack upon Uzbekistan’s dismal human rights record. He suffered a mental breakdown during his stay in London, and the pressure seemed to point to an early recall from Tashkent. In the event, Murray weathered the storm, and the allegations were deemed unfounded. They may even have emerged from a campaign against him by the Uzbek intelligence services (SNB).
Unfortunately, from the perspective of civil servants in London, Murray returned to Tashkent more determined than ever to speak out against Uzbek human rights abuses, lack of progress on democracy, and the incongruous nature of giving aid and support to such a “strategic ally” in the war on terrorism. The fact that he was upsetting the bounds of normal diplomatic etiquette by criticizing the host nation, ruffling the feathers of his own side as much as he clearly upset and offended the Uzbek government, only served to convince Murray of his growing sense of higher calling. Pressure on him mounted when it was confirmed that he had left his wife while in the post and formed a relationship with a local Uzbek woman whom he had met in a bar. Whitehall officials hid their embarrassment but refused to deal with the matter in a conclusive manner.
During Murray’s recent annual leave, he decided to write a memo in which he criticized Western intelligence services for receiving and making use of information provided to them by Tashkent, extracted using torture. In Murray’s opinion, it played into the hands of those within MI6 that sought more lurid sources of intelligence, but it also conveniently allowed Tashkent to claim it was cooperating in the war on terror, while using the opportunity to pursue and persecute its own political rivals. In his view, this approach equated with “selling our souls for dross” (al-Jazeera, October 11). His critique pointed to a key crisis of conscience: How could such a regime be utilized as a strategic partner in the war on terror?
Murray’s dismissal by the Foreign Office has not ended the matter. He has given interviews to Western media, defending his persistent attacks on the nature of U.S. and UK cooperation with Uzbekistan, without real progress in human rights and democracy. Perhaps most worrying was his assertion that all he did was offer criticism from a liberal democratic perspective. This latter point is most serious, coupled with his belief that anyone in his position that follows a similar path of questioning basic assumptions and connections with a partner nation in the war on terror will face the same treatment.
In private, many Western government officials express the same concerns that Murray chose to air so publicly. Indeed, the U.S. State Department withheld funding from Uzbekistan earlier this year due to lack of progress in the areas that Murray so strongly identified, only to see the Department of Defense increase its funding to Uzbekistan by way of compensating. Here is the central contradiction: how far is the West prepared to sacrifice its commitment to Western democratic principles in pursuit of a “war” that is purported to be fought in defense of those very principles? It troubled Murray, an ambitious and respected British diplomat enough to destroy his career at its height; his dismissal will not remove the concerns that he placed in the public domain. The contemporary vision of the war on terror gives primacy to a military approach, which may bring unforeseen consequences and mixed, troublesome alliances.