The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, is a genuine hero. Where is his American counterpart?
Murray has been an outspoken critic of Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimovand U.S. and U.K. indulgence of the tyrantever since Murray’s stint as ambassador from 2002 to 2004. He has most recently been in the news for publishing documents on his website revealing that the American and the British governments got information from the Uzbek regime that it extracted from prisoners using torture. “Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the U.S. and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror,”one of the documents up on his website says.
One of Murray’s noteworthy achievements during his tenure was to order a British Embassy report on the human rights situation in the country, which found that at least two prisoners had been boiled to death by the Uzbek government. He was so beloved by pro-democracy activists that people held signs outside the U.K. Embassy in the capital Tashkent saying, “We Love Craig Murray.” For his troubles, Tony Blair fired him, in part due to pressure from Washington, according to The Sunday Times of Scotland. The official reason was that he had engaged in sexual misconduct in exchange for visas, charges that the British Foreign Office later cleared him of.
In fact, another report by the British government praised him for bringing to attention human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.
Where are the U.S. ambassadors who are willing to risk their necks for opposing torture and war? True, three diplomats heroically resigned to protest the Iraq War.
And there was an ad hoc group consisting of twenty-seven retired diplomats and former high-ranking military officers, including twenty former ambassadors, that came together just before the 2004 elections to urge people to throw the Bush Administration out of office.
But there have been no sitting ambassadors who have had the courage to resign and openly question the Bush Administration’s policies. In contrast to Murray’s outspokenness, the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan, Jon Purnell, warned Uzbek activists in 2004 not to ask him “political questions.” When I visited Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt in 2002, I found U.S. diplomats, including ambassadors, bending over backward to justify authoritarian practices in their host countries.
Some of this is understandable, since it is part of the job of U.S. diplomats to maintain good relations with friendly governments. But the eagerness of U.S. diplomats to perform this task was disconcerting. Where are the U.S. ambassadors to nations such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Poland, and Romania, countries to which the United States has sent prisoners to be held in secret prisons.
We need a few Craig Murrays in this country, too.
Amitabh Pal is the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine.
© 2006 The Progressive