Archive for the 'Open Government' Category

Taking Power Conference

I’m taking part in the Taking Power conference (entitled “Have your say about how Britain is run”). It is taking place online, right now, and anyone can take part simply by going to the web site. The conference is being organised by the Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Tyler, in support of the POWER inquiry, which published its initial report earlier this year.

I was initially sceptical about an online conference but there is some good debate on there with some interesting views being expressed. I’ve certainly learned a thing or two, as well as having the opportunity to publish my ideas to a captive audience. Everyone who as interest in how the country is run and should be run should take part.

Craig Murray censored!

Craig Murray is the outspoken former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, turned civil rights campaigner [Wikipedia biography]. His recently published book, “Murder in Samarkand”,describes the appalling human rights abuses perpetrated by the US-backed regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Whilst I was away, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) took legal action against Craig Murray forcing him to remove supporting documents (referenced by his new book) from his web site. This is despite the fact that the documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – making a mockery of the spirit behind the bill!

Having pledged to publish the Al-Jazeera memo, I, along with hundreds of other bloggers received a request to host these documents. So I am hosting a Craig Murray documents mirror (copied from Blairwatch. If you want Mr Murray’s detailed commentary on each document see the original pages on his web site.

Plenty of other people seem to be mirroring them too. It even seems that a torrent has been released!
[See a list of a few of these sources at LFCM.]

Interestingly the FCO have yet to attempt to stop Craig Murray under the Official Secrets Act. Also their injunction forcing the removal of the documents is the first public admission that they are genuine.

The following is the email from Craig Murray:

I am sorry to trouble you, but believe that we now face a threat both to the Web and to Freedom of Information in the UK which must be challenged. The British government is arguing that government documents, even if released under the Freedom of Information Act or Data Protection Act, cannot be published, on the web or elsewhere, as they remain Crown Copyright. They have required me to remove documents from my website on that basis, under threat of legal action – see the attached letter from the Treasury solicitors.

If you think about it for a moment, the government could thus cancel out almost the whole purpose of the Freedom of Information Act; information released would be just for the private use of an individual. Newspapers – or bloggers – could not publish it in any detail.

If accepted, this extraordinary use of copyright could keep literally everything – everything – produced by government a secret.

The documents in question are the supporting evidence for my book, Murder in Samarkand, which has just been released. The government continues to claim my story is untrue. There is one important advance in all this. Up until now the government refused to acknowledge the documents were authentic. Now Buttrill’s letter specifically acknowledges all of the documents and claims copyright over them.

Some of these documents have already been published widely on the web (not least due to the efforts of many of you on this list), particularly the “Tashkent telegrams” on CIA and MI6 use of intelligence obtained under torture in Uzbekistan. Those are now admitted as authentic.

Some are new to the web. Perhaps the most important is the chart of the changes the British Government insisted be made to the book. These are extremey revealing for what they admit to be true – for example, only minor changes are requested in the key meeting between senior officials on the legality of using intelligence from torture, at which it was confirmed that this is US and UK policy.

Perhaps still more revealing is the insistence on removal of the
assertion that “Colin Powell knowingly lied” when he claimed that bombs in Tashkent were the work of al-Qaida. The British government insisted on removal not because it was untrue – as detailed in the book, they know full well it is true – but because it would “Damage UK-US relations”.

The changes requested were made in the book, because my publisher would not publish without. That is why the truth needs to be out there on the web.

It is on the face of it very strange that the British Government is
going after me over the Copyright Act and not the Official Secrets Act. The answer is simple – under the Copyright Act there is no jury. A jury would never convict for campaigning against torture, and be most unlikely to accept that documents released cannot be published. The table of changes requested by the government is not even a classified document in the first place. But a single judge may be more malleable – John Reid had put a huge effort lately into browbeating judges over anything connected to the so-called War on Terror. As the government know very well I have no money to pay a small, or even large fine, they can get the book and documents banned and me in jail without having to convince any jury of pesky citizens.

How to fight back?

Well, we must not let the documents disappear from the web. There is as yet no legal ruling on these matters, Mr Buttrill’s claims are only highly controversial legal contentions. So if you post the documents pending a court ruling, there is a danger you may be contravening the – civil, not criminal – law, but then again you may not. You would quite likely receive a threatening letter from Mr Buttrill. Now you have this email from me, NSA and GCHQ are almost certainly tracking you, (they can, incidentally, reciprocally spy in the other country for each other
and then swap the info, because neither needs a warrant to spy abroad), but then they probably were already.

The publisher had firm and very expensive legal advice that it was not contravening any civil or criminal law to publish in the book links to web pages containing the documents. So you are almost certainly on safe legal ground in publishing this link to the Dahr Jamail site if you do not wish to mirror the docs yourself.

Feel free to publish this email and the letter from Mr Buttrill.

It might also be helpful if we urged people to contact him, by phone, email or letter, and ask him complex questions about the fascinating and difficult legal and ethical questions thrown up by the government’s position. As a government servant he’s obliged to reply.

Finally, the government made plain to parliament that it would act the book itself if it was published. As it only came out on
Friday, no injunction yet but it could happen any time. So if you are interested in getting it, buy now and beat the injunctions! It is available from most online booksellers, though bookshops seem very reluctant to stock it.

Many Thanks,

Craig Murray

Why would anyone want a secret “honour”?

Craig Murray cites a story in the Observer about UK honours having been granted, in secret, to senior US military commanders and businessmen involved in the military campaign and follow-up reconstruction work in Iraq. Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker, apparently brought the matter to light after a series of parliamentary questions.

There has been some commentary raised in the media about the appropriateness of these awards whilst Iraq shows further signs of descending into civil war. There is a further issue with the businessmen awarded honours, particularly, Riley Bechtel, boss of Bechtel Corporation whose closeness to George W Bush’s administration, and multi-million dollar reconstruction contracts in Iraq remain controversial

Nevertheless, the big issue is, of course, the secrecy. Obviously, given the controversial nature of the individuals concerned, it does look bad and makes a mockery of the government’s claims of openness and transparency. Yet, what I find extraordinary is Margaret Beckett’s comment that “Honorary awards to citizens where Her Majesty the Queen is not head of state are not formally announced.” So according to the Foreign Office it is normal practice to make awards a secret.

I can’t understand this. Why would anyone want an “honour” that is secret? Surely the whole point of an honour is that you are honoured, i.e. publicly recognized for the contribution that you have made. What on earth is the benefit of getting a gong if it’s kept private?

Having written so far and about to rant about the value of secret “honours” I realize that the Foreign Office statement is complete rubbish. I remember a few years ago Terry Wogan’s name was published on the Queen’s Birthday or New Years’ Honours lists (I forget which). Either way, his honorary CBE was definitely published in that list (being a citizen of Eire, where HM is not head of state). I remember that because he made particularly reference to the ‘honorary-ness’ of his CBE (as well as his Irish-ness) during the obligatory 10-second interview clip on the BBC evening news that day. Come to think of it, I have, on occasion, looked through the names of honours recipients published in newspapers and ‘honorary’ awardees have been named. So this is all rubbish – which makes it stink even more.