Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

U.S. fueled hatred within 'ally against terrorism'

As violence spirals out of control in Uzbekistan, and threatens to inflame neighboring largely Muslim nations in central Asia, we here in the wilderness were wondering if we needed to pay attention to all that racket. Would what was going on in that former Soviet republic have any relation to what was going on in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan?

The answer, sadly, is yes. And it threatens to further incite the Muslim world against America.

There are four things Americans should know about
Uzbekistan. First, it is 88 percent Muslim. Second, the leader of that nation, Islam Karimov, has resorted to harsh repression that has brought strong condemnation from human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch. Third, Uzbekistan is a strong ally of the U.S. "war on terror." Fourth, to combat a growing Islamist movement, Karimov has resorted to harsh means, including torture, according to The Guardian newspaper of London, and other sources.

In addition, it seems that Uzbekistan's human rights record has been dismal. Nick Paton Walsh of The Guardian reports:
Up to 6,000 political dissidents are in jail, and the government, suspicious of both religious groups and business, has closed down private enterprises.
KArimov is screaming "terrorism" as the source of the unrest, a claim fully supported by Washington. But Paton Walsh quotes Allison Gill, Human Rights Watch's representative in Tashkent, the Uzbekistan capital, as saying this is nonsense:
"We don't know who they are talking about," Ms. Gill said. "The use of the word terrorist is unjustified and plays into Uzbek government policy by justifying torture by calling it anti-terrorist measures."
Indeed, in an interview with the London Independent, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, had harsh words to say about 10 Downing Street and the White House:
Craig Murray told the IoS that the Government had to take some responsibility for the unfolding events because it had failed to support those trying to oppose the dictatorship of President Islam Karimov. He revealed that he visited Andizhan a year ago and met those trying to build a democratic opposition movement. In a bid to bolster their cause he asked the UK government to fund them. His requests were turned down by the Foreign Office.

"The Americans and British wouldn't do anything to help democracy in Uzbekistan," he said. Uzbekistan provides a base for US forces engaged in anti-terrorism operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Mr Murray added: "We didn't provide support for those who were trying to develop democratic opposition, and that includes these people in Andizhan. People are turning to violence because we ... gave them no support."

Murray insists he was relieved of his position because he raised awareness of U.S.-sponsored human rights abuses:
The former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who claims that he lost his job for exposing the human rights abuses of the US's new ally in the war on terror, said the Islamic elements in the Andijan crowds were moderate - 'more Turkey than Taliban'.

He added: 'This has really blown up in the US's faces. When will the US and UK call for fair, free and early elections in Uzbekistan?'

America gives $10 million a year in aid to the Uzbek security services and police, agencies which it says indulge in torture as a 'routine investigation technique'. Murray said: 'The US will claim that they are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation techniques, but that is basically not true.'

They help fund the Uzbek security services and give tens of millions of dollars in military support as well.' He said the money was a 'sweetener' in return for the Uzbeks allowing the US to have an airbase in the southern town of Khanabad, vital for operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.
This assertion is fortified by a report appearing in today's London Independent. Reporter Andrew Johnson notes that Karimov met with George W. Bush shortly in March 2002, and with numerous U.S. political and military leaders in the months before and after:
Tommy Franks, the US Commander-in-Chief of the Afghan operation, held a press conference in Tashkent in January 2002. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, visited Tashkent in October 2001, shortly before a contingent of 1,000 American troops arrived in the country. He visited again in February last year to discuss military relations. US-Uzbek military relations are "growing stronger every month", he said adding: "We have benefited greatly in our efforts in the global war on terror and in Afghanistan from the wonderful co-operation we've received from the government of Uzbekistan."

On 12 August 2004, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the US Joint Chief's of Staff, visited Tashkent and met President Karimov. He announced an additional $12m in aid to help the country reduce it's biological weapons. This was shortly after the US had cut it's $500m aid to the county by $18m in protest at its human rights record. "I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't think that the United States benefited greatly from our partnership and strategic relationship with Uzbekistan," he told a press conference.

Two years earlier, in August 2002, Mr Karimov was also honoured with a visit by Paul O'Neill, the US Treasury Secretary. "It's a great pleasure to have an opportunity to spend time with someone [Mr Karimov] with both a very keen intellect and a deep passion about the improvement of the life of the people of this country," Mr O'Neill said.

That passion apparently didn't stop the Karimov government of using torture, which fit right in with the U.S. policy of "rendition" -- kidnapping individuals from U.S. soil and various other locales and transporting them to countries where security forces would torture them to gain alleged information they had about terrorists. Reports the London Independent:

Uzbekistan is believed to be one of the destination countries for the highly secretive 'renditions programme', whereby the CIA ships terrorist suspects to third-party countries where torture is used that cannot be employed in the US. Newspaper reports in America say dozens of suspects have been transferred to Uzbek jails. The CIA has never officially commented on the programme. But flight logs obtained by the New York Times earlier this month show CIA-linked planes landing in Tashkent with the same serial numbers as jets used to transfer prisoners around the world. The logs show at least seven flights from 2002 to late 2003, originating from destinations in the Middle East and Europe.

During the Cold War the United States befriended authoritarian governments that abused their citizens. The premise was that we needed those governments' assistance to defeat the scourge of communism. The result was a disgust around the world for a country that preached democracy and human rights out of one side of its flag and acquiesced to torture and repression with the other. Less than a generation later, the violence in Uzbekistan -- a violence that could have extreme repercussions for Russia and the Muslim world -- proves that we haven't learned a thing.


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