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Let The Eat Lead

editorial - SchNEWS,  20 May 2005

"There are over 6,000 political and religious prisoners in Uzbekistan. Every year, some of them are tortured to death. Sometimes the policemen or intelligence agents simply break their fingers, their ribs and then their skulls with hammers, or stab them with screwdrivers, or rip off bits of skin and flesh with pliers, or drive needles under their fingernails, or leave them standing for a fortnight up to their knees in freezing water. Sometimes they are a little more inventive. The body of one prisoner was delivered to his relatives last year, with a curious red tidemark around the middle of his torso. He had been boiled to death." - George Monbiot, activist and writer

Given that George Bush has been busy bringing 'democracy' to the Middle East and former Soviet Union states, you'd think the White House would be condemning the dictatorial Uzbek government, who this week have been busy murdering hundreds of their own people. A spokesman simply murmured that the regime should "exercise caution and restraint", nothing more. It's only a week since Bush visited Georgia, a country which he referred to as "a beacon of liberty for this region and the world". Congratulating the people for overthrowing ex-Soviet apparatchik Edvard Shevardnadze in the 'Rose Revolution', Bush must have had a sense of déjà vu. Only last Christmas the White House lavished similar praise on the Ukrainians' 'Orange Revolution', providing material, financial and political support. When crowds demonstrated in Lebanon, Kyrgizstan, Ukraine and Georgia, the Americans welcomed it as "people power" and pledged to support "freedom-loving peoples" of the world in their struggles to overthrow "brutal dictatorships". So why go so quiet when the Uzbek people rise up against their own Soviet-era dictator?

to Hell and Uzbek

Well, Uzbekistan, as Saddam Hussein's Iraq once was, is seen by the US government as a key asset. John Pike, head of the military analysis website, said close ties with Uzbekistan also serve longer-term goals: "It's one more piece of the (former) Soviet Union that's in our power rather than Moscow's. It's also one more piece of the encirclement of Iran. Right now, it's a base for operations in Afghanistan. What it might become 10 years from now is anyone's guess. It's part of the 'great game'."

Then there's the small matter of Uzbekistan's 600 million+ barrels of proven oil reserves - which is probably the reason why George Bush has even heard of the country. After 9-11 the US established army bases there which will no doubt come in handy as they manouvre to gain control of the oil resources, as well as keeping the locals in line so a consortium of US companies can build a new oil pipeline through Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea.

Nevermind all that, the current spin is that actually the Uzbek government - with $500million in 'aid'from the Pentagon - is fighting a courageous battle against Islamic terrorists. The truth is more likely that people are turning to anyone offering a better life than the current dictatorial regime. As Ex-British Ambassador (see below) Craig Murray reports, "The two main strains of opposition are the Erk and Birlik parties - They are both moderate parties with a long history and would, I think, adopt a more Islamic stance than the current government - but neither is extreme nor bears any resemblance to the Taliban. They're not trying to impose that kind of society."

Ironically, the danger is that continuing such oppression and the pursuit of economic policies which lead to poverty and hardship for so many will actually radicalise the opposition, driving them into more extreme forms of Islamic Doctrines as they see any form of attempted democratic resistance crushed.

Uzbekistand off

So, apart from the usual diverting of wealth into the hands of the chosen powerful few, why should anyone want to protest? If we take a look at the State Department website, it accuses the Uzbek government of "torture as a routine investigation technique". Guess that sounds just like the US really - it certainly doesn't trouble them; Colin Powell's men bunged the same law enforcement services $79 million of aid in 2002. The State Department says officers who receive training are vetted to ensure they have not tortured anyone. Yeah right... to repeat, sounds just like the US military.

Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was given the boot last year for drawing attention to human rights abuses in the country, says the CIA brought many prisoners to the Central Asian nation for interrogation, knowing full well that the Uzbeks would use torture during those interrogations. Uzbekistan is believed to be a destination country for the highly secretive 'renditions programme', where the CIA ships terrorist suspects to third-party countries where it can freely use torture to extract the necessary confessions. The program began under an executive order signed by President Pappa Bush in December 1992. Although the CIA has never officially commented on the programme, flight logs obtained by the New York Times showed that CIA-linked planes that landed in the capital, Tashkent, had 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.

Craig Murray has been on about this for ages, but his first bollocking came in March 2003 when he was reprimanded for writing, "When it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated by the Bush administration as an indulgence, which should not affect our relationship and should be downplayed in the international forum". Later that year some of his embassy staff were sacked and he was called back to London to face 18 disciplinary charges, including "hiring dolly birds for above the usual rate" in the visa department (even though it had an all-male staff) and granting UK visas in exchange for sex. If he told anyone about the charges he would be in violation of the Official Secrets Act and sent to prison... just standard British gagging procedure then.

Meanwhile a procession of top Bush administration officials trekked to Tashkent to thank the dictator for his services. Donald Rumsfeld, not content with that 1983 photo of himself shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, praised Karimov for his "wonderful cooperation", while former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, admired the autocrat's "very keen intellect and deep passion" for improving the lives of ordinary Uzbeks.

As journalist Jonathan Freedland put it "Think of it as the Sonofabitch School of foreign policy. Legend has it that when Franklin D. Roosevelt was confronted with the multiple cruelties of his ally, the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, he replied: 'He may be a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch.' More than 60 years on, that serves as a pretty good expression of American, and therefore British, attitudes to Karimov, the tyrant of Tashkent who has ruled the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991."

* For more see

- SchNEWS  (20th May 2005)

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revised 18 November 2005