Last week, President Bush spoke to thousands of adoring fans in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. He spoke of freedom, liberty and justice and held up Georgia as an example for other nations to follow. Referring to Georgia's progression to democracy, Bush declared, "Now, across the Caucasus, in Central Asia and the broader Middle East, we see the same desire for liberty burning in the hearts of young people. They are demanding their freedom - and they shall have it."
Unless, of course, they happen to live in Uzbekistan.
Days after Bush got his ego stroked in Georgia, soldiers in Uzbekistan killed hundreds of civilians in the city of Andijon as they protested the arrest of several prominent business owners on charges of religious extremism. At one point, the protesters began calling for the resignation of Bush's "key ally" in his global war on terrorism, Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
That's when Uzbek soldiers opened fire into a crowd of women and children, and even Uzbek police officers, who begged the soldiers not to shoot. After the opening salvo, the soldiers walked among the hundreds of bodies, shooting the wounded. The dead were laid out for identification in front of a local school. On Monday, Uzbekis began digging a mass common grave under the watch of Uzbek forces.
While denying that his soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators, President Karimov attempted to keep reporters out of Andijon , as well as Pakhtabad where another 200 civilians were killed by Uzbek troops.
Over the weekend, Britain condemned the actions of the Uzbek government as "a clear abuse of human rights." The U.S., on the other hand, while "concerned" about the slaughter of hundreds of civilians in Uzbekistan, was "particularly" concerned with the escape of prisoners, "including possibly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan."
The claim about escaped terrorists was naturally made by the Uzbek government. There has not been any independent confirmation that terrorists were actually freed by the demonstrators. Any such claims by Uzbekistan are inherently incredible anyway. According to the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Uzbek authorities frequently have political and human rights activists declared insane and involuntarily committed to stop their anti-government activities. Uzbekistan also has a record of arresting protest organizers and their families in order to prevent demonstrations. Additionally, on at least one occasion, officers of the Uzbek Antiterrorism Department beat political activists and threatened them with more serious harm if they engaged in protest activities.
In other words, Uzbekistan is not known for tolerating political dissidence.
Assuming for the sake of argument, however, that the demonstrations did lead to the release of suspected terrorists, what kind of statement is the U.S. making by de-emphasizing the deaths of hundreds of Uzbek citizens? The statement is that the U.S. is apparently less concerned about the reactionary slaughter of hundreds of people than it is about the alleged escape of a handful of possible terrorists. The U.S. is less concerned about the gross human rights abuses of the Uzbek government than it is about keeping a heavy-handed ally in Bush's infinite war on terror.
It is the same statement on Uzbekistan that the U.S. has made since Bush embarked upon his crusade. The U.S. has long known that, in the words of the State Department, "Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with limited civil rights." The U.S. knows that the Uzbek government has a "very poor" human rights record and continues "to commit numerous serious abuses," as evidenced by the fact that its police and security service "tortured, beat, and harassed persons." In fact, the best thing the State Department could say in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices about Uzbekistan was, "Unlike past years, there were no credible reports of persons dying in custody as a result of torture."
Talk about damning with faint praise.
Nonetheless, in spite of (or, more likely, because of) Uzbekistan's atrocious record of torture and human rights abuses, the U.S. sends terror suspects there for detention and interrogation. In other words, the U.S. sends terror suspects to Uzbekistan to be tortured. Knowing what it does about Uzbekistan's penchant for torture, particularly of suspected Islamic extremists, the U.S. cannot plausibly deny that it knowingly employs Uzbekistan to do its dirty work.
The U.S. has brokered a deal with the devil in its alliance with Uzbekistan. In exchange for military bases and torture facilities, the U.S. looks the other way as Karimov violently oppresses and kills the Uzbek people. As a result, the blood of hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded Uzbekis, gunned down for demanding the freedom Bush said they would not be denied, is now on our hands.
Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at: www.politicsofdissent.blogspot.com/.
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