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778Human rights groups angry at US backing for brutal Uzbek regime

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  • Greg Cannon
    May 14, 2005
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      Anger as US backs brutal regime

      Human rights concerns as troops put down uprising in

      Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow and Paul Harris in New York
      Sunday May 15, 2005
      The Observer

      Heated criticism was growing last night over 'double
      standards' by Washington over human rights, democracy
      and 'freedom' as fresh evidence emerged of just how
      brutally Uzbekistan, a US ally in the 'war on terror',
      put down Friday's unrest in the east of the country.

      Outrage among human rights groups followed claims by
      the White House on Friday that appeared designed to
      justify the violence of the regime of President Islam
      Karimov, claiming - as Karimov has - that 'terrorist
      groups' may have been involved in the uprising.

      Critics said the US was prepared to support
      pro-democracy unrest in some states, but condemn it in
      others where such policies were inconvenient.

      Witnesses and analysts familiar with the region said
      most protesters were complaining about government
      corruption and poverty, not espousing Islamic

      The US comments were seized on by Karimov, who said
      yesterday that the protests were organised by Hizb
      ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group often accused by Tashkent
      of seditious extremism. Yet Washington, which has
      expressed concern over the group's often hardline
      message, has yet to designate it a terrorist group.

      Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, tried to
      deflect accusations of the contradictory stance when
      he said it was clear the 'people of Uzbekistan want to
      see a more representative and democratic government.
      But that should come through peaceful means, not
      through violence.'

      Washington has often been accused of being involved in
      a conspiracy of silence over Uzbekistan's human rights
      record since that country was declared an ally in the
      'war on terror' in 2001.

      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.

      Other countries used in the programme include Egypt,
      Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Morocco. A handful of
      prisoners' accounts - including that of Canadian Maher
      Arar - that emerged after release show they were
      tortured and abused in custody.

      Critics say the US double standards are evident on the
      State Department website, which accuses Uzbek police
      and security services of using 'torture as a routine
      investigation technique' while giving the same law
      enforcement services $79 million in aid in 2002. The
      department says officers who receive training are
      vetted to ensure they have not tortured anyone.

      The aid paradox was highlighted by the former British
      Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who criticised
      coalition support for Uzbekistan when they were
      planning invading Iraq, using similar abuses as

      Murray said yesterday: 'The US will claim that they
      are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation
      techniques, but that is basically not true. They help
      fund the budget of the Uzbek security services and
      give tens of millions of dollars in military support.
      It is a sweetener in the agreement over which they get
      their air base.'

      Murray said that during a series of suicide bombings
      in Tashkent in March 2004, before he was sacked as UK
      ambassador, he was shown transcripts of telephone
      intercepts in which known al-Qaeda representatives
      were asking each other 'what the hell was going on.
      But then Colin Powell came out and said that al-Qaeda
      were behind the blasts. I don't think the US even
      believe their own propaganda.'

      The support continues, seen by many as a 'pay-off' for
      the Khanabad base. The US Embassy website says
      Uzbekistan got $10m for 'security and law enforcement
      support' in 2004.

      Last year Human Rights Watch released a 319-page
      report detailing the use of torture by Uzbekistan's
      security services. It said the government was carrying
      out a campaign of torture and intimidation against
      Muslims that had seen 7,000 people imprisoned, and
      documented at least 10 deaths, including Muzafar
      Avozov, who was boiled to death in 2002.

      'Torture is rampant,' the reported concluded. Human
      Rights Watch called for the US and its allies to
      condemn Uzbekistan's tactics.