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