Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.Here’s what that partnership looks like in action :
Uzbekistan's geo-strategic position is crucial. It has half the population of the whole of Central Asia. It alone borders all the other states in a region which is important to future Western oil and gas supplies. It is the regional military power. That is why the US is here, and here to stay. Contractors at the US military bases are extending the design life of the buildings from ten to twenty five years.
Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?. . .The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;
"The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights." While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.
On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer:
"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.
At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family’s links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do.This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services. And this is the standard that we’re living under with a President who looks the other way while children are being tortured.
To the fools out there who routinely praise the President for having the "moral clarity" to call terrorists evil, how can you reconcile that with the chummy relationship he's made with tyrants? The lesser of two evils argument doesn’t really work when you chide anyone whose view of fighting terrorism is more nuanced than "smoke them out of their holes" and you verbally fellate the President for being "right on the only issue that matters". You're either in favor of moral relativism or you're not.
Of course, coming up with a worldview that's logically consistent has it's troubles, since it would naturally lead to having an open, honest debate about whether or not the United States should be torturing people. Which is why the Administration (and their sycophantic toadies) ignore the substance of the seemingly-neverending stream of torture memos in the hopes of running out the clock (ie. news cycle) with their vehement denials to misstated questioning.
But to take things back to square one, it should be repeated again and again that this would all stop if the President wanted it to. With a phonecall to the Uzbek government, he could threated to eliminate foreign aid until human rights abuses ceased. With a stroke of his pen, he could fire Donald Rumsfeld and replace him with a Defense Secretary serious about curbing detainee abuse. Working with Congressional leaders, he could cooperate with stymied investigations into torture. For the most powerful man in the world, the torture of innocent people could be eliminated tomorrow if he cared enough.
Why he hasn't done any of these things leads us back to the eternal debate about the presidency of George W. Bush. Is he so isolated from bad news that he has no idea about the abuses that are happening on his watch? Is he a callous monster who thinks the torture of innocents is justified by the "greater good" of whatever the hell he's trying to accomplish? Or is it a combination of the two? Either way, I don't know how much longer we can afford to have the reputation of the United States tarnished while we ponder the endless "idiot or asshole?"