Sunday, May 01, 2005

U.S. - "Outsourcing Torture to Uzbekistan?"

A reader has alerted me to this article "U.S. Recruits a Rough Ally to Be a Jailer", by Don Von Natta, Jr. New York Times May 1, 2005, according to which there is "growing evidence that the United States has sent terror suspects to Uzbekistan for detention and interrogation, even as Uzbekistan's treatment of its own prisoners continues to earn it admonishments from around the world, including from the State Department." (

Crooked Timber goes a step further, titling their post Outsourcing torture to Uzbekistan).

Back in February Mark Shea wrote a piece for Crisis magazine: Toying with Evil: May a Catholic Advocate Torture?, March 9, 2005, on disturbing cases of conservative Catholics who attempted to offer justification for the obtaining of information by torture. If it is the case that the U.S. is accepting information obtained by third-party interrogation-by-torture -- which thus far U.S. officials and the CIA have denied -- Catholics should demand a full investigation into such matters. Likewise, they should support the passing of two current House and Senate bills which seek to ban the practice of "extraordinary rendition" -- or the exporting of prisoners to other countries for interrogation.

As far as the larger issue of U.S. relations with Uzbekistan and our collaboration with the Uzbekistan government (which had assisted the United States in its removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan), I recommend Nathan Hamm's, a Eurasia news and commentary blog with special focus "on Afghanistan and the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus."

Apparently the chief source of the allegations comes from Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who lost his job under allegations of professional/personal misconduct and is presently running for Parliament on an anti-Iraqi war platform. In "Craig Murray Aside" (March 23, 2005), Nathan questions the timing of Murray's humanitarian concerns ("[Murray's] care about torture in Uzbekistan seemed to peak whenever the FO brought up allegations concerning his behavior as ambassador"), and weighs the effectiveness of various measures proposed to further human rights in Uzbekistan: what he dubs Murray's "may our souls be pure" path" of isolation and non-involvement, vs. the "may our influence make Uzbekistan a better place" approach.

Also on this issue, a lengthy and extremely detailed report - Uzbekistan: Victimiser or Victim? -- by the British Helsinki Human Rights Group on the state of things in Uzbekistan. One section entitled Our Man in Tashkent: the case of Craig Murray offers a detailed look at the circumstances under which Murray left his post as ambassador in 2003, followed by an investigation into his charges against the Uzbekistan government. On-the-ground investigation led BHHRG to question the validity of certain allegations by Murray (such as those mentioned in this Janary 2005 interview, that the regime had "boiled" two prisoners to death):

BHHRG has concluded that while some of the deaths in custody may be from natural causes or suicide (which is sadly common is many countries' prisons) others may result from prisoners attacking those convicted of religiously inspired terrorist crimes. Such prisoners are incarcerated with run-of-the-mill criminals, possibly to prevent them conspiring among themselves. The government's account of what happened to Muzafar Avezov and Husnidin Alimov, the alleged victims of ‘boiling', would bear this out - it claims that the two men were attacked by other inmates who threw boiling water over them during a fight. BHHRG's own prison doctor confirmed that prisoner on prisoner violence is a common problem in the UK's jails and that throwing boiling fat, water at other inmates is not unknown. Tension between incarcerated, mainly young men, is a problem in all prison systems.

Although two examples which tend to exculpate the authorities of wrong doing do not add up to the acquittal in all cases, they are significant. The allegations against Uzbekistan have been ongoing for several years and it is hard to see what benefits accrue to the Karimov regime by consistently ignoring criticism and blithely continuing to torture suspects. On 14th July, 2004 Washington cancelled $18 m. in non-military aid to the country on the basis of hostile human rights reports - surely Uzbekistan would be cleaning up its act in an attempt to avoid regime change, orange-style. . . .

Among the conclusions the BHHRG reached:

Human rights groups seem keen to rush to judgement in cases where prisoners have died in custody, relying on allegations of brutality based on hearsay and photographs rather than proper forensic evidence. Even Freedom House's representative in Tashkent, Robert Freedman, expressed a desire for something better than “anecdotal” material on which to base claims of brutality. When outside experts have examined deaths in custody their findings have basically confirmed the version of events given by the authorities. BHHRG found conditions in the main isolator in Tashkent satisfactory compared with prisons in other post Soviet republics. In December 2004, Karimov bowed to calls from the international community and ordered a moratorium on the death penalty still operational for two types of offences.