A New York Times article today points out how the U.S. is likely using Uzbekistan to jail terror suspects, despite the fact that Uzbekistan is known for its poor human rights record and torture of political prisoners. A February 2001 state department report reports how prisoners beaten, "often with blunt weapons, and asphyxiation with a gas mask," while other human rights groups, including Amnesty International, report torture methods such as “boiling of body parts, using electroshock on genitals and plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers.” In regards to the Uzbek government, the State Department report states, "Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with limited civil rights."
Regardless, the Bush administration has supported the despotic regime, led by President Islam Karimov there, and included it as an ally in the fight against global terrorism. After a 2002 visit by Karimov to the White House, Bush has said, “the world community cannot deprive this person of the moral and physical right to stand among those who have suppressed the forces of fear and terror becoming the living symbol of his country.” Since September 11,2001, the U.S. government has given more than $500 million to the country for security measures.
Since the new alliance against terror, has the U.S. pressured Uzbekistan to clean up its human rights record? According to various statements in the February 2005 article by Amitabh Pal in the Progressive magazine, Uzbekistan is as corrupt as ever. Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan stated, “Tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the U.S. and U.K. to believe, - that they and we are fighting the same war on terror.” Additionally the February 2005 State Department report on human rights abuses still finds Uzbekistan to be noncompliant.
President Bush case against Iraq and other targets in the War on Terror has brought up human rights abuses, citing Hussein’s use of chemical and biological weapons against Iraqis. The response was to invade Iraq and try to establish democracy there in order allow citizens freedom and government accountability. Why not hold Uzbekistan to the same standard?
Military action is about protecting national interests. In the case of Iraq, security was the proclaimed national interest, with neoconservative justification that spreading democracy to a despotic region would make it more secure. That being said, Iraq never attacked us. Neither did Uzbekistan for that matter.
Not that the Bush administration is alone in hypocritical alliances with despots when it comes to foreign policy. Reagan formed cushy ties with a little-known group called the Taliban in the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union and with Hussein to fight the Iranians; of course, they posed no “threat” to us then.
The main point is that our stance towards despotic regimes has been wildly inconsistent. If America is going to be the beacon on the rock that spreads democracy around the globe, the Bush administration must hold allies accountable, including themselves when it comes to torture and human rights abuses.