Speaking out against systematic torture is a good thing, right? Not all the time, discovered Craig Murray. If those doing the systematic torture happen to be close allies of Washington and London in the war on terrorism, speaking out could mean your job.
Until recently, Craig Murray was Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan. After a long and respected diplomatic career, he drew the Foreign Office's ire by condemning Tashkent's use of torture and criticizing Britain and the United States for acting on intelligence obtained through torture, saying the practice "fatally undermines our moral standing."
Murray has a reputation for undiplomatic outspokenness. He had the photographs of corpses of religious dissidents analyzed to determine they were boiled to death by security forces. Torture victims in Tashkent knew they could find sanctuary in the British embassy.
In a confidential memo to his Foreign Office, Murray described common police and military practices in Uzbeki jails, writing "tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbeki government wants the U.S. and UK to believe- that they and we are fighting the same war against terror- this is morally, practically and legally wrong." The memo was leaked to the Financial Times, and Murray lost his job.
The Foreign Office denies that Murray's dismissal has anything to do with his criticism, calling it an "internal matter."
But, as the U.S. presidential elections draw near, the case of Craig Murray should be much more than an internal matter. It should be an opportunity for Americans to examine how our tax dollars are being spent in the name of fighting the war on terrorism. Is arming and training a police and military that torture and repress political and religious dissidents part of the war on terrorism? Craig Murray said not, and he was fired for his trouble. Meanwhile Uzbekistan continues to rack in millions in military aid from the United States.
Before 2001, Uzbekistan was not on the United States strategic map and received little in military assistance. All that changed with the war on terrorism and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan offered Washington the use of the Karshi-Khanabad airbase close to the Afghan border. The military aid and the U.S. troops poured in, now more than 1,000 U.S. troops are based there.
In 2003 Islam Karimov's government received $8.6 million in aid, more than it had received in the previous six years combined. An additional $8 million has been appropriated to Uzbekistan for fiscal year 2004 and Congress has requested $12 million for 2005. The country's military has also enjoyed an extraordinary increase in funding for military training from the United States, rising 1,300% in less than a decade.
For a number of years now, Washington has been outfitting the Uzbeki military with "nonlethal" equipment like helmets, flak jackets, Humvee transport vehicles, and night-vision goggles to the Uzbeki military and border guards.
The United States knows that its new ally is a brutal repressor. The U.S. State Department's most recent human rights report mentions that, "although the law prohibits such practices, both police and the security forces routinely tortured, beat, and otherwise mistreated detainees to obtain confessions or incriminating information... Torture was common in prisons, pretrial facilities, and local police and security service precincts, and the severity of torture did not decrease during the year. While in custody, several prisoners were abused and tortured until death
- some killed before they had even been sentenced."
But it was not the torture or the extrajudicial killing that forced the State Department to take action. It was Karimov's crackdown on international NGOs like Freedom House and the Open Society Institute. In response, State Department announced in July 2004 that the country would not receive certification for continued military aid from the U.S., until it demonstrated progress in the areas of human rights, independent media and courts, free and fair elections, and freedom of expression.
The State Department's freezing of some military aid because of Karimov's repression of civil society and democracy is a step in the right direction.
But this is not enough. Despite the military aid cut-off, the U.S. plans to maintain a military relationship with Uzbekistan. There are no plans to remove American soldiers stationed at the airbase near the Afghan border, and Washington and Tashkent remain allies in the "War on Terrorism."
But President Bush cannot have it both ways, he can't cozy up to dictatorial regimes that foment terror and say he is fighting the war on terrorism at the same time. Cutting ties with a nation that boils religious dissidents alive is part of the war on terrorism.
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center. A detailed report on U.S. military aid to human rights abusers, dictatorial allies in the war on terrorism, and nations at war is forthcoming from the Arms Trade Resource Center. Email email@example.com for more information.