It isn’t often you can have a real belly-laugh about testimony to the US House International Relations Committee. Most of these depositions are pompous and boring and almost nobody reads the material, anyway. But the testimony to the Subcommittee on the Middle East in July by Mira R Ricardel, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy was different. It was pompous, of course ; but some of the detail was far from boring.
The subject of Ms Ricardel’s sworn statement was the country of Uzbekistan, and she produced a travesty of morality that at first reading might seem to be satire : perhaps an exuberant and very funny caricature of what House Committee testimony so often is. Alas, it wasn’t intended to be a parody. But why should one of Rumsfeld’s people be testifying to the House about a country in Central Asia?
The Bush administration declares Uzbekistan to be vital to US security because it hires out an enormous military base to US military forces. In consequence, Ms Ricardel enthused in her written deposition that it is "a valued partner and friend of the United States", no less. This is certainly the case, but the unpleasant fact is that Uzbekistan is a crude and merciless dictatorship without any pretence of abiding by civilized standards of decency. Bush gives its ruler total support in spite of the State Department reporting in 2003 that Uzbekistan "has no independent judicial or legislative system, no legal opposition, and no free media", while the regime "continued to commit numerous serious abuses", and "both police and the NSS [National Security Service ; the former KGB under almost the same management] routinely tortured, beat, and otherwise mistreated detainees to obtain confessions or incriminating information".
But the State Department was ordered to be realistic and to get on board the administration’s pro-Uzbekistan boat. Suddenly, in the 2004 State Department Report on Uzbekistan, things changed. Oh dear me, they changed. It couldn’t be a complete whitewash, of course, as that might have attracted unfavorable attention and derision, as happened when the figures of terrorist incidents were falsified for Bush in the first version of the 2004 Report on Patterns of Global Terrorism. But there has been massaging and manipulation, and the new edition announces brightly that "The United States values Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region. The United States urges greater reform to promote long-term stability and prosperity. Registration of independent political parties and human rights non-governmental organizations would be an important step. The government registered the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan in March 2002. One year later, in March 2003, the government registered a second human rights organization, Ezgulik. Enforcement of constitutional safeguards ensuring personal, religious, and press freedom and civil liberties also is needed."
This is the type of intellectually dishonest fudging that the talking glove-puppet Mira R Ricardel supported in front of the House Subcommittee. She was effusive about the place to a truly wondrous degree. "Uzbekistan is making significant progress reforming its Soviet-style military. Indeed, in many areas it serves as a model for other countries in the region. Alone among Central Asian states, Uzbekistan has appointed a civilian defense minister and has established firm civilian control of the military. Under the leadership of Defense Minister Gulamov [sic; his name is Qodir Ghulomov], the Uzbek Ministry of Defense has initiated defense reform plans for training, equipping, and utilizing its forces along NATO lines."
In August 2002, Human Rights Watch recorded over 6,500 religious and political prisoners in the country. The ruling clique is decadent, corrupt and repressive. The legal code is a farce, and the population suffers draconian repression by an evil autocracy whose stated commitment to human rights is an obscene mockery of the truth.
The owner of Uzbekistan is a corrupt and vicious ruffian called Islam Karimov. He is not a Muslim, in spite of his first name, and was First Secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party Central Committee. When the USSR finally collapsed he ditched communism and declared independence. Then he achieved leadership in a contest in which opposition parties were either not permitted to take part or were criminally persecuted by the police and other thugs.
In 1992 he banned the main opposition parties and imprisoned their leaders, following which his former communist organization, risibly renamed the People’s Democratic Party, won elections. Karimov’s leadership term was extended to five years by referendum in 1995, and in 2000 in an equally crooked ballot he was ‘re-elected’ president. (Independent observers described the performance as "neither free nor fair", which is diplomat-speak for being as well-rigged as a Baltimore Clipper.) The man is a racketeering tyrant with blood on his hands.
So naturally he was invited to the White House. Following his meeting with Bush and Rumsfeld he visited Congress. According to the media release, "When Islam Karimov entered, the senators stood and applauded him for a long time. They noted that relations of Congress to Uzbekistan changed sharply because of Uzbekistan’s early support of the anti-terrorist coalition, no longer limited to supporting its role in regional security, but in defending principles of democracy and freedom."
A malign, rotten, barbaric dictator who permits "no independent judicial or legislative system, no legal opposition, and no free media" was honored by Bush and given a standing ovation by people who couldn’t find his country on a globe ("Ooze Becky Where?") because he provided a base for the invasion of Iraq. He can do no wrong in the eyes of Bush, and, thrusting aside all the evidence to the contrary, Washington professes to believe he is "defending principles of democracy and freedom".
This shamefully distorted picture of Uzbekistan was faithfully conveyed in testimony to the House Subcommittee by Ms Mira R Ricardel. She should have a place in the Hall of Fame as a craven apologist for a regime that places no value on truth, decency or the rule of law. And the really funny thing is that Ms Ricardel was formerly vice president for programs at Freedom House which describes itself as "a non-profit, nonpartisan organization" that is "a clear voice for democracy and freedom", and accordingly produces reports on the progress of democracy and freedom around the world.
The Freedom House report of April 2004 concluded that Uzbekistan is among the most politically repressive states in the world, having perpetrated "gross violations" of human rights and religious freedoms. Three months later, that former luminary of Freedom House, Ms Mira R Ricardel, declared proudly that "We have been working closely with the Ministry of Defense to support Uzbekistan’s objectives of Westernizing its military . . . [it] is making significant progress in reforming its Soviet-style military. Indeed, in many areas it serves as a model for other countries in the region." Like in rigging elections, torturing its citizens, banning newspapers and persecuting political opponents. It is amazing how principles vanish when the tantalizing scent of career-enhancement is sniffed by toadying humbugs.
The British Foreign Office stated (September 28, 2004) that "Uzbekistan’s human rights record is poor . . . opposition political parties are banned or prevented from registering . . . Torture is a particular concern . . . The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture visited Uzbekistan . . . and said it was ‘systematic’. " But then it, too, changed its tune and in October sacked the ambassador who had reported that torture was prevalent and that it was carried out with the encouragement of the Bush administration. (The ambassador was targeted by a campaign of evil vilification of the type that Tony Blair’s lackeys are poisonously expert in carrying out. It’s an art form, really, in a squalid sort of way. The allegations against him were trumped-up rubbish, but the muck stuck. Brilliant stuff.) (I might add that I have no time for the fellow, who should never have been an ambassador in the first place ; but he was treated disgustingly and sacrificed on Blair’s altar of loyalty to Bush.)
But none of this matters to Bush Washington if the dictator Karimov is happy to host US military bases in his feudal territory, which was the point of a grubby charade during which Karimov was feted by Bush in a manner denied to many heads of democracies.
The leaders of France and Germany were elected in an open and legal process. Their governments do not practice torture. (Karimov’s thugs actually boiled two people alive, according to a British official report.) They have opposition political parties and their media is totally free. But they are not welcome in the White House because they dared disagree with some policies of a US president whose moral values are so grossly perverted that evil autocrats are praised while democratic leaders and their nations are reviled and insulted. "You are with us or with the terrorists", says Bush, and if tyrants do his bidding unconditionally then they and other brutal blackguards will be welcome in freedom’s halls, no matter how many people they boil alive. Bush is a born-again confrontationist, but he won’t confront oppressive dictators if they are pro-Bush.
Uzbekistan has a treaty with America that is couched in such dazzlingly surreal terms as to make us wonder if it is really a majestic joke. The ‘Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework Between the United States of America and the Republic of Uzbekistan’ is an absurd document : a bizarre hotchpotch of humbug, predicated on circumstances that do not exist.
In the usual lofty style it pontificates that "both Sides reaffirm their commitment to the legal objectives and principles of the United Nations Charter . . . as well as the principles of international law and human rights". This is grotesque. Even the Bush administration cannot possibly believe that the murderous torturer Karimov has the tiniest "commitment to principles of human rights". And then the treaty declares that "both Sides expect concrete progress" in "enhancing democratic institutions . . . establishing a genuine multi-party system . . . ensuring fair and free elections . . . [and] ensuring the independence of the media."
This twaddle was signed in March 2002. Do you know what has happened in terms of advancing democracy or creating media independence or anything decent in Uzbekistan since then? Of course you do : Zero. Zilch. Human Rights Watch states that "Media in Uzbekistan operate under tight government restrictions. Freedom of the press is severely limited by an unofficial censorship regime . . . No independent local media outlets exist". Freedom House reports that "Critical journalists frequently experience harassment, death threats, and physical violence." This is a situation that meets with the entire approval of Bush and the Pentagon and obviously of Ms Mira Ricardel, formerly of Freedom House and now Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, who declares that "Uzbekistan is a valued partner and friend of the United States", while its leader, Karimov (a "stable, moderate force"), continues to repress the people of his country with savage enthusiasm.
Karimov is a stinking, vicious crook who uses torture and murder as instruments of state policy, but he isn’t stupid. He is the richest person in Central Asia, and knows exactly where his support comes from, which is not the citizens of Uzbekistan. He can commit any crime in the book and Bush will pay and protect him, provided that the Pentagon can keep its military base in his country.
At the last US-Uzbekistan ‘Joint Security Cooperation Council Meeting’ in Washington it was declared that "the Uzbek side reaffirm[ed] its commitment to democratic transformation of society", which is utter garbage.
And Bush said in his State of the Union address that "freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation", which was also meaningless claptrap. When it suits him he ignores torture and repression, and the result is that the murderous dictator of Uzbekistan is enjoying the lucrative patronage of the Pentagon. Bush is an arrogantly mendacious hypocrite, and his international message is clear: Dictators of the world, vote Bush for your survival and personal prosperity.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com