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Non-Stop to Uzbekistan

It’s probably just because we have a shortage of good jails. Otherwise being a country concerned with human rights we’d not consider it.

Back in 2001 there was a human rights report by the U.S. Department of State. It described life in jails in Uzbekistan and no one reading the report would wish incarceration in that country on even the most heinous of criminals. The New York Times’ description of the report says that the police routinely tortured prisoners. Some of the methods employed included “beating, often with blunt weapons and asphyxiation with a gas mask.” That was, of course, only the view of the State Department. According to the Times, human rights groups included even more horrific description of torture such as applying electric shock to genitalia, plucking off toenails and fingernails with pliers and, perhaps least appealing of all, boiling body parts. The reports failed to indicate whether or not the boiled parts were attached to the person before boiling.

Following release of that report, 9/11 occurred and within a week Mr. Bush suggested that Uzbek militants posed a threat to the world. Given the comments made about Afghanistan at the same time, Uzbekistan was understandably nervous and anxious, one suspects, to avoid the wrath of the Burning Bush who was promising to avenge the events of 9/11 with all his might. Within a short time Uzbekistan gave the U.S. the right to use a military base on Uzbekistan’s border with Afghanistan. In return Uzbekistan was promised a handsome aid package. The fact it had recently been accused of boiling body parts of prisoners (presumably while still attached) was not a matter of concern for Mr. Bush. It was for Congress, however.

Congress said that the money could not be released unless its president, Islam Karimov, followed through on promises he’d made about human rights in his country when visiting the White House in 2002. In a photo in the New York Times showing him shaking hands with Mr. Bush the caption said that Uzbekistan was welcomed as a partner in the fight against global terrorism. Congress thought it would be nice if the alliance were than a pretty picture in a newspaper. It required certification by the State Department, semi-annually, assuring that progress was being made. It received that assurance when in May, 2003, the State Department issued a memorandum stating that Uzbekistan had made “substantial and continuing progress” in human rights, specifically describing torture as one of the areas in which progress had been made. It did not mean there was more torture-it meant there was less. It was wrong.

In June, 2003 Human Rights Watch described the death of Otamaza Gafarov. Mr. Gafarov died in prison on May 3. Authorities attributed his death to a heart attack. According to Human Rights Watch, those who helped prepare his body for burial observed a large head wound apparently caused by a sharp object, bruising to the back of the head, rib cage, chest and throat and scratched hands. The infliction of those wounds might well have given him a heart attack. His death and other abuses did not go unnoticed by the State Department.

In January, 2004, the State Department announced that Uzbekistan had not met international human rights standards. In July the United States cut off $18 million in military and economic aid to Uzbekistan. This probably seemed harsh to Uzbekistan, coming as it did, less than two years after its president had been a guest at the White House. It was welcomed by those concerned with human rights.

Tom Malinowski who is a human rights analyst for Human Rights Watch, observed that: “This is the first time that the administration has allowed a lack of progress on human rights to have a significant impact on its relationship with a critical security partner in that part of the world.”

The news is of course wonderful. We won’t give Uzbekistan any more money until it quits torturing prisoners. The only thing we are presently willing to give it is people. According to a recent report in the New York Times, it is believed that the C.I.A. is sending some of the people it has captured to Uzbekistan. The people it is sending are terror suspects. Estimates are that as many as 150 suspected terrorists have been sent abroad to a number of countries, including Uzbekistan. Asked about the practice one official refused to say whether prisoners went to Uzbekistan but he did say reassuringly that: “The United States does not engage in or condone torture.” That explains why the aid was cut off. It doesn’t explain why prisoners get sent there. That is probably none of our business. It should be.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: or through his website:
















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