Uzbekistan: They speak with forked tongue by William Bowles

16 May 2005

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t think that the United States benefited greatly from our partnership and strategic relationship with Uzbekistan”
12 August 2004, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the US Joint Chief’s of Staff speaking in Tashkent.

Yes, well you bet they do as the US maintains a major space and intelligence base, a so-called “Forward Operating Location”, at Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan and why the US underwrites Karimov’s dictatorship to the tune of nearly $500 million a year. Not that it’s exactly a new relationship as in October 2001, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, visited Tashkent, shortly before a contingent of 1,000 American troops arrived in the country. US-Uzbek military relations are, he told us:

“growing stronger every month … We have benefited greatly in our efforts in the global war on terror and in Afghanistan from the wonderful co-operation we’ve received from the government of Uzbekistan.”

You bet it’s a wonderful cooperation, to the tune of half billion dollars! We’ve got mercenary armies trashing Iraq and Afghanistan and now we’ve got a mercenary state murdering its citizens. And again in 2002, Paul O’Neill, the US Treasury Secretary on a visit to Uzbekistan had this to say of Mr Karimov:

“It’s a great pleasure to have an opportunity to spend time with someone [Mr Karimov] with both a very keen intellect and a deep passion about the improvement of the life of the people of this country”

And in spite of the slaughter of an estimated 500 people this past Friday, the US State Department still manages to describe the Karimov regime as “a stable and moderate force”.

Add to this the close relationship between Uzbekistan and the UK. In October 2003, Uzbek Defence Minister, Kodir Gulamov, paid an official visit to the UK as a guest of the British Government when he held talks with the then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon. The ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Co-operation in the Field of Defence. In February that year, the UK Government granted Uzbekistan an “open licence” to import weapons from Britain. And no doubt this includes a licence to kill, imprison and torture any and all opponents of Karimov’s regime.

And just for good measure, Karimov has been only too willing to throw in ‘rendition services’ – the West’s newsspeak term for torture in far-off lands, away from prying eyes, never mind the inconvenient local laws that might get in the way, the results of which foreign secretary Jack Straw used to justify the fake ‘ricin’ plot attributed to Karmel Bourgass, the ‘conspiracist of one’.

A statement by foreign minister Jack Straw makes it plain that the British government’s concern about ‘human rights’ operates on the usual basis of speaking with a forked tongue when it comes to its allies saying that the UK had:

“consistently made clear to the authorities in Uzbekistan that the repression of dissent and discontent is wrong and they urgently need to deal with patent failings in respect of human and civil rights”.

Kind words indeed from Straw by comparison with his utterances on other ‘rogue’ states. And although perhaps embarrassed by the sheer scale of the slaughter (though of course, he made no direct mention of it), Straw’s mild rebuke doesn’t stop the UK’s supply of weapons to the Karimov regime, nor of using Uzbekistan as a source of ‘intelligence’ in order to bolster its claim of conducting a ‘war on terror’.

The media for its part, especially the BBC has played down the scale of the slaughter in Andizhan, with one report on 13 May, using the Karimov regime’s ‘official’ figures of 10 ten dead and absolutely no mention of the horrendous reports of torture and mass detention without trial of thousands of people that have emerged from the country.

In its usual mealy-mouthed manner, the BBC reported the deaths as follows:

The BBC’s Monica Whitlock said without any independent humanitarian agencies operating in the region, the true figure may never emerge.

How convenient. How the BBC can report this when there are at least 6 independent sources including witnesses who have given a figure of between 300-500 dead, including references to them in the same BBC story! But as far as the BBC is concerned, unless it’s a so-called independent humanitarian agency that gives the number of dead its ‘stamp of approval’, witnesses to the carnage are not be believed. Whitlock’s comments didn’t stop her telling us:

Correspondents in Andijan report seeing up to 50 bodies on the streets, though some local witnesses said they had seen as many as 300.

Adding that “Official figures are much lower”. So who are we to believe, witnesses or the mother of ‘objective’ journalism, the BBC? By way of a comparison, Associated Press tells us:

A physician in Andijon is quoted as saying hundreds of bodies collected from the city’s central square have been taken to a school, School Number 15, guarded by soldiers. Corpses have been arranged in rows in the school building, so grieving relatives can claim their dead for burial Sunday.

Is it beyond the power of the BBC to corroborate this account, or is an AP story merely rumour? Much worse is the BBC’s treatment of the story on its main radio news outlet, Radio 4, when since the story broke on 13/5/05, it has consistently downplayed the event but more importantly omitted all references to the UK’s close relationship with the Karimov regime, nor made mention of Karimov’s ‘rendition services’ let alone the corroborated stories of people being boiled alive and having their toenails ripped out.

Craig Murray, Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan told the New Yorker magazine’s Jane Meyer that:

He said he knew of “at least three” instances where the U.S. had rendered suspected militants from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan. Although Murray does not know the fate of the three men, he said, “They almost certainly would have been tortured.” In Uzbekistan, he said, “partial boiling of a hand or an arm is quite common.” He also knew of two cases in which prisoners had been boiled to death.

In 2002, Murray, concerned that America was complicit with such a regime, asked his deputy to discuss the problem with the C.I.A.’s station chief in Tashkent. He said that the station chief did not dispute that intelligence was being obtained under torture. But the C.I.A. did not consider this a problem. “There was no reason to think they were perturbed,” Murray told me. – ‘Outsourcing Torture’ 14/2/05 by Jane Meyer

But what’s a few thousand people imprisoned, hundreds killed, people boiled alive when compared to the larger mission of the USUK to save civilisation?But then consider that the major objective of both the UK and US governments is to extend their ‘sphere of influence’ all the way to the Chinese border and guarantee that the oil keeps flowing West and not East.

Compare the USUK response to Karimov’s butchery with how it treats events in Sudan and Zimbabwe, Syria, Iran and North Korea with howls of outrage over ‘genocide’ in Sudan and torture in Zimbabwe, nuclear ‘threats’ emanating from Iran and North Korea with the US threatening dire consequences if these countries dare defy the imperium.

Yet the BBC continues to peddle the ‘official’ line over Uzbekistan. The BBC’s News Website today (16/5/05) tells us:

Several hundred people are feared to have been killed in Friday’s violence, according to local doctors and NGOs.

This is the extent of the BBC’s reference to the murder of hundreds of Uzbeks on Friday, May 15. Yet the eyewitness accounts are quite clear about the scale of the slaughter, even as to where the corpses are being kept, news that virtually every other news outlet has mentioned, except the BBC. Note also that its report of the 15th May told us that there were no NGOs in Uzbekistan to verify the size of the slaughter. No doubt before the BBC will accept eyewitness accounts, it wants the corpses piled up outside the BBC TV centre so its ‘news’ department can count them.

Even more outrageous however, is how the BBC treats the relationship between the US and the Karimov regime. The ‘Today’ programme on BBC Radio 4 (16/5/05) broadcast a 7-minute segment titled ‘Why isn’t the Washington citicising [sic] the Uzbekistan’s government while it has championed regime change in other Central Asian states?’ (audio)

Interviewing two apologists for the Bush government, the interviewer informed us that “America has been remarkably quiet” over the events in Uzbekistan. When a spokesperson (a representative of Republicans Abroad) described the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of Uzbeks as the “heavy-handed techniques” of the Karimov regime, the interviewer didn’t challenge her description. Instead, the BBC interviewer went on to ask the same person, Colleen Magraffy:

Presumably the difficulty… here is that they [the US] need to keep in with whomever is going to be in power. You need to see perhaps more concrete signs of a popular uprising before giving more audible support?”

“Keep in”? What with a government that boils people alive? Performing a remarkable sleight of hand, the BBC transformed the issue into whether or not there is a popular uprising in Uzbekistan, as if before the US and British governments respond with something more than a whimper, there has to be a civil war.The issue of whether the US and the UK’s response to the murder of some 500 people was, to put it mildly, out of whack with its response to events elsewhere in the world was given the ‘hands-off’ approach by the BBC. Instead the representative of Republicans Abroad, responded thus:

Well at this point, it is rather confusing to find out exactly what the facts are, in fact all the papers today indicate that whether this is an uprising or not is unclear and so you have to be cautious before encouraging more violence and then the civilians are being slaughtered by these heavy-handed techniques, then you’re not doing the people any favours.

“That’s absolutely right isn’t it?” responded the BBC interviewer, directing it to John McCloud, Central Asia Specialist for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, who of course, concurred. And the BBC have the nerve to call this unbiased and objective reporting!

So here we have the BBC giving free reign to a de facto representative of the Bush government and actually agreeing with her! One needn’t imagine how the BBC would have handled the situation if it had been Robert Mugabe who had shot down 500 of his own people in cold blood.

The BBC, whose name should be changed perhaps to the Bullshit Broadcasting Corporation, has behaved absolutely despicably, censoring any opinion that contradicts that of the official British and US line on their dealings with the Karimov dictatorship.

Let the BBC know how you feel by writing an indignant letter to:

Helen Boaden, BBC news director
Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk

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