The Common Good
August 2005

'Our' Uzbek Massacre

by Ray McGovern | August 2005

The human cost of the global war on terror.

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"On either side of Chulpon Prospekt, blood flowed freely through the gutters," said a survivor of the May 13 massacre of several hundred demonstrators in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. In the wake of the massacre, the Uzbek rulers who ordered the killings have been called "thugs" (and worse) by human rights advocates.

Yes, you say, but they are our thugs—and they are letting us use bases in their country for GWOT! What’s GWOT? For you outside-the-beltway-readers, it is the Global War On Terrorism (earlier known as the Cold War against Communism). Whatever it’s called, it requires military bases around the world—and now especially in the oil-rich region where Uzbekistan happens to be located.

In his excellent book The Sorrows of Empire, political scientist Chalmers Johnson warns that "the growth of militarism, official secrecy, and a belief that the United States is no longer bound...by ‘a decent respect for the opinions of [humankind]’ is probably irreversible." Johnson adds that a "revolution" (the biblical concept is metanoia) will be required to turn things around.

The massacre in Uzbekistan is a particularly gruesome reminder of what so many repressive governments believe they can do with every expectation of "godfather" protection by the United States. Why? Because the Department of Defense, which seems to be running our foreign policy these days, is able to block attempts to rein them in. In fact, Uzbek police and military have for years received training and equipment from counterterrorism programs run by the United States, according to American officials and congressional records. They are, indeed, our thugs.

That is why Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blocked an attempt by NATO countries to call for an independent investigation of the massacre, which the Uzbek rulers have already applied pressure to head off. In reaction to some light implicit criticism from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Uzbek president Islam A. Karimov put restrictions on U.S. military flights into the large airbase at Karshi-Khanabad in southeast Uzbekistan, a base described as a "vital logistics hub" supporting U.S. forces.

But it’s not just the bases that tie us to Uzbekistan. It’s also the interrogation of "detainees" of GWOT. The Uzbek leaders reportedly use some of the old tried-and-tested techniques, including boiling limbs and sometimes whole people—something not on the list of techniques approved by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller which, as he put it, "sets the conditions for successful interrogations and exploitation of the internees/detainees" at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. facilities. When the British ambassador to Uzbekistan had the poor taste to make a stink about this kind of brutality and the dubious validity of information extracted in this fashion, he was removed from his post, reportedly at U.S. insistence.

But what about international law, the Geneva Conventions, and all that? Be aware that the nation’s top legal authority, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrote that he reserves to the president the right to determine which laws may now be considered "obsolete" or "quaint."

Some of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s legal aides are dyspeptic at Washington’s cavalier attitude toward international law. This shows through in a secret U.K. briefing document of July 2002 (known as the Downing Street Memo) prepared for Blair and his most senior advisers regarding U.S. intentions toward Iraq. With typical British understatement, the document notes "U.S. views of international law vary from that of the U.K. and the international community."

As the psalmist put it: "Nations rage, empires fall. Jacob’s God will shield us.... Everywhere stopping wars; smashing, crushing, burning all the weapons of war. An end to your fighting!" (Psalm 46:6-10).

Ray McGovern, a veteran of 27 years as a CIA analyst and a co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, worked for Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., when this article appeared.

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