Sunday, May 01, 2005

WHAT WOULD YOU CALL A COUNTRY that routinely tortures prisoners by pulling off fingernails and toenails with a plier, suffocating them with gas masks, electroshocking their genitals, boiling their body parts and also immersing them entirely in boiling water? What would you call a government that sentences a mother to six years of hard labor because she openly condemned officials who were responsible for killing her son by putting him in boiling water -- after they had beaten him in the head and pulled out all his fingernails?

Well, if you asked that question four years ago at the U.S. State Department, the answer would be: "... an authoritarian state with limited civil rights." If you ask the question now, the answer will be: The Bush administration's valued partner in the war against terror. The recipient of over $500 million to beef up border security. A country held in such high esteem that its president is invited to meet with George W. Bush in the White House. And an excellent place for the C.I.A. to rendition detainees for imprisonment and interrogation.

The country is Uzbekistan, one of the most savage and ruthless police states on earth. Before September 11, 2001, the U.S. had very few diplomatic or political ties to Uzbekistan. Now Uzbekistan is a country the Bush administration can do business with.

When Pres. Bush was asked at a news conference last month to explain the advantages gained from sending detainees to Uzbekistan for interrogation, the President replied: "We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country."

Isn't that reassuring. Perhaps Mr. Bush also seeks assurances from Laura that the presents under the Christmas tree come from Santa Claus.

The official British position on sending detainees to Uzbekistan is arguably even worse. When Craig Murray, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan, questioned his superiors in British intelligence about the appropriateness of using information gained through torture, his concerns were brushed aside.

In July 2004, Mr. Murray wrote a confidential memo to the British Foreign Office accusing the C.I.A. of violating the United Nations' Prohibition Against Torture. He urged his colleagues to stop using intelligence gleaned in Uzbekistan from terrorism suspects because it had been elicited through torture and other coercive means. Mr. Murray said he knew about the practice through his own investigation and interviews with scores of people who claimed to have been brutally treated inside Uzbekistan's jails.

"We should cease all cooperation with the Uzbek security services - they are beyond the pale," Mr. Murray wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Times.

Mr. Murray, who has previously spoken publicly about prisoner transfers to Uzbekistan, said his superiors in London were furious with his questions, and he was told that the intelligence gleaned in Uzbekistan could still be used by British officials, even if it was elicited by torture, as long as the mistreatment was not at the hands of British interrogators.

Jaw-dropping, isn't it? With ethical values like that, why worry about terrorism?

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