Originally published at Moral Low Ground
The Obama administration has announced it is restoring military aid to Uzbekistan, a dictatorship with one of the worst human rights records on Earth. The Central Asian nation, once part of the Soviet Union, has been ruled by the same tyrannical despot since Soviet times, a man whose barbarism knows no limits—he has even been known to boil his opponents alive.
UZNews.net reports that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signed a waiver allowing for the resumption of U.S. technical military assistance to Uzbekistan. That aid will supposedly be limited to “non-lethal” and defensive weapons and equipment.
The administration’s decision to lift sanctions reverses a 2003 decision by the Bush administration, which cited the shocking human rights violations committed by the regime of Islam Karimov. The dictator has ruled the country of 28 million people continuously since 1990, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.
Obama’s decision is especially troubling because it comes at a time when the human rights situation in Uzbekistan is reportedly deteriorating. But the U.S. needs Uzbekistan because its Northern Distribution Network (NDN), the main northern supply route into Afghanistan, passes through it. Reliance on the NDN is increasing due to worsening relations with Pakistan, the southern supply route, whose government has repeatedly closed that route over tensions with Washington.
Aid to the brutal regime “is in our interests,” insists assistant U.S. Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, “because this supports our troops.”
Just what sort of monstrous regime are we in bed with in Uzbekistan?
There is zero freedom of expression or of the press in the police state, and although Karimov holds periodic elections, they are farcical affairs in which he always receives around 90% of the vote. The United States said the country’s 2000 election “was neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan’s voters no true choice.” Tens of thousands of Uzbek political prisoners have been locked up in horrific conditions, subject to the most medieval tortures imaginable. The United Nations reported that torture is “institutionalized, systematic, and rampant.” The lucky victims are killed outright. The not-so-lucky ones are forced to stand in freezing water for weeks on end, have their skin torn off with pliers or are boiled alive. In addition to torturing and murdering those with divergent political views, Karimov has also arrested, tortured and killed thousands of Muslims simply for practicing their religion.
Yet even as all of this was going on, George W. Bush invited Karimov to the White House where the monster was gifted half a billion dollars in economic and military aid. Some $79 million of that went directly to the police and intelligence services that the State Department says use “torture as a routine investigative technique.”
The State Department was so fed up with Karimov’s brutality that it finally cut off aid to Uzbekistan in 2004. But Pentagon cooperation continued. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld visited the country in February of that year, where he gave thanks for Uzbek cooperation in the War on Terror and assured the Karimov regime that human rights were just one aspect of U.S.-Uzbek relations.
When Uzbek security forces committed a vodka-fueled massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters at Andijan in May, 2005, shooting men, women and children alike and finishing off the wounded with cold-blooded, point-blank executions, Pentagon officials helped block an international investigation of the incident out of fear they would be booted from an airbase used to fly missions in Afghanistan. The Uzbeks kicked the U.S. troops out anyway.
By the time Barack Obama moved into the White House, the United States was once again cozying up to Karimov. Even as the regime’s thugs continued to arrest and torture innocent Uzbeks, the new administration dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as senior envoys like the late Richard Holbrooke and General David Petraeus to Tashkent to mend fences. That Uzbekistan was ranked dead last in civil and political liberties by the watchdog group Freedom House was apparently of little or no concern to President Obama. Nor were secret diplomatic cables outed by Wikileaks that detailed “rampant corruption, close connections between organized crime and the government, forced labor in cotton fields and torture.” What is most important to the United States is the Northern Distribution Network, especially in the face of strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Human Rights Watch called Obama’s decision to restore aid to Uzbekistan “very disappointing.”
“This is a fundamentally wrong decision, and sends the wrong signal to Uzbekistan and to the world,” HRW Europe and Central Asia director Hugh Williamson told UZNews.net. Williamson says that the U.S. could have continued to utilize the NDN without lifting sanctions.
“The human rights situation has only worsened over the last nine years, and therefore Uzbekistan has done nothing to merit the lifting of these sanctions,” he added.
Yet again, President Obama has proven that the interests of empire outweigh America’s professed concern for human rights. From Bahrain to Equatorial Guinea to Israel, Colombia and Saudi Arabia, the brutal dictators and human rights violators know they have a friend in the White House who will turn a blind eye to their atrocities if they can help further Washington’s and Wall Street’s agenda. Tyrants like Islam Karimov may be sons of bitches, but like Franklin Roosevelt once said of the wicked Nicaraguan despot Samoza, he’s our son of a bitch.