Heated criticism was growing Saturday of Washington's "double standards" over human rights, democracy and freedom as details emerged of how brutally Uzbekistan, a US ally in the war on terror, put down Friday's unrest in the east of the country.
The White House alarmed human rights activists by saying that "terrorist groups" may have been involved in the uprising. Witnesses at the scene and analysts familiar with the region said most protesters were complaining about government corruption and poverty, not espousing Islamic extremism.
The US comments were apparently seized on by Uzbekistan's hardline President Islam Karimov, who yesterday said the protests were organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group frequently accused by Tashkent of seditious extremism.
Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, tried to deflect accusations of a contradictory stance when he said it was clear the "people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government. But that should come through peaceful means, not through violence."
Washington has often been accused of maintaining a conspiracy of silence over Uzbekistan's human rights record since the Central Asian state was declared an ally in the war on terror in October 2001.
Uzbekistan is believed to be one of the destination countries for the highly secretive "renditions" program, whereby the CIA ships terrorist suspects to third-party countries where torture is used that cannot be employed in the US. Newspaper reports in the US say dozens of suspects have been transferred to Uzbek jails.
The CIA has never officially commented on the program. But flight logs obtained by the New York Times earlier this month show CIA-linked planes landing in Tashkent with the same serial numbers as craft used to transfer prisoners around the world. The logs show at least seven flights from 2002 to late 2003, originating from destinations in the Middle East and Europe.
Other countries used in the renditions program include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Morocco. A handful of prisoners' accounts, including that of Canadian Maher Arar, that emerged after their release show they were tortured and abused in custody.
US double standards on Uzbekistan are evident even on the State Department Web site, which today still accuses Uzbek police and security services of using "torture as a routine investigation technique" while giving the same security and law enforcement services US$79 million in aid in 2002.
The aid paradox was highlighted by the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who criticized coalition support for Uzbekistan when they were planning invading Iraq using similar abuses as justification.
"The US will claim that they are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation techniques, but that is basically not true. They help fund the budget of the Uzbek security services and give tens of millions of dollars in military support. It is a sweetener in the agreement over which they get their air base," Murray said.
Murray also said that during a series of suicide bombings in Tashkent in March last year, before he was sacked as UK ambassador, he was shown transcripts of telephone intercepts in which known al-Qaeda representatives were asking each other "what the hell was going on."
"But then Colin Powell came out and said that al-Qaeda were behind the blast. I don't think the US even believe their own propaganda," he said.
The support continues, seen by many as a "pay-off" for the Khanabad base. The US Embassy Web site says Uzbekistan got US$10 million for "security and law enforcement support" last year.
Last year Human Rights Watch released a 319-page report detailing the use of torture by Uzbekistan's security services. It said the government was carrying out a sustained campaign of torture and intimidation against Muslims that had seen 7,000 people imprisoned.
The report documented at least 10 deaths, including that of one man, Muzafar Avozov, who was boiled to death in 2002. Rape of men and women was also used as an interrogation tool.
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