May 31, 2005: Headlines: COS - Uzbekistan: COS - Kazakstan: Baltimore Sun: Kazakhstan RPCV Joshua Abram says: U.S. should take a stand for freedom in Uzbekistan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uzbekistan: Peace Corps Uzbekistan : The Peace Corps in Uzbekistan: May 31, 2005: Headlines: COS - Uzbekistan: COS - Kazakstan: Baltimore Sun: Kazakhstan RPCV Joshua Abram says: U.S. should take a stand for freedom in Uzbekistan

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Kazakhstan RPCV Joshua Abrams says: U.S. should take a stand for freedom in Uzbekistan

Kazakhstan RPCV  Joshua Abrams says: U.S. should take a stand for freedom in Uzbekistan

Kazakhstan RPCV Joshua Abrams says: U.S. should take a stand for freedom in Uzbekistan

U.S. should take a stand for freedom in Uzbekistan

By Joshua Abrams

Originally published May 31, 2005

Caption: Uzbekistan on June 2 2005 rejected fresh Western pressure over violence last month in which many civilians were reported killed, telling NATO and the rest of the world it saw no grounds for an international inquiry. NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer on June 2 condemned reported use of excessive force by Uzbek troops in the eastern town of Andizhan and NATO parliamentarians urged member states to halt support for the Uzbek armed forces unless a probe was conducted. Residents walk past vehicles burnt during the unrest in the eastern Uzbek town of Andizhan. File photo taken May 13, 2005. Photo by Staff/Reuters

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan - Uzbekistan's security forces fired indiscriminately into a crowd of thousands of Uzbek citizens in an antigovernment uprising in the city of Andijon last month, killing upward of 700 men, women and children in what Freedom House called "the bloodiest example of state violence since the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in 1989."

The White House reaction has been disappointingly quiet. After his support for revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon and, more hesitantly, Kyrgyzstan, President Bush could say more about the massacre. But White House spokesman Scott McClellan confined his remarks about the May 13 incident to:

"We ... are concerned about the outbreak of violence. ... The people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence."

The violence the White House fears is the struggle by Uzbek citizens for their rights and dignity in a police state. And by lecturing that democracy should come through "peaceful means, not through violence," the United States ignores the 15 years of deliberate state terror against 25.5 million people by which President Islam Karimov has maintained power.

Some examples of that violence: According to the State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Uzbek security forces in 2004 "tortured, beat and harassed persons," with many of the worst abuses occurring in pretrial detention.

A 2003 article in Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that some of these political prisoners were tortured to death. In two cases, British forensics experts determined that prisoners were boiled to death.

There is plenty of other evidence against this regime. But Mr. Karimov is America's strategic ally against Islamic terror and, as such, has the White House's support. The United States has paid him hundreds of millions of dollars for border security and anti-terror initiatives since 2001. The weapons and training used against the Andijon protesters could very well be paid for by the American people.

More disturbing, The New York Times reported May 1 that the CIA regularly sends "terror suspects to Uzbekistan for detention and interrogation" as part of its intelligence-gathering for the war on terror. In response to a question about the practice at a news conference in April, Mr. Bush said, "We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country."

Mr. Bush is seeking assurances from a country where torture is endemic. We are sending terror suspects for interrogation to a country that boils its prisoners to death.

Mr. Karimov has used U.S. fear of Islamic radicalism to cast himself as a front-line warrior against terror. The White House swallowed his ruse completely.

We do not need Mr. Karimov as much as we think we do. His role in the war on terror is exaggerated, and associating with him embarrasses us before the world. We have nothing to lose by pushing for democracy in this country, which needs reform so desperately.

There are specific steps the United States can - and should - take to isolate Mr. Karimov's regime:

Impose sanctions against Uzbek cotton, the country's biggest source of hard currency, and discourage all travel.

Eliminate all military aid that cannot be supervised directly by U.S. personnel.

Close the U.S. military base and stop sending terror suspects for detention in Uzbekistan.

Support the democratic opposition and advocate for freedom of conscience for Uzbek Muslims.

Support regime change in Uzbekistan, using the loudest bully pulpit in the world to condemn Uzbek state terrorism against its people.

Mr. Karimov is running his country into the ground because of corruption, repressive tax and trade laws and political tyranny, and the United States is helping him. Once he goes - and he will go, by coup or natural causes - the vacuum of a failed state will turn the whole region into a tinderbox.

In Mr. Karimov's chokehold over the country's economy, his sweeping cruelty against his own people, he and his cronies are the real terrorists we should be fighting.

Joshua Abrams lives and works in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Columnist Trudy Rubin will return Friday.

Copyright © 2005, The Baltimore Sun

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