By any reasonable standard, Islam Karimov is one of the world’s most infamous torturers. His particular brand of infamy is so horrid that even the Bush Administration had to cut off military aid to the Uzbeki dictator in 2005. For example, one of his favorite methods of punishing his victims is to slowly immerse them in boiling oil. That horrid.
But it seems a good “friendship” is a difficult thing for the Clinton’s–both Bill and Hillary–to let go of. As Fred Kaplan pointed out way back in 2005, before US aid was cut off:
President Bill Clinton struck up a relationship with Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov to stave off the common threat from Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. After Sept. 11, President Bush tightened the alliance. Karimov supplied the CIA and the Pentagon with an air base, which served as the staging area for the invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. During that war, he also allowed the United States to set up listening posts and to launch Predator drones from Uzbek territory.
Later, in 2009, Clinton attended an AIDS fundraiser in Cannes and had his picture taken with the elegant Gulnara Of The Oil Vats:
Ken Silverstein made a point of inquiring with the Clinton Foundation whether or not Karimova made contributions to the foundation. He didn’t receive any reply, which normally translates into English as, “We can’t actually deny it, so we’re not going to say anything at all.”
In any case, it’s a fair question to ask since (1), Clinton is always raising money, and (2), he doesn’t exactly have a reputation as being terribly picky about his funding sources. In this case however, it matters, since Gulnara Karimova–Harvard grad–has a rather terrible reputation as was laid out in Wikileaks releases as noted in this Guardian story from last December:
The post-Soviet state of Uzbekistan is a nightmarish world of “rampant corruption”, organised crime, forced labour in the cotton fields, and torture, according to the leaked cables.
But the secret dispatches released by WikiLeaks reveal that the US tries to keep President Islam Karimov sweet because he allows a crucial US military supply line to run into Afghanistan, known as the northern distribution network (NDN).
Many dispatches focus on the behaviour of Karimov’s glamorous and highly controversial daughter Gulnara, who is bluntly described by them as “the single most hated person in the country”.
She allegedly bullied her way into gaining a slice of virtually every lucrative business in the central Asian state and is viewed, they say, as a “robber baron”. Granted diplomatic status by her father, Gulnara allegedly lives much of the time in Geneva, where her holding company, Zeromax, was registered at the time, or in Spain.
Gulnara acquired interests in the crude oil contracts of Zeromax in “a deal with [a] local mafia boss“, the embassy said. She also got hold of shares in the Coca-Cola bottling franchise after it was subjected to a tax investigation, they claimed.
“Most Uzbeks see Karimova as a greedy, power-hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way … She remains the single most hated person in the country.”
The relationship between the US and the Karimovs hasn’t been without its complications though, since Hillary bestowed an award to one of Uzbekistan’s human rights activist:
But the US secret cables go some way towards explaining western ambivalence. They detail how the dictatorial president recently flew into a rage because the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, presented a Women of Courage award in Washington to a newly released Uzbek human rights campaigner, Mutabar Tadjibayeva.
Karimov’s displeasure was conveyed in “icy tones”, which alarmed the embassy: “We have a number of important issues on the table right now, including the Afghanistan transit (NDN) framework.”
With that in mind, let’s fast-forward to the present moment, which Stephen Zunes of Foreign Policy in Focus describes thusly:
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, in a move initiated by the Obama administration, has voted to waive Bush-era human rights restrictions on military aid to the Islam Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan, one of the most brutal and repressive regimes on the planet. The lifting of the restrictions, now part of the Foreign Operations bill, is before the full Senate and appears to have bipartisan support. The Obama administration has indicated that it intends to provide taxpayer-funded military assistance to Uzbekistan once the legislation passes both houses of Congress. (emphasis mine)
Further down, Zunes provides context from a stand-point familiar to anyone concerned with human rights in US foreign policy:
Despite evidence to the contrary, Secretary of State Clinton, who visited Uzbekistan on October 23, has claimed that the regime was “showing signs of improving its human rights record and expanding political freedoms.” Similarly, when asked about the dictator’s claim that he was committed to leave a legacy of freedom and democracy for his grandchildren, a senior State Department official responded, “Yeah. I do believe him. I mean, he’s said several times that he’s committed to this. He’s made a speech last November where he talked about this.” In response to some skeptical follow-up questions by journalists, the official replied that “we still have some quite serious concerns about the situations on the human rights.” However, “we think that there is really quite an important opening now to work on that stuff, also work on developing civil society, which again President Karimov has expressed support for. So, yeah, I do take him at his word.”
A White House official told me that Obama had spoken directly to Karimov in recent weeks about human rights concerns, noting “he said more on democracy in that call than eight years of Bush administration dealings with Karimov.” The official also insisted that the Obama administration would condition future policy on the regime’s performance and that was made clear to the Uzbek leadership.
U.S. administrations, however, have rarely followed through on suspending aid when regimes fail to improve their human rights record. Despite assertions that military aid and cooperation can be used to improve a regime’s human rights record, it usually results in the opposite. Indeed, this line has been used for decades – most notoriously as a rationale for arming the death squads and murderous counter-insurgency units of the right-wing junta in El Salvador in the 1980s – and has been repeatedly shown to facilitate rather than limit the repression. (emphasis mine)
Sadly for the wishful thinking of these officials, a simple search reveals recent stories that bely these fatuous clams. Here is one example from January 2010:
Tashkent (AsiaNews / Agencies) – In Uzbekistan serious and systematic torture is still carried out by police and authorities against detainees and citizens, particularly rights activists, opponents of the government and independent groups, with the complicit indifference of the authorities. There have been no improvements since , the UN High Commissioner Theo van Boven visited the country 7 years ago, and denounced the a systematic use of torture there. This is the conclusion of a report by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, submitted to the 98th session of the UN Committee on Civil and Political Rights.
The report, drawn from information gathered by the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan and the Committee for the Liberationof prisoners of conscience, both located in Tashkent, states that numerous incidents occurred from January to August 2009 and belies the government assertion that torture is no longer practiced nor tolerated.
And this one from January 2011:
PRAGUE, Jan 11, 2011 (IPS) – Muslims are facing a dark future of repression and torture in Uzbekistan for years to come as the government’s relentless campaign of religious suppression continues.
At least 39 people were tortured to death last year in prisons, according to the Independent Human Rights Defenders Group (IHRDG) in Uzbekistan – a rise from 20 recorded the previous year.
IHRDG says that the torture has become steadily worse in recent years, and activists warn that the real number of those tortured to death is probably much higher as authorities cover up inmates’ abuse by sending bodies back to families in sealed coffins. Relatives of the dead are wary of reporting incidents.
Religious prisoners are also now facing the prospect of being interred for life as unilateral extra-judicial orders are handed down to extend their jail terms indefinitely, rights campaigners say.
The dictatorial regime, led by President Islam Karimov who has ruled the central Asian nation since its independence from the Soviet Union, shows no signs of letting up in its persecution of any religious groups it sees as a potential threat to its power.
No doubt the Obama administration will rack this up as yet another “foreign policy success.” But for whom, exactly? It certainly won’t be for the poor souls who end up in Karimov’s (and one day Karimova’s) dungeons.