Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2004 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
A victim of conscience
Many nations are hells on earth for political and religious prisoners. Among them: Iran, North Korea, Cuba and one of the very worst Uzbekistan under the ferocious rule of Islam Karimov. Recently, Britain removed its ambassador to that country, Craig Murray, because of a leaked memorandum by Murray to the Foreign Office protesting brutality so vile: two prisoners were "boiled to death."
The London edition of the Financial Times with additional reporting and commentary in its American edition broke the story on Oct. 11: "Uzbek officials are torturing prisoners to extract information (about reported terrorist operations), which is supplied to the U.S. and passed through its Central Intelligence Agency to the U.K., says Mr. Murray."
The story then quoted the former ambassador's confidential Foreign Office report (seen by a Financial Times reporter): "I have to deal with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met very few where torture, as defined in the United Nations Convention (against Torture), was not employed."
Responding to the memorandum, the British government said that is has never used torture to get information nor "incited others to do so." But similar to what American defenders of torture have said about its alleged use in secret CIA interrogation centers Tony Blair's government added:
"We have to bear in mind the need for intelligence for counter-terrorism to arrest threats to British lives. Where there was reliable intelligence with a direct bearing on terrorist threats it would be irresponsible to ignore it out of hand."
On the BBC on Oct. 15, Steve Crawshaw, director of the London office of Human Rights Watch, eviscerated that rationale: "You can't wash your hands and say we didn't torture, but will use what comes out of torture."
The connection between the torture chambers of Uzbekistan and the confessions supplied to the CIA by that government was underlined by Philip Stephens in the Oct. 19 Financial Times: "Uzbekistan provides a vital base for U.S. operations in neighboring Afghanistan. U.S. financial aid (to Uzbekistan) provides a bulwark against Russian influence."
Because we support President Karimov's government, we as an Oct. 16 Financial Times editorial points out have "given it the confidence to sell a long-running campaign against internal dissidents as part of the campaign against Al Qaeda."
Uzbekistan and the United States, accordingly, are partners in the war on terrorism. It is not easy to rebut the argument that if torture can indeed obtain information that will save lives, it would be irresponsible not to use it.
Not all results of torture are reliable, especially when the pain is so severe that the victim will say anything to stop it; but some torture, its advocates claim, has produced accurate vital information.
Worth considering as Republican leadership in the House supports sending detainees to countries known for torturing prisoners, provided those countries give so-called "assurances" they'll restrain themselves is Financial Times' Philip Stephens' analysis of this moral dilemma. After having been sacked as ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray described himself as "a victim of conscience." What Stephens has done is connect conscience with what history has shown about the results of partnerships with torturers:
"We have been here before. The same logic (of the British Foreign Office) saw the U.S. support the Taliban in Afghanistan and, along with the Europeans, arm Saddam Hussein against Iran. How dearly we have since paid for such geopolitical realism."
The war on terrorism, he continues, "becomes the excuse for a foreign policy that is at once immoral and ultimately self-defeating. Do not the same political leaders now propping up Mr. Karimov (and his regime in Uzbekistan) proclaim that repression is terrorism's best friend (creating conditions that lead to terrorism) while freedom its most lethal enemy? I could have sworn Tony Blair has said as much a dozen times."
So has George W. Bush. I'm convinced the president believes that, and so do I. But if we are to make a credible case for freedom in countries without it, how can we continue to work with an Islam Karimov?
A February report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, according to the Feb. 17 Independent in London, concludes that the United States has been using techniques outlawed under the 1984 Convention Against Torture" in CIA interrogation of Al Qaeda detainees. And "U.S. authorities have returned or sent a number of prisoners for further interrogation to countries where there are strong grounds to suspect they will be tortured."
As the Institute for Strategic Studies states, the United States "can no longer "assume a high moral position" or be credible about the values we want and hope to see take root in repressive countries.
Ignoring the screams of the horrifically tortured doesn't keep our hands from being stained with their blood.
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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.
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