The White House silence

US journalist David Corn comments on the White House’s silence on Uzbekistan – an American administration more than capable of being loud and undiplomatic – as the regime victimises witnesses to the massacres in May.


While Bush has been busy rah-rahing his war for freedom in Iraq, has anyone heard him refer to the Uzbekistan massacre that occurred in May, in which perhaps up to a 1000 civilians were gunned down by the military goons of strongman Islam Karimov? No, Bush and his top officials have not said much about this human rights abuse, which is probably the worst attack of this sort since the Tiananmen Square massacre. Karimov has canceled his agreement with Washington regarding an important US military base there (which probably was the reason for Bush’s low-volume reaction to the massacre), but Karimov’s decision has not apparently caused Bush to feel freer to denounce Karimov. (The base is still being used, and perhaps the White House hopes to work out a deal with Karimov.) It’s no surprise that much of the world dismisses Bush’s pro-freedom rhetoric, given that he has much to say about freedom in some places and little to say about freedom in other places.

What reminded me of Bush’s inadequate reaction to the Uzbekistan massacre is a piece by Anne Penketh in today’s Independent. It starts:

‘Uzbek authorities have jailed hundreds of people and forced them to confess to links to Islamists to justify the army crackdown on peaceful demonstrators last May that left 500 people dead, The Independent has learnt.

‘Human Rights Watch reports that witnesses of the massacre in the eastern city of Andizhan and relatives of the victims, have been rounded up and jailed for between 10 to 15 days on fabricated charges. “They are severely beaten and tortured until they sign statements confessing to being members of radical Islamic groups,” a researcher for the group who has just visited the central Asian region said.

‘The authoritarian government of President Islam Karimov has refused all calls for an international inquiry into the worst massacre of civilians by an army since China’s 1994 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

‘Despite eyewitness accounts contradicting the government version, the Uzbek authorities continue to insist that the army was forced to act on 13 May to put down an attempt by radical extremist Muslims to overthrow it. Human Rights Watch fears that the jailing and coercion of “hundreds, or even thousands” of people is a deliberate tactic aimed at bolstering the government’s case. It appears that some have been so intimidated that they have readily confessed to having been manipulated by the radicals.’

I’m not expecting Bush to address this latest human rights tragedy in Uzbekistan. After all, being consistent on such matters can be hard work.