Daily archives: November 4, 2005

Reputation of SOAS takes a knock

From the Kavkaz Centre

The reputation of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has taken another knock after one of its lecturers was accused of being the “Western cheerleader” for the Uzbek brutal dictator Islam Karimov.

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan also accused SOAS director of “arrogance”. The charge was leveled at SOAS director MR Colin Bundy by Mr Murray in a dispute over one of the school’s lecturers accused of producing a “propagandist” report on the Massacre of Andijan.

The person in question, Shirin Akiner, (pictured) was accused by Mr Murray as well as human rights and liberty campaigners, of producing a report which is neither independent nor academically sound. The findings of the report, written by the SOAS lecturer in Central Asian Studies, seem to completely indorse the Uzbek government line, putting the blame squarely on whom she calls “Islamist insurgents”.

Ms Akiner recently went on a US tour promoting the report as a counter to what is known to have taken place on that fateful day in May. She accuses the Western governments and, in particular, the media of false reporting and says the Uzbek government is right not to allow an independent international investigation into the events.

She has come under fierce attack from NGOs who questioned how she was allowed, by the Uzbek government, to conduct her own investigation at a time when no journalists or NGOs where given access. Ms Akiner refuted accusations that she was invited in by the Uzbek government to give support to their version of events.

The SOAS lecturer said she went to Uzbekistan to deal with the aftermath of the cancellation, due to the Andijan violence, of a NATO conference on religious extremism that she had organized. Once in Tashkent, Akiner said, “I squeezed out time for myself to go to Andijan.”

In his email to the SOAS director, Craig Murray stated that his qualm is not with Ms Akiner’s political views, but rather that an institute such as SOAS can have a lecturer in the affairs of such a volatile region, who admits to having ties to the Uzbek regime and actively acts as its “apologist”.

Mr Murray questioned the lecturer’s objectivity and called on the school’s ethics committee to investigate this case. “The idea that in a totalitarian state evidence of an alleged government atrocity can be gained by allowing the government to produce the witnesses, and interviewing them in the presence of government officials, is ludicrous, as any decent academic would recognise.” wrote Mr Murray.

In a responding email, Mr Bundy appeared to dismissed points raised by the ex-diplomat as “unsubstantiated” and ignored his calls for further investigate by the School. That prompted an angry response from Mr Murray who accused the director of being “arrogant” and of failing to realise the damage Ms Akiner is causing to the reputation of SOAS.

In a statement to The Muslim Weekly SOAS reiterated their stand and say they have not received further evidence from Mr Murray. “The allegations against Shirin Akiner contained in Craig Murray’s letter to Colin Bundy were unsubstantiated. Professor Bundy invited Mr Murray to supply verifiable evidence to support his assertions but none has been provided.”

They have also refuted other allegations that they have in the past been involved in sponsoring school text material including propaganda books by the regime.

“With regard to the mention of Islam Karimov’s publications in Mr Murray’s letter, SOAS has no financial or other involvement with these publications. (One of the books, published by Curzon Press in 1997 as a commercial venture, features comments by Dr Akiner on the dust jacket. The School understands that Dr Akiner was not paid for this contribution to the publication.)”

Highlighting what he sees as the double standards of the School he cites the case of Nasser Amin who was treated quite differently by the School. He sais “Professor Colin Bundy, head of SOAS, is extremely keen to defend Shirin Akiner, Karimov’s Western cheerleader and a SOAS lecturer. But it seems that his defence of academic freedom only applies to those on one side of the argument.

“Akiner is perfectly at liberty to defend Karimov’s right to massacre the opposition, but Bundy just three months ago censured an Islamic student (Nasser Amin) who argued that the Palestinians have the right to use force to resist occupation. You don’t have to agree with the student’s view to find Bundy’s different approach to the two cases interesting…

Any suggestions as to the explanation of Bundy’s contradictory attitude in the Amin and Akiner cases would be interesting to hear. ”

The student in question, Nasser Amin, also accused the School’s director of double standards and again called for his resignation.

Mr Amin said “Bundy is not a neutral, disinterested moderator defending all points of view at the School. He is someone who defends free speech when it comes to savagery against Muslims, in Andijan and Gaza, and silences those who oppose this savagery, particularly it seems Muslim students. Shame on him.”

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US Lawmakers React to CIA Prison Story

By Dan Robinson writing in VOA

Members of Congress are reacting to a newspaper report that the CIA has been running a network of secret prisons since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to hold and interrogate terrorist suspects. There was criticism from congressional Democrats.

In its reporting on what it described as a covert prison system run by the CIA, the Washington Post newspaper said funding for the secret sites was provided through the regular intelligence budget approved by Congress each year.

That budget has been estimated at about $40 billion, but the exact figure is not known because it is classified. But for lawmakers responsible for funding the U.S. intelligence system, and who approved legislation to reorganize that system after months of tense debate, the Washington Post report is certain to cause more anxiety.

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer Wednesday described the newspaper report as startling, adding she intends to inquire with members of the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee if they knew about the details mentioned in the newspaper article.

On the floor of the House of Representatives, the Washington Post report brought this comment from (Democratic) Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. “This is not what America stands for. This is more like Chile under [former dictator Augusto] Pinochet, or Argentina under the [former] junta,” he said.

The Washington Post report also comes at a time when debate is raging over U.S. military operations in Iraq, the CIA leak case in which an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney was indicted, and the issue of treatment of prisoners and detainees.

The Senate version of a defense spending bill includes an amendment, approved by a vote of 90 to 9 last month, to ban the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of any detainee in U.S. custody. However, the Bush administration, with Vice President Dick Cheney taking the lead, says such provision, sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain, would harm counter-terrorism efforts, and proposed that employees of the CIA should be exempted.

In the House, Congressman Ed Markey is proposing to prohibit the practice of extraordinary rendition under which terrorist suspects have been transported to other countries for interrogation.

Asked about the Washington Post report Wednesday, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan declined to discuss specific intelligence activities, adding only that President Bush has an important responsibility to protect the American people.

National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, had this comment when asked about the newspaper report during a briefing on President Bush’s upcoming trip to South America:

“The fact that they are secret, assuming there are such sites, does not mean that, simply because something is, you know when some people say that the test of your principles are what you do when no one is looking. And the president has insisted that whether it is in the public or is in the private, the same principles will apply and the same principles will be respected, and to the extent that people do not measure up to those principles, there will be accountability and responsibility,” he said.

The Washington Post report also comes as congressional Democrats step up pressure on Republicans on the issue of pre-Iraq war intelligence and the CIA leak case. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, wrote to the president Wednesday criticizing what they call categorically false statements by presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.

On Tuesday, Senator Reid used a special rule to shut down the Senate to underscore dissatisfaction with what he calls foot-dragging by Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Republicans responded angrily, calling the move a stunt by Democrats, but agreed to issue a report later this month on the status of the Intelligence Committee probe of intelligence used to justify the Iraq war.

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Europeans react to Wasington Post report on secret CIA torture facilities

From EU Observer

A media report alleging the CIA runs a secret camp in eastern Europe where it interrogates al Qaeda suspects has caused strong concern in Europe, with MEPs calling for an EU investigation into the matter.

According to an article in leading US newspaper the Washington Post on Wednesday (2 November), the US intelligence branch, the CIA, has detained top Al Qaeda suspects at a compound dating back to the Soviet era and located somewhere in eastern Europe.

The newspaper does not say if the camp is located on existing EU territory or in Romania or Bulgaria, for example. It is also unclear if there is more than one camp, with the paper sometimes referring to the “eastern European countries” concerned in the plural, adding that US officials advised against publication of the countries’ names for fear of terrorist reprisals.

Senior intelligence sources told the Washington Post that the al Qaeda prisoners are held in complete isolation from the outside world, have no recognised legal rights, and are probably subject to the CIA’s controversial “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”.

European Commission and EU diplomats on Wednesday (2 November) declined to comment on the report. “This is an issue between the US and any member states concerned”, a commission spokeswoman said. The spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana indicated that “this has nothing to do with the European Union”.

MEPs want Brussels to take action

But MEPs have called for an urgent EU investigation into the matter.

UK liberal MEP and member of the parliament’s civil liberties committee baroness Sarah Ludford said “I will be asking commissioner Frattini to check out urgently this suggestion that EU member states may be implicated in the most barbaric practices of the misguided US ‘war on terror'”.

She added that if EU member states were involved “this has the most devastating implications for the EU’s credibility in upholding human rights and the rule of law”.

Dutch green MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg, also a member of the civil liberties committee as well as of the EU-US parliamentary delegation said that “Mr Solana should clarify with the Americans what exactly is going on”.

“If human rights are violated in an EU country, or in a candidate member state, than this is an EU issue”, she added.

Ms Buitenweg indicated the parliament’s civil liberties and foreign affairs committees should discuss ways for the European Parliament to further research the issue itself.

The member announced she would personally raise the question at an EU-US parliamentary meeting in December.

Trauma from Soviet times

The matter looks set to cause outrage in eastern Europe, which is traditionally strongly allied with the US but which also experienced grave human rights violations in the past by former communist secret services.

Slovak centre-right MEP Miroslav Mikolasik said these memories made him “convinced” that the CIA camp cannot possibly be located in his own country.

“We had too painful experiences from the Soviet time with the conditions under which political prisoners were held”, he said, adding “We hate these kinds of procedures”.

The Wahington Post notes that CIA interrogators abroad are permitted to use the CIA’s “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”.

The techniques, prohibited under the US’ own military law as well as under UN rules, include tactics such as “waterboarding,” in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.

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