Monthly Archives: November 2005


Qatar shock at al-Jazeera bombing report

By William Wallis and Roula Khalaf in The Financial Times

Qataris, including senior officials, reacted with shock on Wednesday to newspaper reports in Britain suggesting that George W Bush, the US president, had discussed bombing the Doha headquarters of the Arabic satellite TV channel al-Jazeera.

The report, in Tuesday’s edition of the British Daily Mirror, was based on what the newspaper reported were leaked minutes of a conversation between Mr Bush and Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, on April 16 2004.

On Tuesday the British government threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed contents of the document, a move that reinforced suspicions in Qatar that the report might be genuine.

The full article is available here

Further links and comment can be found here

Update: Al Jazeera staffers have set up their own blog http://dontbomb.blogspot.com/following disclosure of discussions between Bush and Blair on bombing their headquaters. It can read here

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Uzbekistan: Journalist Honored For Coverage Of Andijon Unrest

From Radio Free Europe

An Uzbek journalist has been honored with an International Press Freedom Award for her coverage of the violence in the town of Andijon last May. Galima Bukharbaeva, a former correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was honored at a ceremony in New York City on 22 November.

Galima Bukharbaeva worked as the Uzbekistan correspondent for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and she risked her life covering the events in Andijon.

Bukharbaeva spoke with RFE/RL from Andijon as the events were unfolding on 13 May.

“I was able to hide myself in a small canal, and from there I saw wounded people being carried away from of the crowd,” she said. “I saw five men completely covered in blood being carried away in front of me. The people carrying them were also covered in blood. They said those people [being carried] were dead. They were just bodies. They didn’t move. But I think some of them were wounded. There were five or maybe more people [were wounded]. People were saying, ‘Look, journalists, there are two or three dead bodies here.’ But we couldn’t look because the shooting continued.”

A Bullet In Her Press Card

Witnesses and human rights activists say around 700 people may have been killed after Uzbek troops fired into a crowd in Andijon to quell a revolt. Uzbek authorities say 187 people were killed, mostly foreign-paid terrorists.

Several hours later on 13 May, Bukharbaeva realized that she, too, had barely escaped death: She found that a bullet had pierced her backpack and press card.

On 22 November in New York, Bukharbaeva was awarded an International Press Freedom Award for her coverage from Andijon.

Never So Close

She recently spoke with RFE/RL from New York, where she now lives in exile.

“It was the first time in my life when I really faced the threat of death,” Bukharbaeva said. “The death was never so close to me as it was that day in Andijon.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which sponsors the award, acknowledged that Bukharbaeva risked her life covering the Andijon.

“In those difficult conditions, Galima has done an extraordinary news reporting,” CPJ executive Alex Lupis told RFE/RL. “She focused on very difficult and politically sensitive issues like police torture, repression of Islamic activists and the government abuse against the media and human rights activists.”

An Award For All Uzbek Journalists

Bukharbaeva faces criminal prosecution in Uzbekistan for her reporting on Andijon and alleged police torture and repression of Islamic activists. The 31-year-old recently got married and received fellowship in Columbia University.

She says the award is recognition for the work of all courageous journalists in Uzbekistan.

“This award may also be a symbol of a really hard and terrible situation in Uzbekistan,” Bukharbaeva said. “It is like a recognition of a work of local journalists who work in Uzbekistan and recognition of those really serious and hard circumstances in which we have to operate in Uzbekistan.”

The CPJ’s Lupis says Bukharbaeva’s journalism stands as an example of independent journalism in Uzbekistan and Central Asia as a whole.

Others honored by the CPJ this year included a Brazilian publisher and editor, a Zimbabwean media lawyer and an imprisoned Chinese journalist.

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UN Committee Pressures Uzbekistan Over Andijon

From Radio Free Europe

A committee of the United Nations General Assembly has urged Uzbek authorities to stop harassing witnesses to the government’s violent suppression of a demonstration in the town of Andijon.

The General Assembly’s Social and Humanitarian Committee adopted the resolution, put forward by the European Union, on 22 November by a vote of 73 to 38, with 58 abstentions.

Countries that voted against the resolution included Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

The resolution expressed deep regret over the Uzbek government’s rejection of repeated calls by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour for an independent inquiry into the Andijon bloodshed.

The measure expressed concern over reported arbitrary arrests and detentions by Uzbek authorities, including of eyewitnesses to the Andijon events.

Witnesses say about 500 people may have been killed on 13 May when Uzbek troops fired into a crowd in Andijon to quell a revolt. Uzbek authorities say 187 people were killed, mostly foreign-paid terrorists.

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UK writes to US on behalf of EU CIA investigation

As described in the post below, the British government is refusing to look into its own involvement regarding CIA rendition flights and secret detention centres, or to release information about US operations on UK territory. However, they are now in the rather ironic position of having to write to the US on behalf of the EU to request further information on possible detention centres in Europe.

Radio 4 Today discusses the situation. Real player required. Radio interview

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Ministers silent on CIA flights to transport terror suspects

By Richard Norton-Taylor and David Hencke in The Guardian

MPs stepped up pressure on ministers yesterday to disclose details of CIA aircraft using British airfields amid reports that they have transported individuals to foreign countries where they are likely to be tortured.

Ministers are refusing to reveal any information about the “extraordinary rendition” flights despite evidence, including details of the flights, revealed in September by the Guardian. Extraordinary rendition is the practice of transferring individuals to a foreign country where they are more likely to be subjected to torture or inhumane treatment.

Ministers have shed no further light on the issue, despite a series of questions tabled by MPs, notably the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell. There is evidence that a CIA Gulfstream and Boeing 737 aircraft have landed at military airfields, including RAF Northolt, west London.

Adam Ingram, the defence minister, has told Sir Menzies: “Where passengers do not leave the airfield, the MoD … does not record details of passengers.” But he adds that the MoD maintains a record of all civil registered aircraft – such as the CIA planes – landing at military airfields.

“The British government appears to be adopting a hear no evil, see no evil policy towards this issue,” Sir Menzies said yesterday.

He added: “In the light of the allegations that British airports are being used as staging posts for rendition, the government should instigate an immediate investigation.”

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester, who is setting up a cross-party backbench committee with Sir Menzies and the former Labour Foreign Office minister Chris Mullin to investigate the allegations, told the Guardian: “It is morally repugnant that any country could be involved in this foul practice.”

Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the deputy Foreign Office legal adviser who resigned in protest against the invasion of Iraq, said: “If the reports are true and the UK was actively assisting, then it would be responsible under the law.”

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UK government admits to turning a blind eye to CIA rendition flights

By JAMES KIRKUP in the Scotsman

THE government has admitted to turning a blind eye to United States’ “torture flights” operated by the CIA through British military airfields.

In a controversial operation, known as “extraordinary rendition”, the US intelligence service routinely transports people it accuses of terrorism to sympathetic countries in the Middle East and North Africa. There, it is alleged, they are tortured.

The detainees are flown on privately-registered jets, which frequently make refuelling stops at airports in Britain. The CIA “ghost flights” have also called at RAF bases including Northolt, north of London.

Now the Ministry of Defence has admitted that when the US planes call at British military bases officials ask no questions about who is on board.

The confirmation came in a written parliamentary answer from Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, which was published yesterday.

“Where aircraft transit through military airfields, to refuel for example, and passengers do not leave the airfield, the MoD records the names of the pilot and aircraft owner, but does not record the details of passengers,” Mr Ingram wrote.

His answer was given to Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, who said the UK should have no role in the “illegal and immoral” practice.

While rendition flights have sparked protests from several western European governments, Britain is not alone in still allowing refuelling stops: several eastern European nations remain happy to let the CIA use their airports and bases.

Also, from the Independent

Philippe Sands QC, a leading human rights barrister, said: “You can’t turn a blind eye under the torture convention. There is a positive obligation to investigate credible information.”

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One of the new commentariat

Congratulations to Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads for being recognised as one of the most influential bloggers in the UK.

An article in the Guardian profiles a selection of bloggers and discusses how important they are, or not, to political life in Britain.

Have a look at one of Tim’s most recent animation projects or assess your chances of winning the 0ne Million Pound sweepstake!

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Foreign Affairs Committee to call British government documents on use of torture evidence

In a very welcome decision, the Foreign Affairs Committee has decided to respond to Craig Murray’s request and call for key documents from the UK Foreign Office. These documents will facilitate a much more adequate assessment of the role of the British governent in the use of evidence gained under torture, and help cut through the obfuscation of the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. November 23rd should be interesting…

From: PRIESTLEY, Steve

Sent: 17 November 2005 15:54

To: Craig Murray

Subject: RE: extraordinary rendition

Dear Mr Murray,

This is to inform you that the Committee considered your e-mail of 30 October at its meeting yesterday, 16 November, and that it has instructed me to request the FCO to provide it with access to the documents mentioned therein.

Please note that the Committee has the power to publish these exchanges and any further communications it may receive from you in due course. If you wish anything sent to the Committee to be treated in confidence, please state so and the Committee will consider your request.

The Committee will be hearing oral evidence on the FCO Annual Human Rights Report 2005 from Ian Pearson MP, Minister of State at the FCO, on Wednesday 23 November at half-past Two.

Steve Priestley

Clerk of FAC

—–Original Message—–

From: Craig Murray

Sent: 31 October 2005 11:17

To: PRIESTLEY, Steve

Subject: RE: extraordinary rendition

Dear Mr Priestley,

Thank you. I have seen the draft transcript of Mr Straw’s evidence in his recent appearance before the Committee, and his references to me.

I would strongly urge that the Committee obtain a number of FCO documents which provide essential support my assertions on the use of intelligence got under torture, which were questioned by Mr Straw. I believe this documentary evidence is much more compelling than Mr Straw’s perfectly accurate assertion to the committee that I am a bad electoral campaigner. It seems to me in poor taste for Mr Straw to rejoice to the committee that the BNP should beat anybody, and of dubious relevance to the case.

Chief among the essential documents are Tashkent telegram number 63 of 22 July 2004, and the FCO’s reply to it, plus the further response from Tashkent. The FCO reply contains reference to ‘a series of meetings’. The Committee might wish to see the minutes of that series of meetings.

I believe that for the Committee to reach the truth of the question of British use of torture material, it is essential to see the minute of the meeting held on the specific subject of torture intelligence in the office of Linda Duffield, Director Wider Europe. I was summoned back to London for this meeting. I believe the date was 7 March 2003, but I might be a little out. It was the only meeting ever held between these four people. Present were Linda Duffield, Director Wider Europe, Matthew Kydd, Head of Whitehall Liaison Department, Sir Michael Wood, Legal Adviser and I, Ambassador to Tashkent. That meeting was minuted, and I have seen the minute which is held by Whitehall Liaison Department.

On 13 March 2003 Sir Michael Wood wrote a minute to Linda Duffield, copied to me, about part of the discussion at the meeting. I believe that this minute would also much interest the Committee.

I quite understand that the Committee cannot simply take my word when it is called into question by the Secretary of State. That is why I believe it is essential that the documentary evidence is made available to the committee.

I should be very grateful if you could pass copies of this email to all members of the committee. If you are precluded from doing this, I should be most grateful if you could tell me, so I may send copies directly. If a more formal means of communication is required, I should also be happy to oblige.

Craig Murray

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Germany defies EU’s Uzbek ban

From The Australian

MOSCOW: The man accused of leading the massacre of anti-government protesters in Uzbekistan in May is having cancer treatment in Germany, despite being barred last month from the EU.

German officials disclosed yesterday that Zakirjan Almatov, Uzbekistan’s Interior Minister, got a visa in October to undergo a lifesaving operation in Hanover.

Mr Almatov was in charge of security forces who fired on anti-government protesters in the eastern city of Andijan on May 13. The Government says that 187 people died, mostly Islamic militants, but witnesses say up to 500 unarmed civilians were killed.

The EU responded by announcing sanctions on Uzbekistan on October 3, including a visa ban on officials responsible for the bloodshed. It issued a list of 12 names, including Mr Almatov, this week.

EU and German officials said that he was granted a visa because the year-long ban was not in force at the time and allowed humanitarian exemptions.

But human rights activists expressed outrage that Germany, which has a military base in Uzbekistan, had made an exception for one of the ban’s main targets.

Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, said the decision was shameful and scandalous.

Mr Murray was recalled last year after accusing Britain and the US of toning down criticism of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan in exchange for the US military’s use of an airbase on its soil. He said he believed Germany was doing the same.

In July the US was asked to leave its base, a launchpad for its operations in Afghanistan, after joining EU calls for an inquiry into the violence.

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House Panel Probes Religious Freedom in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan

From USINFO.State.Gov

Absence of countries on list of worst offenders in State’s report questioned

By Jeffrey Thomas

Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – A congressional hearing examined the State Department’s annual report on religious freedom November 15, questioning the absence of the Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan from the list of the worst violators.

The State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 November 8. The report ‘ the seventh in the annual series — examines religious freedom in 197 countries and what the United States is doing to improve the conditions for this central human right. The report is mandated by the U.S. Congress under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). (See related article.)

No country in Europe or Eurasia is listed in the report as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) — the category reserved for the worst offenders that engage in or tolerate gross infringements of religious freedom.

The 2005 report lists eight countries as CPCs: Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam. The panel of witnesses at the hearing November 15 agreed these countries were gross violators of religious freedom and urged greater U.S. efforts on behalf of those who are suffering for their faith.

Although Uzbekistan was not on that list, it was cited in the report for ongoing serious abuses of religious freedom.

The report cited Turkmenistan as one of two Eurasian countries (along with Georgia) in which the conditions for religious freedom have continued to improve over the past year. (See related article.)

CONCERNS RAISED OVER REPORT’S TREATMENT OF UZBEKISTAN, TURKMENISTAN

At the hearing, Committee Chairman Christopher Smith said he considers Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to be among those countries ‘where the rights of believers are seriously threatened.’

John Hanford, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, testified first at the hearing, providing the committee with a summary of the report.

The United States continues to engage a number of additional countries on serious violations of religious freedom, he said, citing Uzbekistan as an example. After recounting some of the mistreatment and abuses in Uzbekistan, he added: ‘We are continuing engagement with the government to encourage respect for religious freedom for all groups.’

Hanford also noted ‘positive developments’ in Turkmenistan, including the release of a number of political prisoners and the first-ever roundtable involving government officials with representatives of religious minorities. ‘Nevertheless, serious problems remain,’ he said.

Hanford said the report is ‘always going to miss things and we always welcome criticism ‘ and try to respond to those criticisms.’

‘We’re there to be a ‘gold standard’ on the facts,’ he said of the annual report.

He wanted to make clear, he said, ‘that we are in final CPC negotiations on one or two fronts. We anticipate making an additional CPC announcement in the near future.’

U.S. COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM WEIGHS IN

Michael Cromartie, the chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the commission stands by its recent call for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to be ranked among the worst offenders against religious freedom in the world. (See related article.)

The commission also was established by IRFA. The law charges the commission with monitoring the status of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief globally and making recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and Congress as to how the U.S. government better can protect and promote religious freedom and related human rights in its relations with other countries.

‘The omission of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan from the CPC list is particularly troubling and a discredit to Congress’s intent in passing IRFA,’ said Cromartie.

‘Turkmenistan, among the most repressive states in the world today, allows virtually no independent religious activity,’ he continued. ‘The government of Uzbekistan places strict restrictions on religious practice and continues to crack down harshly on individuals and groups that operate outside of government-controlled religious organizations.’

‘The ambassador-at-large [John Hanford] and the State Department have for years attempted to engage the governments of these two countries in an effort to seek improvements. However, the response has been extremely limited. In the face of the severe religious freedom violations perpetrated by the Turkmen and Uzbek governments, the continued failure to name them as CPCs undermines the spirit and letter of IRFA.’

Cromartie took particular issue with the annual report on Turkmenistan containing the ‘startling claim that the status of religious freedom improved during the period covered by this report. Even more disturbing is that Turkmenistan is listed in the Executive Summary as one of the countries which has seen significant improvements in the promotion of religious freedom.’

‘This conclusion is regarded as erroneous not only by the commission but by most human rights organizations and other observers of Turkmenistan,’ he said.

A coalition of nine human-rights groups submitted a joint statement supporting Cromartie’s concerns, calling the evidence of severe and widespread violations of religious freedom in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan ‘overwhelming,’ and providing detailed criticism of the annual reports on the two countries.

Another witness, Lawrence Uzzell from the nongovernmental organization International Religious Freedom Watch, added his voice to the criticism of the sections on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Uzzell suggested that U.S. diplomats ‘fall into the trap of paying too little attention to indigenous minorities, even if those minorities may be suffering harsher repression than American missions and missionaries.’

The problem is not, Uzzell said, that the report has too many references to such U.S.-based groups as the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. ‘The problem is that the report gives too little attention to other groups.’

The prepared statements of all the witnesses at the hearing as well as a webcast of the hearing itself are available at the Web site of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations.

The full text of the 2005 report and previous reports are available on the State Department Web site.

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Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on the Andijan Trial

COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

Brussels, 18 November 2005

The European Union has been closely following the trial in Uzbekistan of 15 individuals in relation to the events in Andijan on 12-13 May 2005, which concluded on 14 November.

The European Union shares many of the serious concerns about the conduct of the trial expressed on 26 October by the UN Special Rapporteurs and the Independent Expert on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and those expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The European Union looks forward to the early publication of the report of the ODIHR team which followed the trial.

The European Union has serious concerns about the credibility of the case presented by the prosecution and believes that defence procedures were inadequate to ensure a fair trial. The European Union would welcome the opportunity to discuss these concerns with the Uzbek government.

The trial focussed on the attacks on the army barracks, prison and SNB building, as well as the occupation of the Hokimyat. While recognising the criminal nature of these attacks, the European Union is concerned that the trial paid little attention to the substantial number of reports, including from eyewitnesses, alleging that the Uzbek military and security forces committed grave human rights violations while curbing the demonstrations.

The European Union continues to place primary importance on a credible and transparent independent international inquiry into the events of 12-13 May. The European Union stands ready to discuss all of these matters in its ongoing dialogue with Uzbekistan.

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UN rejects US restrictions on Guantanamo visit

From BBC Online

The UN has formally rejected a US invitation to visit the Guantanamo prison camp, saying it cannot accept the restrictions imposed by Washington.

UN human rights experts said the US had refused to grant them the right to speak to detainees in private. UN senior official Manfred Nowak said private interviews were a “totally non-negotiable pre-condition” for conducting the visit.

Some 500 terror suspects are being held at the US military camp.

Mr Nowak, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, told the BBC his team would accept nothing less than unfettered access.

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Britain to become hub for CIA terror prisoner flights

Mr Ren’ van der Linden, president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, has called for help from the European Commission in the investigation of CIA prison allegations.

From EurActiv: “I would request all governments, along with the European Commission, to co-operate fully. This issue goes to the very heart of the Council of Europe’s human rights mandate.”

Meanwhile, it looks like Britain’s role in this form of human trafficing is set to increase.

By Ian Bruce in The Herald

Britain is poised to become the main European refuelling hub for secret CIA flights carrying terrorist suspects for interrogation in North Africa and the Middle East.

Despite protests by MPs and MSPs, the UK government has taken no action either to halt the clandestine flights or demand to know whether prisoners were on board the 390 known to have landed at Scottish and English airfields since 2001.

They are called “rendition” missions. This is the White House-sanctioned process of moving al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist prisoners to third countries where they can be interrogated beyond the reach of US and European human rights’ legislation. The countries to which captives have been taken for questioning by local security forces have been accused by the UN of employing torture to obtain information.

Officials in Germany, Spain, Sweden and Norway have opened criminal investigations into possible violations of national and international law on the issue. Italy has filed a formal extradition request naming 22 CIA agents allegedly involved in the kidnap of a radical Muslim cleric in 2003.

Ireland and Denmark have lodged protests over the pit-stop presence of CIA-operated aircraft on their territory en route for Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or “ghost” prisons elsewhere in the world. Denmark has even asked the CIA to avoid using its airspace when transporting prisoners.

A German intelligence source said: “Britain may soon be one of the few countries, if not the only one, still willing to accept rendition missions via its sovereign territory.”

The Herald has revealed Scottish RAF bases and civilian airports had played host to the 170 “rendition” missions en route to or returning from Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Jordan.

Glasgow and Prestwick airports handled 149 of the refuelling stops, including a number of overnight stays. RAF Leuchars, Edinburgh, Inverness and Wick were the other locations.

Professor Martin Scheinin, of the UN’s human rights commission, said: “When several states, by co-operating with each other, breach their obligations under international law simultaneously where torture might be involved, then all bear individual responsibility. I have submitted a list of detailed questions to the government of the UK over rendition flights.”

A source from Germany’s spy service said: “While most European governments initially turned a blind eye to rendition flights in the immediate aftermath of September 11, the embarrassment factor involved once the media realised that suspects were being abducted for torture at the hands of third parties means that these missions can no longer be carried out with impunity.

“Austria scrambled fighters to intercept an unauthorised CIA flight two years ago and our own government is increasingly hostile to US arrogance in assuming that Ramstein air base is US territory.”

Spain this week opened a judicial inquiry into claims that CIA flights used Majorca and the Canary Islands.

A CIA spokesman said the agency carried out rendition flights only via “countries which are political allies and whose intelligence services grant permission”.

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CIA rendition flights – where didn’t they land!

Various reports on illegal CIA flight activity are indicating the possibility of a wide network indeed. This article abstracted below now suggests that the Canary Islands, Germany, Norway, and Portugal were all visited. This is of course in additon to the well documented cases in Italy, Sweeden and elsewhere.

“MADRID, Spain – Reports of alleged CIA use of Spain as a stopover point for transporting suspected Islamic terrorists spread Wednesday to the Canary Islands, where the regional government said it had asked Madrid to explain if airports there were also used for covert missions.

The Spanish archipelago off west Africa joins the Mediterranean island of Mallorca in the controversy.

The Canary Islands government said Wednesday that in May it had asked the central government to explain local newspaper reports that suspected CIA planes had made stopovers five times on the island of Tenerife between March 2004 and May 2005.

“But we never got an answer back, or just a vague answer that the government had no evidence. Now we want to ask again for those explanations,” Miguel Becerra, a spokesman for the Canary Islands government, said in a telephone interview.”

Further comment and links are available at the Washington Post Blog

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Madrid opens inquiry into CIA ‘torture’ flights

By Elizabeth Nash in the Independent

Spain has launched a judicial inquiry into allegations that CIA aircraft may have secretly used a Spanish airport to transport terror suspects to clandestine interrogation camps, Jose Antonio Alonso, the Interior Minister, said.

If the allegations proved true, Mr Alonso warned, “we would be looking at extremely serious, absolutely intolerable acts that violate rules for treating prisoners in a democratic society, and would demand a government response that would affect bilateral relations”. The dispute deals a further blow to US-Spanish relations, already bruised by Spain’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq last year.

The full article can be read here

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Andijan ‘show trial’ fails to convince

By Ian MacWilliam writing in BBC Online

Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court has jailed 15 men for between 14 and 20 years after they were convicted of organising unrest in the eastern town of Andijan.

Last May, a jail break in Andijan was followed by a massive anti-government demonstration. Protesters who escaped say government troops fired into the crowd, killing hundreds of people. The Uzbek authorities say only 187 people died, and that most were killed by the organisers of the unrest, who it calls Islamic insurgents.

“The court has found the accused guilty in particular of terrorism, attempts to overthrow the constitutional order, aggravated murder and the seizure of hostages,” Judge Bakhtyor Jamolov told the court on Monday.

Outside observers, however, say the trial was carefully stage-managed from the start. The defendants all confessed their guilt in the opening days of the trial in September, begging the forgiveness of the Uzbek people and President Islam Karimov.

Questionable standards

International human rights groups and the UN have called into question the trial’s validity. They say forced confessions are often obtained by the use of threats against family members, by physical torture, or by the use of psychotropic drugs. They say these methods, widely used in the Soviet period, are still routine in Uzbekistan today. The Uzbek government denies this.

Apart from concerns about the confessions, the trial fell far short of international standards in other respects. During the month-long proceedings there was no cross-questioning by independent lawyers and little attempt to verify the truth of witnesses’ accounts. The defendant’s government-appointed lawyers made little effort to defend them.

“It was hard to believe some pressure was not put on the defendants,” said Andrea Berg, of US-based Human Rights Watch. “We think this was a show trial. The defendants and their lawyers had no chance to speak to each other in private.”

Lone testimony

Of more than 200 witnesses called by the government, only one, a housewife from near Andijan, challenged the official account. Makhbuba Zakirova said soldiers had indeed fired at unarmed civilians in Andijan, and again as some protesters tried to escape across the border into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. The judge denounced Ms Zakirova in his summing up speech.

“Makhbuba Zakirova gave evidence that does not agree with events,” he told the court. “The court has decided she intentionally gave false evidence because she sympathises with the Akramists.”

The government uses the term “Akramists” to refer to members of a group of pious Muslims in Andijan who were prominent in the anti-government protests. But members of this ill-defined group say they are simply believers, not terrorists, and they deny any desire to overthrow the government.

There has been concern about Ms Zakirova’s security since her testimony. She remains under close government observation.

Universal scepticism

Some observers had expected the death penalty for some of the accused. Analysts speculate they may have been promised to be spared capital punishment if they co-operated. But speculation aside, Mr Karimov has said the death penalty will be abolished in Uzbekistan in 2008 – and it may be that death was judged to be too harsh, given the widespread criticism the trial has aroused.

In Andijan itself, there appears to be almost universal scepticism about the trial. People are afraid to speak openly, but in private they say the Tashkent government is persecuting normal Muslim believers.

Most say people gathered in the town centre because they were concerned about widespread government corruption and the lack of jobs. Given the international criticism and widespread domestic scepticism, the propaganda value of the Andijan trial is unclear.

Reliable partner

Only Russia and China have come out unequivocally in support of the Uzbek government – both countries which are seeking greater influence in Central Asia. While the sentences were being pronounced in Tashkent, Mr Karimov was in Moscow receiving a warm welcome from President Vladimir Putin.

The two men signed an agreement promising much closer military co-operation and apparently opening the way for possible Russian military intervention in Uzbekistan in the event of further unrest, such as in Andijan.

“We have shown once more with whom we want to build our future,” said Mr Karimov in Moscow. “Russia is our most reliable partner and ally.”

By contrast, Brussels has issued a list of 12 top Uzbek officials who will be banned from visiting EU member states for a year. They include Interior minister Zakirjon Almatov, Defence minister Kadyr Gulyamov, and the head of the secret police, Rustam Inoyatov.

EU bans

An EU statement said the visa ban, and a ban on arms sales to Uzbekistan, had been adopted because of “the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek security forces during the Andijan events, and following refusal of the Uzbek authorities to allow an independent international inquiry”.

While this trial has come to an end, anger about Andijan is bound to continue to fester in Uzbekistan. Members of the small and beleaguered opposition say that disaffection with Mr Karimov is now widespread within the government and the security services. In Andijan, some people say cautiously they expect further unrest and possibly political change.

Historically the Uzbek people have usually been obedient to their rulers – but many analysts say growing poverty and authoritarianism are making Uzbekistan a dangerously unstable land in the heart of Central Asia.

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Not all flights from Mallorca are for tourists

By Maria Jesus Prades at ABC News

MADRID, Spain Nov 14, 2005 ‘ European probes of the CIA’s alleged covert transfers of Islamic terror suspects have spread to Spain, where a court said Monday it has received a prosecutor’s report on allegations that the agency used a Spanish airport on the island of Mallorca.

The document stemmed from a four-month investigation prompted by reports from a Mallorca newspaper on the arrivals of suspicious aircraft.

The newspaper, Diario de Mallorca, said a CIA plane that took off from the Mediterranean island was involved in the alleged kidnapping of a Lebanese-born German national, who says he was transported to Afghanistan, questioned as an al-Qaida suspect and tortured.

Bartomeu Barcelo, the chief prosecutor for the Balearic Islands, which include Mallorca, submitted the investigative report to the National Court in July, court officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because court rules bar them from giving their names.

Diario de Mallorca also reported this month that Spanish police have identified three planes a Boeing 737 and two Gulfstream jets as having been used by the CIA at the airport in Mallorca’s capital, Palma, in its “extraordinary rendition” program.

The U.S. government has been criticized by human rights groups for practicing “extraordinary rendition” sending suspected terrorists to foreign countries, where they are detained, interrogated and subjected to possible ill-treatment.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the report on Monday, as did police in Mallorca. The Spanish court officials said it was not clear if the National Court had begun to or agreed to undertake its own probe.

In a series of articles that began in March, Diario de Mallorca said more than a dozen CIA flights had used Palma airport. It said that in one case, a CIA plane involved in the alleged kidnapping of Khaled al-Masri in Macedonia early last year had taken off from Palma airport en route to the Balkan country.

Al-Masri says he was abducted, flown to Afghanistan and interrogated for suspected ties to al-Qaida.

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Torture bill

A letter published in the Pakistan Daily Times

Sir: Just as the CIA have their notorious programme whereby the ‘suspect’ is sent for further questioning to key torture destinations around the world, there is plenty of evidence that British intelligence agencies do the same. Earlier, in September, in a statement to the Law Lords by the head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller argued for the efficacy of torture in preventing a terrorist plot.

Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, cites a few examples from Uzbekistan ‘ a woman who was raped with a broken bottle and died after ten days of agony; the old man who was suspended by wrist shackles from the ceiling while his children were beaten before his eyes; the man whose fingernails were pulled off and who was immersed to his armpits in boiling liquid; and the 18-year-old whose knees and elbows were smashed and whose hand was immersed in boiling liquid until the flesh started to peel from the bone.

In light of this, the British anti-terror Bill seems hypocritical. It makes their stance on human rights a lot less credible.

MARYAM PARACHA

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