Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Horror of "Cooked Chicken"

Queasy stomach alert: if you don’t want to be thoroughly revolted by what our government has done in our name, stop reading now.

I really mean it.

For those of you still reading, we’re going to talk about rendition. You know, where the American government works with the governments of foreign countries whose human rights standards aren’t quite the same as ours. Our government gets these foreign agents to perform outrageous acts of torture on our behalf--things that would spark outrage in Americans if it were discovered U.S. agents were doing this. So we get someone else to do it for us.

See the difference?

Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review contained a story on "Dirty Diplomacy” by Craig Murray. Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. Despite (or perhaps because of) its “despotic leader” and the brutal torture of prisoners, since 2001 Uzbekistan has been an important ally to the U.S. and Britain in the “war on terror.” They are one of the chief countries in the CIA’s rendition program.

I think when we’re talking about torture, we should be absolutely clear what we’re talking about here. Torture isn’t just a word or a fuzzy concept, it’s actual suffering perpetrated by one human being on another. Murray’s book provides a shocking example of the kind of torture that happens in Uzbekistan, and I thought I’d share it with you here.

Last chance to navigate away. Anyone still here? OK, read this:
... a University of Glasgow pathology report shows one man “died of immersion in boiling liquid” after being seized by the authorities. Post-mortem photos of an 18-year-old Samarkand resident reveal similar marks: “The right hand looked like cooked chicken.” In addition, Murray writes, “one technique was widespread throughout the country — they would strap on a gas mask and then block the filters. I presume that the advantage of this was that it would suffocate without bruising.”

Let’s repeat: an 18 year old whose right hand looked like cooked chicken.

What have American and British officials done with this knowledge of what goes on? Endorsed it:

Uzbek officials seemed to use coercive techniques routinely during investigations, he says, yet there was little outcry from the Americans or the British. The executive director of Freedom House, a Washington-based organization that monitors political rights and civil liberties, tells him in 2003 that the group has decided to back off from its efforts to spotlight human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. The shift in policy occurred, she explains, because some Republican board members (in Murray’s words) “expressed concern that Freedom House was failing to keep in sight the need to promote freedom in the widest sense, by giving full support to U.S. and coalition forces.” Meanwhile, British officials insisted that information from coercive interrogations was valuable and that relying on it did not violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture. “That is my view of the legal position,” a Foreign Office legal adviser tells Murray in London. “I make no comment on the morality of the case.”

It has been documented repeatedly that torture does not reveal reliable information. If someone were holding my hand over a boiling hot Fry Daddy, I’d say anything to get them to stop. Anything. I’m sure some 18 year old kid would feel the same. Regardless, there’s simply no way to know whether the information received is true or not. This is the worst way to get information about terrorists.

America and Great Britain have turned a blind eye to these atrocities, even taken part in them by allowing Uzbek agents to perform them on our prisoners. We won’t do it ourselves, but we have no problem getting someone else to do it for us.

Remember this:

Uzbekistan's role as a surrogate jailer for the United States has been confirmed by a half-dozen current and former intelligence officials working in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. The CIA declined to comment on the prisoner transfer program, but an intelligence official estimated that the number of terrorism suspects sent by the United States to Tashkent is in the dozens.

There is other evidence of the United States' reliance on Uzbekistan in the program. On Sept. 21, 2003, two American-registered airplanes -- a Gulfstream jet and a Boeing 737 -- landed at the international airport in Tashkent, according to flight logs obtained by the New York Times.


The logs show that at least seven flights were made to Uzbekistan by those planes from early 2002 to late 2003, but the records are incomplete.

That’s the same time period that Murray was operating in Uzbekistan.

So, did American prisoners get boiled alive in Uzbekistan at the behest of the U.S. government? We can’t know exactly what happened, but it's likely. We would't have sent prisoners to Uzbekistan if we didn't want some acts of horrible torture performed on them; otherwise, we'd have kept them in Gitmo. The mere fact that this activity goes on while we continue to consider Uzbekistan a “great ally” is incomprehensible.

America, I fear, has lost its mind and its soul.