Is This A Surprise?

by Nathan Hamm on 5/3/2005 · 5 comments

Now that Don Van Natta’s story on prisoner transfers to Uzbekistan is bouncing all the hell over the place, I have to ask a couple questions.

Is the idea that the US handed over prisoners to Uzbekistan such a shock to anyone?

Does anyone, with the exception of Craig Murray, have evidence that the US is handing over non-Uzbek prisoners to the Uzbek government with the understanding that the Uzbek government will interrogate them and hand over information? Hell, let’s include Uzbek prisoners in that question too.

If a low-ranking Taliban of IMU soldier is captured in Afghanistan, is from Uzbekistan, and is wanted by the Uzbek government, what kind of responsibilities does the US have to hold that prisoner? (And, really, suggestions are welcome. I though Guantanamo or any other US detention was supposed to be like the 9th circle of hell, so what do we do, let them go?)

And for journalists… Is there any evidence to use the present continuous tense in headlines? (Look at these, they are a nightmare.)

It looks like it’s pretty much Van Natta who did the reporting for every version of the story I’ve seen lately, so, what exactly is his job? I mean, I know the NYT reporters have become increasingly talented storytellers of late, but come on (Thank goodness for the WaPo).

These are honest questions on my part. I really want to know if non-Uzbek prisoners were, for lack of a better word, “outsourced” to Uzbekistan for interrogation. That seems to be what the suggestion is, but there is a lot we don’t know about the story that is not sufficiently filled up with “Craig Murray said so.” Maybe I’m crazy, but I feel like if journalists are going to report this story (and it should be reported), they need to be much more forthright with pointing out the holes in the narrative. Otherwise, all that we have is column after column of innuendo.

But then again, maybe that was Van Natta’s point. I certainly get the impression that he is arguing that the US stopped criticizing Uzbekistan after 9/11. Honestly, I don’t think we really even started until afterwards. And the $500 million figure he lists for security aid, suggesting it has all come under the Bush administration? Utter obfuscation. That figure is almost certainly a cumulative number for total defense aid since 1992 if it has any basis in fact at all. But then again, I hear it so much that Van Natta probably didn’t bother checking it out for himself (or finishing the first sentence of this).

The Times would certainly do the world a service by not just banking on its name and actually doing some research to go along with its innuendo.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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jonathan p May 3, 2005 at 1:15 pm

Nathan wrote:
“Is the idea that the US handed over prisoners to Uzbekistan such a shock to anyone?”

Not to anyone who pays attention, certainly.

Nathan asks:
“… what kind of responsibilities does the US have to hold” an Islamist fighter of Uzbek citizenship captured in another country?

Well, if it’s a sure thing that the guy is going to be tortured, then the US would have the responsibility to hold that prisoner (or at least prevent his extradition to Uz) indefinitely, in my opinion.

GW Bush says the Us government seeks “assurances that nobody will be tortured” when prisoners are rendered back to their home countries, but in the case of Uzbekistan, how can these assurances be trusted? When is the last time the Uzbek government proved itself trustworthy?

Nathan asks:
Is there any real evidence (excluding circumstantial conjecture) concerning the handover of prisoners to Uz with the understanding that they’ll be tortured for info?

This is the real question, IMHO. Van Natta says there is “growing evidence” of this. As we can see from his own story, however, his “evidence” is nothing terribly new (to us) and is far from solid.

Even if we grant that the “rendition” program itself exists (there is ample evidence and Bush’s own quote certainly seems to indicate that the US does “render” Uzbeks back to Uzbekistan), the CIA flights to Uzbekistan do not seem all that unusual to me. But who can say whether there have been prisoner transfers for the purpose of gaining info through torture? There’s no way of knowing this outside of an inside source.

So what are Van natta’s sources? He indicates he has had “interviews with former and current intelligence officials” to back him up. He also cites stories from “a handful of former detainees who have been released” and have spoken of being ferried around in the planes and sometimes tortured. He also cites unnamed “American intelligence officials” and Nathan’s good buddy Craig Murray.

So really it’s Craig Murray and a bunch of anonymous sources on the issue of rendition of terror prisoners to Uz for the purpose of extracting info through torture.

So I agree with Nathan that a mountain is being made out of a molehill of evidence in this case. That said, though, we do have a rather unsavory relationship with the Karimov government. Granted, they’re not exactly our good buddies, but it still bothers me.

By the way, Nathan, I thought the following headline was a one you’d appreciate! 😉

Growing Evidence U.S. Sending Prisoners to Torture Capital

Nathan May 3, 2005 at 1:20 pm

I think that was the one that bugged me the most…

I definitely think that second question you addressed is a discussion worth having. On grounds of pure, impassionate political expediency, I don’t want the US to hold any foreign combatants it doesn’t have good reason to hold. But on moral grounds, I do have a different opinion.

sean-paul May 3, 2005 at 1:39 pm


See my most recent Front Page post at The Agonist. I’m very interested in hearing your response.

jonathan p May 3, 2005 at 1:50 pm

For what it’s worth (maybe very little), I think sean-paul is on the right track when he points to the fact that we appear to be in some kind of prisoner exchange program (whether it’s well-intentioned or not) with a man who is known to have tortured his own people. That’s bad enough. But what makes the whole thing worse (or at least SEEM worse) is that it is all shrouded in secrecy.

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