Outsourcing torture to Uzbekistan

by Henry Farrell on April 30, 2005

The New York Times, which has been doing sterling investigative work, reports that the US has sent “dozens” of detainees to Uzbekistan under the extraordinary rendition program. This at a time when the US State Department has issued a report noting the prevalence of torture in Uzbekistan and pointing to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture’s conclusion ” that torture or similar ill-treatment was systematic.” As I believe is quite well known, Uzbeki specialties include the “boiling of body parts, using electroshock on genitals and plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers” as well as the boiling of prisoners to death. And the US response?

A senior C.I.A. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would not discuss whether the United States had sent prisoners to Uzbekistan or anywhere else. But he said: “The United States does not engage in or condone torture. It does not send people anywhere to be tortured. And it does not knowingly receive information derived from torture.” (my italics)

Or in other words, don’t ask, don’t tell. It is nothing less than appalling that this has happened, is continuing to happen, and is an official (if unacknowledged) US policy. Indeed, it’s not only appalling; it’s criminal. No other conclusion is possible than that the United States of America is deliberately and consciously shipping people to third party regimes so that information can be tortured from them. This is general knowledge. Yet it isn’t being acted on. Those who have introduced this policy and overseen it shouldn’t just be forced to resign. They should be prosecuted as war criminals.



Katherine 04.30.05 at 4:38 pm

There are House and Senate bills to ban extraordinary rendition.* You can look them up here. The House Bill is H.R. 952. The lead sponsor is Edward Markey of Massachusetts. 60 other Congressman are co-sponsoring it. To save you some time–I’m pretty sure there are no Republicans on the list. In alphabetical order:

Abercrombie, Allen of Maine, Baldwin, Blumenauer, Brown of Ohio, Capuano, Conyers, Cummings, Davis of Illinois, Davis of California, Delahunt, DeLauro, Doggett, Farr, Filner, Frank, Grijalva, Gutierrez, Hinchey, Holt, Honda, Jackson-Lee, Kaptur, Kucinich, Lantos, Lee of California, Levin, Lewis of Georgia, Lynch of Massachusetts, Maloney, McCollum, McDermott, McGovern, McNulty, Michaud, Millender-McDonald, Miller of California, Mollohan, Moran, Olver, Owens of New York, Pallone, Pastor, Payne, Price, Sabo, Sanders, Schakowsky, Serrano, Slaughter, Solis, Stark, Tierney, Towns, Van Hollen, Waters, Watson, Waxman, Wexler, Woolsey.

The Senate bill is S. 654. The lead sponsor is Patrick Leahy; cosponsors are Dodd, Durbin, Feingold, and Kennedy. It would be especially good to get more names on the Senate bill; there’s a much greater chance of it coming to the floor.

Even if your Rep. or Senator is already a co-sponsor it’s worth thanking them & nagging them to make it a priority. Remember to include a bill #.

*It’s already illegal but there’s no workable legal remedy that courts can enforce, and room for bad faith arguments that it’s really legal–this bill seeks to close those loopholes.


Katherine 04.30.05 at 4:44 pm

Also, Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been pushing hard for an investigation on this to no avail. So if your Senator is on that Committee definitely mention the need for an independent Congressional Investigation–though right now the Committee Chair, Pat Roberts of Kansas, won’t even allow a committee vote on it. These are the members of the Senate intelligence committee.


Kevin Donoghue 04.30.05 at 5:14 pm

Katherine, all credit to you for plugging away at this. As for Henry’s hopes of seeing those responsible prosecuted, my expectation is that only the likes of Lyndie England have anything to worry about.


Jim Harrison 04.30.05 at 5:23 pm

I look on this whole affair as an experimental test of whether or not evil behavior really does have bad consequences for the perpetrators. I’m personally disinclined to believe that it’s possible to enjoy hubris without eventually suffering nemesis; but I’m also an empiricist so I’m willing to wait and see. In any event, it’s pretty clear that the protests of our brutality will fail, at least for the time being, because the American public is OK with the torture. After all it always seems like the right thing to do on 24.


am 04.30.05 at 6:06 pm

“No other conclusion is possible than that the United States of America is deliberately and consciously shipping people to third party regimes so that information can be tortured from them”

umm, you just pulled that out of your ass.

Of course other conslusions are possible. In fact they’re probable, based on your own quotation.

Amazing stuff.


idiot/Savant 04.30.05 at 9:19 pm

Article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture bars extradition, rendition or transfer of anyone to a jurisdiction where there are “substantial grounds for belief” that they will be tortured.

I’d say that this gives “substantial grounds for belief”, neh?


Jeremy Osner 04.30.05 at 9:30 pm

Hey if any of you live in New Jersey, Jon Corzine is on the Senate Intelligence Committee and could use some constituents writing him to let him know he should support Rockefeller. Here is his contact info:

U.S. Senator Jon S. Corzine
Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-4744

Or send him e-mail.


Jerry 04.30.05 at 9:59 pm

You bet the American public is OK with torture, even if it doesn’t produce A-plus results every time. Given the fanatical nature of people willing to blow themselves up and take as many people as possible with because the reward is a porno romp in paradise for eternity with 72 virgins, the gentler arts of persuasion fall short of ideal.


Jim Harrison 04.30.05 at 10:53 pm

I must be getting old. I’m still a little shocked to read somebody defending barbarism publically. Well, I guess it won’t be too long before the right gets around to rehabiliating fascism since they have such an affinity with its characteritic blend of cruelty, machismo, and cowardice.


bob mcmanus 04.30.05 at 11:10 pm

Well done,Henry.

“They should be prosecuted as war criminals.”

Katherine is plugging on specific remedies and ameliorations, as much as is possible or practical. The defenders of the administration will nitpick and mince and deny.

The rest us might wish to think about the more general questions of whether the meanings of the Nuremberg Trials, the Geneva and Hague Conventions have any value to us personally. Whether there is a rule of law or ethical code that supersedes the interests of nations and their leaders, no matter what excuses, rationales, loopholes and obfuscations are available. For they will always be available.

For if there is such a higher law, if we are in some first priority citizens of the world or human beings and then citizens of a state or nation, then actions and behaviors would be moral that at first glance would be seditious or treasonous. If innocents are being tortured abroad at the behest of our President, what then would be an acceptable means of deterring or stopping that torture? Just asking.


rd 04.30.05 at 11:42 pm

Let’s take the case of US forces detaining some Uzbek nationals as suspected Taliban/Al-Queada allies in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Do we:

1. Eventually send them back to Uzbekistan
2. Detain them ourselves indefinitely.
3. Try them in US criminal court.
4. Find a willing third country to take them.
5. Offer them residence in the US.

#1 is denounced as tantamount to torture. #3 will often be impossible given the challenges of applying the rules of US criminal procedure to military actions in the Hindu Kush. #4 is extremely unlikely. #5 is insane. So a strict anti-rendition policy means either: I. Guantanomo-style indefinite detainment whenever we detain a citizen of some country that has tortured in the past. II. We no longer detain Al-Queada/Taliban suspect nationals of countries that have tortured when there’s no sure way to get a conviction in a US criminal court. Instead, we either assasinate them or let them run free on a case by case basis.


Publius 04.30.05 at 11:51 pm

The “gentler arts of persuasion don’t work”? Wrong-o, buck-o.

The fact remains that you will confess to *anything*, regardless of whether you did it or not, under torture. And that is not useful, actionable intelligence. Wanna find out? I have a one-way ticket to Uzbekistan for you, champ.

What the Saudi’s have discovered is that these fanatics *do* respond to “the gentler arts”. In fact, they can be completely turned, basically, de-programmed. Remember, these radical fundamentalist Islamic sects are cults– suicidal death-cults. You deal with cultists in the Middle East just as you do here: you deprogram them, and re-educate them. No pain is necessary, no humiliation, no boiling, dog-attacks, public masturbation, or ass-rape. Just pound them with their own religion till they see the stupidity of their ways.

Soft American “interrogation” techniques don’t work– because they’re based on America values and personality traits like greed and self-interest. If you’re dealing with drug dealers, gang-bangers, and the Mafia, then, sure, those guys will plea-bargain to get a soft sentence. We’re a self-centered, look-out-for-number-one culture. Those guys aren’t. Don’t even waste your time tryign that shit on jihadists. But if you use techniques that fit in with the jihadist’s values, of course you can turn them around.

The Saudi’s have been dealing with this problem a long time, and they’ve found out what works. Basically, the solution is simple. You bring in mullah’s to lecture them– moderate mullah’s. Mulllah’s who know their Koran up one side and down the other. They earn the respect of the jihadists… and pummel them with scriptural citations that show that their violent ways are going to get them sent to hell.

We all know this works. Our own bible-thumping preachers do this all the time– you can perform amazing and bizarre personality changes like get people to renounce fundamental human needs like sex! It doesn’t take long to proseletyze people– especially a captive audience like a bunch of terrorists in a prison camp. And they’ve already shown a remarkable degree of credulity… which is how they ended up jihadists in the first place.

The solution to breaking up terrorist cells is dead simple: use Islam to turn the jihadists into your allies. Takes a while, but, just as with prosecuting a mafia family, with persistence you can work your way up the chain of command and wipe out the whole thing.

And leave their fucking fingernails– and human rights– alone.


bob mcmanus 04.30.05 at 11:56 pm

To understand how I feel about this, imagine some scenario in which the Dixie states reinstalled in current times the exact system of race(Negro) chattel slavery that existed in 1830. Given all the history, the knowledge, the wars, the struggles, the changes in attitude, the individual black heroes and achievers, imagine the Mississippi were today to install the exact slavery system of its ante-bellum past.

We would consider an umspeakable evil, an evil far surpassing anything John Calhoun or Jefferson Davis could have conceived or been capable of. For we have changed, we have learned.

Yet that is the level of evil of the Bush administration. With all the lessons of unchecked nationalism and lack of international standards gained in the monstrous 20th century, in full knowledge of the dangers of abandoning international law and universal standards of human rights, the Bush administration has returned to Miletian diplomacy:”Power Justifies, Might makes Right, The Weak shall submit to the Strong”. This, given the change in conciousness the human race went thru, or aspired to, upon the sight of Treblinka, is a far greater evil than any the brutish 20th century dictators that Bush apparently emulates could ever have dreamed.


Mel 05.01.05 at 3:22 am

Bravo Henry for a principled Post amidst the often all-too-safe. And Bob, well done for bringing in the limits to cosmopolitanism and the morality of human rights – the countervailing national and international forces that undermine our appeal to those very rights. I’m reminded of Marx’s idea that “between equal rights, force decides.” And Hegel’s comment that international agreements “have no binding force as soon as one of the binding parties annuls them,” when an individual nation claims the status of “universal power.” This may give you some hint as to the kind of the kind of action I think it would take to “deter torture”. It’s not going to be a matter of signing a petition or lobbying your MP.


robin2803 05.01.05 at 4:20 am

Fear not: Amnesty International are on the case, pace Pinochet.


“No one is above international law, even when national laws protect you from prosecution,” Amnesty International said.

“The UK courts have confirmed that people accused of crimes such as torture can be prosecuted anywhere in the world.

They have also firmly established that former heads of state are not immune from prosecution for such crimes,” Amnesty international said.


rjw 05.01.05 at 6:51 am

The uzbek regime is indeed very nasty. The previous british govt representative there was, I believe, removed from his post for publicly drawing attention to torture cases (including boiling people alive).

Of course – these are ‘good guys’ because they’re on our side (for now, anyway) and happen to be very conveniently located in geo-political terms. Sound familiar? Iraq anyone?


Tim Worstall 05.01.05 at 11:35 am

“1. Eventually send them back to Uzbekistan
2. Detain them ourselves indefinitely.
3. Try them in US criminal court.
4. Find a willing third country to take them.
5. Offer them residence in the US.”

Replace US with UK and wasn’t this what Belmarsh was all about?


stephen judd 05.01.05 at 5:11 pm

“II. We no longer detain Al-Queada/Taliban suspect nationals of countries that have tortured when there’s no sure way to get a conviction in a US criminal court.”

That’s exactly right. What is your problem with that, exactly?


John Quiggin 05.01.05 at 5:37 pm

rd, given the options you describe, the US government has no morally acceptable option but to apply maximum pressure (withdrawal of aid, sanctions etc) to the Uzbekistan government to abandon the use of torture, and to send no-one back there until this pressure is successful.

Was that your point?


y81 05.01.05 at 10:01 pm

I realize that voices from outside the cocoon aren’t particularly welcome at CT, and the point of the blog is to vent and abuse, not to persuade, but if you ever do want to persuade the majority of Americans who voted for this Administration to your point of view, describing the elected government as group of war criminals is a bad strategy. It’s especially unpersuasive because the left has described every administration in my adult life–except maybe Jimmy Carter’s–as war criminals. Remember the boy who cried wolf?


Mario 05.01.05 at 10:18 pm

I wouldn’t jump the gun so fast, Henry. While there is evidence about rendition and torture in Egypt, no evidence was presented in the NY Times article that the US is letting the prisoners be tortured. President Bush told the press that the US seeks assurances that no detainees sent to Uzbekistan will be tortured. He may be lying, he may not be. If he is lying, then damn him. Either way, it is not the case that “no other conclusion” is possible.


Jim Harrison 05.01.05 at 11:58 pm

Maybe Bush is telling the truth. Maybe the Poles began WWII by attacking a German radio station. Who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait for a full investigation.


rd 05.02.05 at 12:32 am

My only point was just to say that “no rendition” means in any realistic scenario “more indefinite Guantanamo-style detainment.” I think that’s OK, but people need to realize the two options are inversely related: a decline in one leads to an increase in the other.

As for Stephen Judd’s suggestion that we not detain foreign nationals when we don’t have the type of evidence that would lead with reasonable certainty to a US criminal conviction, I think the realistic view is that would place almost impossible burdens on our military forces and on our criminal justice system. Running down Pashtun chieftains willing to come and testify in the US is a little tricky, for example.


Troutsky 05.02.05 at 12:59 am

The best reason not to engage in torture ( or sub contract it out),other than the obvious moral one,is that your own soldiers may end up on the recieving end and they will know why. And they’ll be pissed.


wbb 05.02.05 at 2:07 am

Given that it is unrealistic to hope to end the use of torture by the US government at these offshore posts, I propose you lower your sights and campaign to have boiling people alive made illegal.

Compromise is the hallmark of succesful negotiation. Let Washington keep the fingernail routine.


stephen judd 05.02.05 at 3:55 am

rd, my point, which you seem to have missed, is that either you treat them like soldiers (military), or you treat them like spies and conspirators (civilians), but no matter what, you accept the consequence of your constitutional principles.

Your constitution, you should consider, was framed by people with direct experience of a revolutionary war, who were all too conscious of the potential for meddling from foreign powers. Apparently they didn’t feel that torture was required.

Perhaps it may help you to know that I’m not an American – I’m a New Zealander – but frankly, if you yourself can’t see why this is wrong, why should I care more for you than the Uzbeks, who also don’t see why it’s wrong? They don’t give a shit about torture, and evidently, neither do you.

rd, would you, personally, electrify someone’s nuts? Would you be less culpable if you merely handed them over to a known nut-electrifier? What is your minimum criterion for doing so? If there is such a thing as enough evidence to persuade you to torture, why isn’t that enough evidence to convict in a court?

Can you imagine how profoundly disgusting it is to even have this conversation?

There is such a thing as rough justice, but the rougher it gets, the less justice there is. At some point, enough justice has leaked away that what you do is itself a crime.

I used to root for you guys. Now I don’t. This is why.

(Apologies for infuriated typos, but there’s no preview button).


stephen judd 05.02.05 at 4:07 am

“1. Eventually send them back to Uzbekistan… #1 is denounced as tantamount to torture.”

I think I must point out that this is NOT the same as what we are discussing here, which is handing people over to the Uzbek government having asked “you won’t torture them, will you?”

Nudge nudge, wink wink.


Donald Johnson 05.02.05 at 6:07 am

MIght be bad strategy, y81, but all the Presidents in your lifetime and mine have supported horrific human rights violators when they haven’t engaged in their own human rights violations. That goes for Carter, who sold weapons to Indonesia while they were busy committing genocide on East Timor. Whether this makes them war criminals in a strict legal sense is something I’d leave to legal experts.

If Americans don’t want to hear the unpleasant truth about themselves, and most people don’t, then telling unpleasant truths is bad strategy. Thanks for the reminder.


idiot/Savant 05.02.05 at 7:09 am

troutsky: the problem is the anti-interrogation training US special forces, spies and pilots get encourage them to think that it is going to happen to them anyway – meaning that they have no incentive not to torture people.


goesh 05.02.05 at 8:28 am

School of the Americas, anyone?? The threat of confinement in a US prison with its controlled environment to maximize personal comfort,total medical and dental care, a nicely furnished library with educational opportunities, free legal representation, a decent rec facility, adequate food, conjugal visits and a mosque should in and of itself put the fear of God into these cheeky fanatics who believe that slitting the throats of our children gains them paradise. Onward American Jurisprudence!!


rd 05.02.05 at 11:34 am

OK, stephen judd, lets say we “treat them as soldiers,” and grant POW status to suspected terrorists who serve no state and follow no rules of war. Either we detain them forever, since the war on terrorism has no end, or, *following the Geneva protocols*, we return them to their torture-happy home country at some hypothetical end point in the future, which amounts to rendition, just like we returned Iraqi soldiers to the hell of Iraq after the first Gulf War. Treating them “as soldiers” does *nothing* to resolve the indefinite detainment/rendition bind. Now, as to my supposed willingness to electrify testicles, if you’ll actually read my post you’ll see I support indefinite detainment as an alternative to rendition, but the entire point
is that the two options are inseparably connected.
While people often denounce as two unrelated horrible things the US is doing, in any realistic scenario doing less of one automatically means doing more of the other.


B. Kallikak Moran 05.02.05 at 5:34 pm

rd- “…the two options are inseparably connected.”
Only when you accept the absurd notion that all this human suffering – rendition, Abu Ghraib, Diego Garcia, Guantanamo Bay etc. – is centered around an actual, intentional, and honestly waged “War on Terror”.
That that “war” is itself not central to what all this human suffering is centered around is still pretty much a taboo subject in the US/UK public fora. But it’s getting a mite obvious. “War with Terror” might be a better name for it. It has nothing to do with the stated aims you accept, and tacitly demand we all accept.
“We” aren’t locking people up and degrading them and shipping them off to Uzbekistan to protect “our” children, not if by “us” you mean the American public.
But then I don’t think you do mean that, I think your real definition of “us” in that context is much narrower; and that when the time comes you’ll have no trouble at all shipping off the same children whose slit throats you now attempt to use as a goad for acceptance of these inhuman “contractual” atrocities.
In plainer English, you’re trying to establish a commonality that you don’t even feel, that doesn’t really exist. “We’re all in this together!”
Sure we are, only some of us are more “in this together” than others.


David All 05.02.05 at 6:00 pm

“Either we detain them forever since the war on terrorism has no end … .”
Seem to recall Orwell and others writing about the dangers of unending war being used to justify permanment tyrannery.

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