You should have been there.
I think that if the presentation had come from almost any other source, it would have affected me differently. But the speakers in 10-250 two weeks ago Thursday, particularly retired Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, were disturbingly credible. Given by someone else, the lecture on “The Bush Administration’s War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity” could have easily been overzealous propaganda on 77 Massachusetts Avenue. As it was, however, I was not given the luxury of so easily dismissing their message. In fact, I was left with little choice but to take the statements very, very seriously. This was certainly not easy — their stories painted a picture of the United States government that was ugly, vicious, and deeply sad. But after sitting through more than three hours of testimony, it was difficult to do otherwise.
I have undoubtedly expressed more than my fair share of sarcastic cynicism about the Bush administration. Before last Thursday, however, I would not have said in all seriousness that it was systematically and consciously criminal. That is no longer true. The stories that I heard absolutely floored me, and several times I felt that I must be overreacting. Their testimony is officially disputed, and certainly could not be presented as a collection of unconditionally true facts. After speaking out, Murray was removed from his post in 2004, and then resigned in 2005; Karpinski, formerly a commander in charge of eight battalions and several prisons including Abu Ghraib, claims she was a scapegoat when she was demoted to Colonel and then retired. I am unable, however, to imagine asking for much more convincing evidence. If this was not credible, exactly what would constitute a persuasive indictment?
Given that I cannot relate stories nearly so powerful as those told by Murray or Karpinski, I think it is worth taking up some time to summarize Murray’s testimony at the Bush war crimes convention in New York, available at www.bushcommission.org. (Karpinski also presented very powerful testimony, but in the interest of length I will restrict this article to Murray’s talk.) Murray spent a great deal of the presentation discussing conditions in Uzbekistan, which were entirely new to me. According to him, Uzbekistan is a totalitarian regime; it does not tolerate any opposition. Sixty percent of the citizens work on state-owned cotton farms: 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a total of 7 cents a day. “[They] are in effect slaves in the cotton industry … If you’re born on a cotton farm you will die there.” One out of eight are officially members of the police force and secret police, and “the high proportion of the rest are terrorized or coerced into working as informers.” Most disturbingly, torture in Uzbekistan is common and widespread — thousands are tortured each year, and Murray claims most “were being tortured because they were religious Muslims … By [tortured] I mean raped, raped with objects like open bottles. I mean beatings, I mean smashing of limbs, I mean pulling of fingernails with pliers, I mean immersion of the body into boiling liquid.”
Murray’s involvement in the U.S. and British relationship with the torture began when listening to a trial at which one of the speakers (who claimed his nephews had met with Osama bin Laden) broke down partway through, saying his children had been tortured until he signed the statement. Upon finding the same statement used in CIA intelligence, Murray sent his deputy to the U.S. embassy to find out what they knew and whether they were concerned. According to Murray, his deputy returned, saying: “The U.S. Embassy says: Yes, they think it probably does come from torture but they don’t see that as a problem.’”
Murray believes that much of the torture in Uzbekistan is funded by the U.S., which “in 2002 alone gave half a billion dollars, [more] than [it] gave that year to West Africa. Of that so-called aid $120 million went to the Uzbek military and $82 million went to the Uzbek security services that were working along embedded CIA colleagues.”
Because of an intelligence sharing agreement between MI6 and the CIA, Murray was privy to numerous CIA documents. From what appeared on his desk, he concluded: “people were tortured to say that they, and any other Uzbek who had shown any sign of dissent or disagreement with their regime, were members of Al Qaeda and allied to Osama bin Laden. That came up again and again and again in this intelligence. And we could tell … this was simply nonsense. It was accepted by the CIA, but it was untrue.”
Whether or not you agree with him, it was very powerful. And so I repeat: you should have been there.
Mary-Irene Lang is a member of the class of 2008 and photographer for The Tech.