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Action Speaks Against Words: President Bush is Deepening US Ties with Countries That Commit Human-Rights Abuses

7 April 2002

In a speech marking the six-month anniversary of Sept. 11, President Bush envisioned a "peaceful world beyond terror" where "disputes can be settled within the bounds of reason and good will and mutual security."

But Bush's coalition against terrorism is deepening U.S. military ties with countries that don't settle their disputes "within the bounds of reason and good will." In fact, many of these countries commit human-rights abuses that are well documented by the State Department. Last month, the department released its annual "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." It lists 52 countries that are receiving U.S. military training or weapons as having "poor" or "very poor" human-rights records.

Here's a sampling of what the Bush administration has pledged and what the State Department says about some of Washington's partners in the war on terrorism.

dotGeorgia: The United States is offering $64 million to train and equip four 300-strong battalions of Georgian forces to help them combat terrorists hiding in the Pankisi Gorge near the Russian border. The program would equip the units with light weapons, vehicles and communications.

Yet the State Department's human-rights report has this to say about Georgia: "The government's human-rights record remained poor and worsened in several areas. Several deaths in custody were blamed on physical abuse, torture or inhuman and life-threatening prison conditions. Reports of police brutality continued. Security forces continued to torture, beat and otherwise abuse detainees."

dotIndonesia: After preparing to send U.S. military "counterterrorism experts" to the world's most populous Muslim nation, the Bush administration, fearing an anti-American backlash, has decided it could be "counterproductive." Instead, Indonesian military forces will be trained in Hawaii, and the FBI will be given the task of tracking down terrorists in this vast multi-island state. The administration is also working to persuade Congress to loosen restrictions on transfers of military hardware that have been in place since the Indonesian army's rampage in 1999 and widespread atrocities in East Timor.

The State Department's report on Indonesia says: "The government's human-rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit serious abuses. Security forces were responsible for numerous instances of, at times indiscriminate, shooting of civilians, torture, rape, beatings and other abuse, and arbitrary detention in Aceh, West Timor, Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya) and elsewhere in the country."

dotYemen: The Bush administration is planning to send at least 100 U.S. troops to train local forces and has hinted at aiding in the creation of a maritime force.

But the State Department's human-rights report says this about Yemen: "The government generally respected its citizens' human rights in some areas ... however, its record was poor in several other areas, and serious problems remain. Members of the security forces tortured and otherwise abused persons, and continued to arrest and detain citizens arbitrarily, especially oppositionists in the south and other persons regarded as 'secessionists.'"

dotColombia: There are no al-Qaida terrorists in Colombia, and yet the rhetoric of fighting the war on terrorism has affected U.S. military policy in that country. The Bush administration is hoping to provide Colombia with about $374 million in military aid. An additional $98 million would be used to supply Colombian soldiers with 10 "Super Huey" helicopters to protect a strategically important American-built oil pipeline that has been targeted by the rebels. Total military aid offered to Colombia for 2003 is estimated to be more than $490 million.

Here's what the State Department has to say about Colombia: "Government security forces continued to commit serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings. Impunity remained a problem."

dotThe Philippines: The United States recently sent six more helicopters and a number of aviation experts to join the 660 elite troops doing joint training exercises with the Filipino military. The United States has supplied the Philippines with $92 million worth of military equipment so far, and the Pentagon has requested an additional $2.4 million in training and $20 million in foreign military financing.

The State Department's report: "The government generally respected the human rights of citizens; however, there were serious problems in some areas. Members of the security services were responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrest and detention."

dotUzbekistan: U.S. Green Beret troops are training the Uzbek military in marksmanship, infantry patrolling, map reading and other skills. The United States has provided "nonlethal" equipment such as helmets, flak jackets, Humvee transport vehicles and night-vision goggles to the Uzbek military and border guards. For fiscal year 2003, the Pentagon has requested $1.2 million in training and $8.7 million in foreign military funding.

The State Department says this about Uzbekistan: "The government's human-rights record remained very poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens cannot exercise the right to change their government peacefully; the government does not permit the existence of opposition parties. Security force mistreatment resulted in the deaths of several citizens in custody."

The records of these allies in the war on terrorism wreck the credibility of Bush's high-minded rhetoric. Aiding these repressive regimes will not make the world a better place.

Frida Berrigan,
Published in the Baltimore Sun © 2002, The Baltimore Sun

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