"Such people must be shot in the forehead," Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov once said of political dissidents. "If necessary, I'll shoot them myself." When not personally gunning down his opposition, Karimov keeps busy by instructing his security forces to boil, rape or asphyxiate political prisoners.
Luckily for Karimov, he's a key US ally in the war on terror. The brutal events of last week only confirmed that awful reality. For months the Uzbek government had incarcerated 23 businessmen in the eastern city of Andijan on trumped-up charges of supporting an obscure Islamist group. Last week, militants stormed the prison and freed the prisoners. When thousands of demonstrators, emboldened by the jail break, assembled in Andijan's town square to protest their country's climate of repression, corruption and poverty, Karimov travelled to the city and instructed his soldiers to open fire on the crowd. Violence soon spread to the border with Kyrgyzstan, as soldiers allegedly targeted women and children. Anywhere from a few hundred to 745 people are reported dead.
The Bush Administration's response to the butchery was both comical and sad. "We have some concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan, but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist group freed from prison," Scott McClellan said. "The people of Uzbekistan want to see more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence."How peaceful change will occur when the US has supplied Karimov with $500 million in military aid and waived human rights requirements for military and non-proliferation assistance is anyone's guess.