While Registan continues to tell us that the IMU doesn't exist any more and terrorism in Central Asia is over-dramatized, and Foust continues to joust on the Muhtorov case, the independent news site fergananews.com just reported that 34 persons suspected of membership in the IMU were put on trial in Tajikistan.
The US has recently designated more arrested or wanted suspects as members of the IMU and IJU (more commentary from the Long War here) including Jamshid Muhtorov.
CLOSED TRIAL OF 34 IN TAJIKISTAN
Fergananews.com cited an Asia-Plus report that on January 30 in in the Sugdh Province of Tajikistan, 34 residents of the Isfar district were put on trial on charges of belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and allegedly committing a number of serious offenses. They were said to have committed murder; organizing an unlawful armed formation; banditry; organization of a criminal gang; incitement of national, racial, origin or religious enmity; violent seizure of power; and public calls to change the Constitutional order.
Whew! Now, who are we to believe? Regional press, which relies on the Tajik government and official law-enforcerment reports because it's hard to do their own investigation (the trial was probably closed; the defendants probably had state lawyers or even no lawyers) -- or a bunch of think-tankers in Washington already disposed to discount any evidence of terrorism anywhere as exaggerated?
Just like so many large and hastily-prepared trials in Uzbekistan, these group trials in Tajikistan are probably riddled with procedural violations and reek of lack of due process. So you don't know what these people really were doing. Did they just get together to pray in their living rooms? Did they get together on the street corner and talk tough? Were they "Internetting while Muslim?" Did they just shoot off some guns at a wedding the way young men can do sometimes?
We don't know. While we could easily say the entire thing is fake, we could also ask, but if the government wanted to fake up a case, why 34 people? 17 would do, even 10. Why did they "need" to put so many people away? Do they just go around grabbing people for no reason? They might. But sometimes even authoritarian states have a reason to go after real criminals, and really have to make their case to keep even in their (shaky) legitimacy.
Asia-Plus goes on to say that the prosecutor reported that there were 135 such "active members of religious extremist parties in Sughd" uncovered last year, including members of Hizb-ut-Tahir, the IMU and other banned organizations.
So maybe they weren't in the IMU, but just the H-u-T -- banned in Central Asia and some European countries but not all (the UK) on the theory that they don't call for violence (just for imposition of a caliphate, without a clear plan about what they'll do to people who don't want a caliphate.)
Or maybe they were in a splinter group that wasn't part of the "global jihad." Or maybe they just went to the mosque or looked at somebody cross-eyed. Who knows? But can we, on the basis of our deep suspicion of these authoritarian governments in Central Asia airily conclude that there's nothing to this? I mean, charges of murder and armed gang activity?
Fergananews.com goes on to explain -- as Joshua Foust and others admit -- that IMU was created in 1996 and did really exist (the issues seems to be the readiness for pundits to say it no longer exists or at least doesn't do much.) Russia, the US and others have designated it a terrorist organization (Russia's designation of it as such never gets the juices flowing for the "progressives" as much as the US designation, of course.)
Fergananews.com describes the IMU as "being based" still in some districts of Afghanistan and Pakistan and as being "under the control of the Taliban movement." They go on to mention Usma Osil, an "amir" who is leader of the IMU, although he's been reported dead by vesti.uz, killed in a joint operation of NATO and "local intelligence services" in the north Afgan province of Tahar.
So that's that, and we will likely never hear of these 34 people again, even in the independent press. Their hundreds of relatives have probably been scared into silence, and those few who aren't are probably busy forming something that sooner or later somebody will call "an armed formation" -- and might be.
Maybe all these people aren't actually in something organized called "the IMU" that is really run by the "amir" (their quotation marks) or even the Taliban; maybe it's just a local gang. We don't know anything!
But if we're going to put on our skeptics' hats, I don't see why we have to accept the "non-existence" theory over the "horrible scary terrorists" theory but can remain skeptical and curious about both.
IN TERRORIST DESIGNATION, THE US 'DOES THE DIRTY WORK' FOR UZBEKS
Foust, instead, blows off a careful critic with an airy wave of the hand and the usual hyperbole. Foust has a litany of these rhetorical flourishes. "Let's put on our honesty caps," he told me nastily -- as if...calling him out on his hypocrisy somehow involves "dishonesty" on my part. Or "don't argue with a point you think I'm making, argue with what I actually said" -- as if everybody always misunderstands this tragic artist or are too incompetent to read his gnarly texts. Or "I didn't actually say that, it only seems like I said that, but that was in another place, or that was yesterday anyway" -- and so on. They really are laughable to watch.
Continuing to argue about the significance of the Muhtorov case, says Foust:
The one thing the IJU has supposedly done — some bombings in Tashkent in 2004, was identified by the SNB, the Uzbek secret police. The SNB are also fond of labeling every dissident religious leader in the country an IMU or IJU terrorist as well. Based on their recommendation, the U.S. government classified the IJU a foreign terrorist organization and made it a crime to communicate with them (or to “provide material support”). In other words, the U.S. government is doing the Uzbek government’s dirty work for it, about a group that probably doesn’t really exist. And they do this a lot: a few years ago Registan.net contributor Sarah Kendzior wrote a brilliant article about how the regime in Tashkent invented another group, Akromiya, to justify its massacre in Andijon.
Well, actually, the SNB aren't fond of labeling every single dissident religious leader an IMU or IJU terrorist. That is, if you look at the press reports or human rights reports of the actual group trials, sometimes they mention those designated terrorist groups, sometimes they don't (maybe they don't want to over-do this, so as not to make it seem as if they're losing the battle). Sometimes they merely say "extremist group". We don't know.
I don't share the assessment of Sarah Kendzior's brilliance any more, but I'll return to that later; what we do have to ask are two questions about Foust's current theses:
"MATERIAL EVIDENCE": INTENT AND CAPACITY"
1. He claims "material support" is an overbroad category and part of that big, baggy abusive war-on-terror that the US is guilty of badly mishandling by "progressives". Well, maybe indeed they are. Renderings to certain torture. Rendition holding camps. Shady things happening. Not a lot of transparency. All very important to keep a scrutiny on. Foust says:
And this carping, of course, skips past my broader complaint that the FTO language is broadly written and the “material support” laws are even more weakly defined. To wit, the criteria for inclusion include not just proof that an organization has either engaged in terrorist activit or terrorism, but who, as an exclusionary clause (broken by an “or,” so it meets the criteria on its own), “retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism.”
Er, why can't we carp? Foust always does. But by the same token, if we're to be wedded to that intellectual posture of skepticism, why make it work in only one direction? Yes, "material support" may just be too broad a concept if it only means visiting a website and "toughing tough" with some other tough-talkers. Was that all? We'll await the legal defense and the trial.
2. He claims "intent and capacity" aren't enough to make an arrest. On the other hand, why should the US have to wait until a terrorist act was actually committed, and not take a harder look at support of groups that seem to have the will and capacity to put one on? I mean, counter-terrorism, is, well, counter-terrorism.
That intention and capacity are what Foust objects to as overbroad concepts. Indeed they are. But a judgement is made about just how far along that will is, and just how serious (with armaments) that capacity is -- and in the end, it comes down to whether you literally trust the FBI under the most liberal president you will ever get in America, or you don't. So...why don't you? Where's your evidence?
People parse this with H-u-T endlessly. H-u-T endlessly tells you that they are a peaceful group not calling for terrorism. And perhaps that's true. It only ever seems to be those former H-u-T people who do those nasty things, or splinters of people who once read H-u-T literature and attended meetings. Never H-u-T itself, oh no. Well -- maybe, maybe not. The government tends to call everything it doesn't like by a name, and sometimes they can be wrong. Indeed, they are no good; indeed, they are evil.
But there are extremists, and among the reasons they exist is because the human rights movement never, ever challenges them. They never worry about how to make a good social movement; they worry about how to issue their next report. They don't challenge extremism for reasons of ideological leftyness and "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" politics; they don't for the fatal attraction of organized rigid systems like Islamism to the extreme leftist mind already pre-disposed to ideological explanations "for everything"; they don't for reasons of liberal political correctness (never comment on the nature of the victim, his victimhood and status as representing a violation of human rights is all that matters); and most of all, because if the human rights secularists/liberals began challenging local extremist groups, there would be more of them who would end up dead.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORT
An article in the Daily Mail tells us that Jamshid Muhtorov "worked closely with Human Rights Watch" although we don't know that for a fact, or from HRW itself (although I will try to check); we only have sources saying he distributed HRW's publication on Andijan. In that same story, however,HRW's Hugh Williamson tells us more detail information about his arrest back in 2005 that wasn't on web sources before (as far as I know), namely, that Muhtorov was beaten severely, intimidated, afraid to contact his family, and forced to go to Tashkent -- and then returned:
After becoming director of Ezgulik, Muhtorov eventually joined the Free Peasants Party, which favored regime change and worked closely with Human Rights Watch, but in January 2006, he was detained with another activist.
Uzbek authorities beat him and released him only after he wrote statements promising not to write internet articles or to oppose the government, according to Human Rights Watch reports.
'His nose was broken. He was covered in blood. And the assailants told him, 'This is your last warning.' ... He was scared to go back to his family home, so he went to Tashkent (the capital),' said Hugh Williamson, director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. 'But then he came back again a few days later and was beaten up again. This time, he lost consciousness.'
As I've often noted, there is nothing that radicalizes a person more than being tortured and intimidated. They turn to radicalism and terrorism (as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did) because they lose faith in the human rights approach. The human rights approach of non-violent protest, documentation, patience -- it's just not good enough. It doesn't work, in a place like Uzbekistan, except very slowly, and in a very limited fashion. Those countries that have strong non-violent human rights movement willing to follow this tough path under authoritarian regimes usually help their countries be better off after transition start, but it's a tough sell.
Even so, somebody has to say (and it won't be Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International), that just because you and your family are victims doesn't mean you can turn other people into victims from acts of terrorism. The terrorist method has a beef with a regime or a party -- yet it harms innocent people unrelated to that beef to try to turn the entire population against the regime (as they will be too scared to turn against the terrorists themselves -- they will do anything to make them stop).
'THIN GRUEL' OR DUE DILIGENCE?
So whatever Muhtorov's tragic past, if he was hoping to help out a bunch of people with the capacity to throw bombs and hurt people, not only is the US within the law in arresting him, the law on material aid may not be "wrong" as Foust says. It really does depend on the nature of the people in Turkey, and what Turkey has on them. And here, we just don't have any journalism or NGO in Turkey that we've heard from writing about this, there's only the blogger AJK. That's not persuasive enough for me.
Foust complains that people outside the defense staffs only have puny information on all this. ("the open source IJU evidence that us peons have access to about that event is crap. Even the Sauerland testimony is awfully thin gruel for deciding a group is really real and it poses a threat.") Sure, whatever is supplied may be thin gruel, we get all that. But why are we so sure that what the government has is crap? Maybe part of the reason they can't tell you is because to do so would harm their sources.
'SELLING OUT DISSIDENTS FOR THE NDN'
At the end of this thread, Joshua Kucera shows up to imply that he didn't really mean to say anything so wacky as the US actually selling dissidents down the river for the sake of opening the NDN (which I objected to strenuously as lacking in any evidence.)
But he nevertheless wound up saying the same thing, even if switching the focus to the terrorism designation by State. Yes, we get that this is likely a political negotiation and a horse-trading-type of setting. Even so, it was a designation made long before the current NDN negotiations. Why would keeping a designation in place (when there's no overriding reason to remove it) be necessarily tied to NDN negotiations? That doesn't seem reasonable to me. And if the reference is to the recent designation of individuals as IMU members, then...you're back to the claim that the US is selling individuals down the pike to open up the NDN lanes.
And...what are the real reasons why the IMU "doesn't exist" anymore? Because you say so? Because they don't seem active? Then what's all this in Tajikistan -- a piece in the local press like so many, which you don't even comment on at Registan? (Foust doesn't read Russian.)
I'm going to keep reading and keep thinking about this; what I won't accept is that there is nothing to it at all.