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Report: U.S. Routinely Sends Arms to Undemocratic Nations

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A new report from the World Policy Institute has found that the U.S. is routinely funneling military aid and arms to undemocratic nations. In 2003 more than half of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world were defined as undemocratic by the State Department. [includes rush transcript]

The political climate in Uzbekistan continues to be unstable after government troops opened fire on demonstrators last week, killing an estimated 500 people. Human Rights Watch reporters say Uzbek citizens are afraid to speak to journalists or other “outsiders” due to fear of government retribution.

In Egypt, anti-government protesters were recently beaten during demonstrations calling for greater political reform. The State Department’s latest human rights report says torture and abuse of detainees in Egypt is “common and persistent.”

In Saudi Arabia, petitioners were recently arrested after calling for political reform. Amnesty International has long called for reform of Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, where defendants face convictions based on confessions obtained under torture or deception.

So how are these three countries connected? They all receive military aid from the United States. A new report from the World Policy Institute has found that the U.S. is routinely funneling military aid and arms to undemocratic nations.

The report titled “US Weapons at War” finds that in 2003 more than half of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world were defined as undemocratic by the State Department.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now in the studio by Frida Berrigan, Senior Research Associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center of the World Policy Institute. She’s author of the new report. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Frida.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Thank you. Thank you. It’s good to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we talk about the countries we just mentioned, let’s start following up on this pipeline in Georgia.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: So, Georgia received no military aid just a couple of years ago, and now it’s become a major recipient of military aid. Candace mentioned the Train and Equip Program, the $64 million that Georgia has received. It’s also receiving under the Foreign Military Financing Program millions in military aid. In fact, that whole region, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia, in 2001 they collectively received $4 million in military aid from the United States. We have seen that increase tenfold over the last number of years, and this year they received — or actually, next year, fiscal year 2006, they’ll receive $42 million collectively.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s Georgia’s record?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Georgia has a horrible human rights record. It’s actively involved in a number of conflicts putting down secessionist movements. Candace mentioned the Pankisi Gorge where they have made a lot of the fact there are terrorists, al Qaeda connected terrorists there, but there’s also a secessionist movement. A small part of that country wants to be independent, wants to separate from Georgia, and you had soldiers, Georgian soldiers, who were being trained by the United States saying, 'Oh, Pankisi doesn't really matter. There’s no al Qaeda there. There’s no threat there. What we really want is we want this region back that Russia took from us a number of years ago.’ So, you see Georgia manipulating the war on terrorism for its own gain. And we see this pattern repeated throughout the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Uzbekistan?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: And Uzbekistan is another great example of that. We have — the United States has troops in Uzbekistan at the K2 base, and that base is a staging ground for the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, where supposedly we’re bringing peace and democracy, freedom and democracy, and yet, we couldn’t even muster the political courage to forthrightly condemn the murder of civilians carried out by Uzbek military, Uzbek police. We have a credible report saying the Uzbek military went through and executed wounded civilians throughout the square there, where that violence erupted, and it took the United States days to condemn. Only after Britain and other western governments condemned the violence did the United States follow suit. But you had members of the United States government early on saying, 'Oh, well, they have to do what they have to do. You know, those are terrorists, and we're not going to interfere.’ And yet, we have increased military aid to Uzbekistan by many times over and have been doing training programs with their military, and we have the Uzbek government boiling people alive. The human rights record there is extraordinarily bad, and the United States has again and again turned away from that, and only just recently minorly punishing the Karimov regime, but not even because of their human rights record, but because Karimov cracked down on non-governmental organizations like the Open Society that have been acting in Uzbekistan. So, we withdrew some military aid, but to protect U.S.-based N.G.O.s, not to protect the rights of citizens of that country.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Take us through some of the other top recipients that have non-democratic governments. I’m sure that some of them might come as a surprise to some of our listeners, although our listeners are pretty well informed about what’s going on in the world.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: We have a surprisingly large amount of military aid to Nepal, which your listeners will know. The government there, the king, the monarchy, basically cut off the entire country from the rest of the world recently. We didn’t withdraw the U.S. ambassador there. We didn’t withdraw military aid. We continue to back that country. Indonesia is another place where for a long time, the United States has been forced to — has been forced to hold off on military aid because of pressure by grassroots organizations in this country, because of the Indonesian military’s horrible record of human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings. There’s a number of criteria that Congress has put into place saying, well, they won’t receive military aid again until these criteria are all met, but Condoleezza Rice’s first act, or one of her first acts as the new Secretary of State was to certify Indonesia for IMET training, for military training once again, just pushing aside the fact that none of those criteria that Congress set into place have been met. And then just this week, the Indonesian president was in Washington, met with President Bush. They had a joint press conference. They were very chummy. The press conference was actually — most of the questions weren’t about Indonesia, but about stem cell research, which is sort of strange, but at that press conference, President Vush said, 'Well, we're really pushing for normalization of full military ties.’ And that word normalization really stuck with me, because I thought, well, the Indonesian people’s relationship with the Indonesian military is far from normal. In fact, it’s marked by extraordinary violence and, you know, the United States government wins, U.S. weapons manufacturers win, but the Indonesian people really lose with normalization of ties.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Frida Berrigan, who has done the report, “U.S. Weapons at War,” looking at countries around the world that receive U.S. military aid. I know human rights groups now are calling for the U.S. government not to normalize relations with Indonesia. Paul Wolfowitz, who has now been named President of the World Bank, after the tsunami went to the whole Aceh area and came back and called for that, even though the U.S. had now for years not given aid to the Indonesian military because of what they did in Timor, the brutality there. I think human rights groups don’t see it as a done deal or that it can be stopped.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Right. Yeah, there is still a lot of pressure that can be mounted against the United States government, and allies in Congress who have seen what the Indonesian military’s capable of. So, it’s not a done deal, but I think the tsunami created this huge opening of space for something that the Bush administration really wanted for a long time, which is restoration of ties with what they call again and again the world’s largest Muslim democracy, and that relationship against the backdrop of the war on terrorism is so important that they’re willing to turn a blind eye to the Indonesian military’s ongoing abuses.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about Egypt, which has long been a recipient of U.S. foreign aid, in general, and one of the biggest historically. There’s a recent election there, another in a series of charade elections there. There’s really virtually no ability of any opposition candidates to mount a credible campaign against President Mubarak. What’s the state of the military aid there?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Right. Egypt is our second largest military aid client. They receive billions in military aid every year.

AMY GOODMAN: Number one is?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Number one is Israel. And those two go together, actually, and together account for the lion’s share of United States military aid. Egypt, as a relatively wealthy country, also purchases millions of dollars in U.S.-manufactured weaponry every year. And so, it’s a very valuable client and actually pays for U.S. weaponry, unlike many other countries that purchase it, purchase it with loans that the United States then writes off regularly. But, I mean, the whole specter of Egyptian elections is kind of like Iraqi elections or elections in Saudi Arabia where no one is really voting. The whole idea of democracy there is complete fiction, and yet, it makes President Bush look good. And then the State Department might change its classification, but right now, it’s listed as an autocratic, undemocratic regime.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Saudi Arabia.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Saudi Arabia is also a huge recipient of military aid. We have a bargain with them to allow them — allow the United States to remain — have a military base there, and carry out operations from Saudi Arabia and so we pay for that with foreign military financing.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Frida Berrigan, she wrote the report, “U.S. Weapons at War,” as Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute.

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