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December 14 - December 21, 2000

[Features]


Torture is the issue

Although human-rights abuses remain widespread in Turkey, Providence-based Textron, Inc., is poised to sell $4.5 billion worth of attack helicopters to the US ally

By Steven Stycos

TEXTRON wants to sell 145 of these helicopters to Turkey — which has used similar equipment to terrorize its Kurdish population.

They put Xebat Baran in a dark room that smelled of urine and human excrement, blindfolded him, and tied a long board to his arms, forcing him to stand as though he were being crucified. Then, the Turkish police in Istanbul hoisted the board off the ground, so that Baran’s feet couldn’t touch the floor. Pulling down his pants, the police applied electricity to his genitals.

Retelling this 10-year-old story is still more torture for Baran. Sitting in his apartment in West Warwick, Rhode Island, with a cup of tea on the table in front of him, the 33-year-old Kurdish émigré starts to cry and leaves the room to compose himself.

When he returns, Baran explains that the police had sought his help to locate two people from his Kurdish village, and he’d feared for their safety. “I thought my arms were going to pop out,” he recalls of the torture. At one point, his tormentors asked if he were married. When Baran said no, one officer responded, “Don’t worry, you’re never going to have a kid.”

Eventually the torture stopped, although Baran continued to hear the cries and screams of other prisoners through the night. In the morning, the police took him to several Kurdish bakeries and asked him to identify others who might know the two villagers’ whereabouts. Continu-

ing to say that he had no information, Baran was finally released. But his traumatic experience is hardly isolated. In their most recent human-rights reports, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the US Department of State each describe the use of torture by the Turkish police and military as widespread.

Into this human-rights hellhole, Providence-based Textron, Inc., wants to send 145 of its AH-1Z King Cobra attack helicopters.

Turkey selected Textron for the $4.5 billion contract in July. Because of Turkey’s abysmal human-rights record, Amnesty International opposes the sale and is urging the State Department to deny an export license to the huge weapons maker. But backed by its annual $4 million lobbying operation and $359,000 in contributions during the recent campaign season, Textron — the third-largest defense contractor in New England — is pushing hard for approval.

Human-rights advocates expect the Cobras to be used in southeastern Turkey, where the Kurdish minority lives under martial law, and where human-rights violations are most frequent. Like the Kurds in Iraq, Turkish Kurds have been struggling to establish their own nation since the end of World War I. Although Kurds are allowed to participate in all levels of Turkish life, they must do so as Turks, not Kurds. Belief in a united Turkey has led to repression, including severe restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language on radio and television. Kurdish agitation, led by the violent leftist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), intensified after a military coup toppled the elected Turkish government in 1980.

In response to both peaceful protest and armed rebellion, the Turkish government has burned or evacuated 3000 Kurdish settlements in the southeast since 1984, creating as many as three million refugees, according to Amnesty International. The army has quieted the armed revolt, diminished the PKK guerrillas’ access to food and support, and captured their leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

American-made helicopters, including Textron Cobras, have played an integral part in this scorched-earth policy by transporting soldiers in the southeast, say human-rights groups. They have also been used to bomb unarmed civilians and, in once instance, to help soldiers abduct, torture, and murder four men, according to Human Rights Watch.

Because Turkey will not allow human-rights monitors and journalists to visit the southeast, it’s impossible to ensure that Textron’s helicopters will not be used in future human-rights abuses, says Maureen Greenwood, Amnesty International USA’s Washington-based advocacy director for Europe and the Middle East.

Yet Turkey’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its long history as a strategic ally of the US make it unlikely that the $4.5 billion deal will be quashed. US jets regularly use Turkish air bases to bomb nearby Iraq, and Turkey’s military trains with that of another embattled US ally, Israel. President Bill Clinton warned earlier this year that angering Turkey could have “far-reaching negative consequences for the United States.”

Eager to bolster its stock price, which has lost more than half its value in the last 18 months, Textron is using Clinton’s views to its advantage. “We agree with the State Department,” says Gene Kozicharow, Textron’s Washington-based director of public affairs, referring to Clinton’s warning. But when asked whether Textron agrees with the State Department’s damning assessment of human-rights abuses in Turkey, Kozicharow responded, “I think I’m going to cut this off, Steve. Talk to you later,” and hung up. Textron’s chief executive officer, Lewis Campbell, who lives on Providence’s East Side, refused the Phoenix’s request for an interview through another company spokesperson.

Textron, whose defense operations are spread among its four divisions, employs 68,000 workers in plants in 30 countries. The company records $11.6 billion in annual revenue and is the 10th-largest American defense contractor, with $1.4 billion in sales to the US government in fiscal 1999, according to a survey in Government Executive magazine. Other than the Providence headquarters, Textron’s New England presence consists of plants that make auto parts in the New Hampshire cities of Dover and Manchester; and the Textron Systems plant in Wilmington, Massachusetts, which manufactures “smart” munitions such as mines and bombs.

In Rhode Island, Textron has bolstered its image as a good corporate citizen by donating $1.1 million to scholarships for women and minorities at Providence College, and by helping to establish the Textron Chamber of Commerce Academy charter school in Providence. The conglomerate’s founder, Royal Little, is fondly remembered for creating the charitable trust that each year pays the administrative expenses for the United Way of Southeastern New England.

But throughout its corporate history, Textron has been accused of putting profits ahead of human concerns. In 1948, 9000 workers lost their jobs and two congressional investigations were launched when the company closed textile factories in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire and moved production to South Carolina, Georgia, and Puerto Rico.

Textron’s weapons manufacturing has been controversial since the conglomerate purchased Bell Helicopter, based in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1960. In 1979, Textron admitted that it had paid $2.95 million to a company in which the former chief of the Iranian air force had an interest — while Textron was finalizing a $500 million helicopter deal with the shah of Iran. That same year, the company admitted making payments to generals in Ghana and the Dominican Republic in connection with helicopter sales. The Wall Street Journal reported that payoffs were made in helicopter deals with Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) and Mexico. And Textron has helped arm dictators in El Salvador and Indonesia.

In 1992, the company was able to reverse a decision by Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, that development and construction of the V-22 Osprey Tilt Rotor aircraft was unnecessary. Lobbying by Textron convinced Congress to reinstate the project, the cost of which is estimated by the Defense Department to exceed $36 billion. The Osprey is expected to go into full-scale production soon, but the aircraft still faces criticism. The Associated Press reported last week that the Pentagon’s top civilian supervisor of weapons testing found that although the Osprey is “operationally effective,” it has not proven to be “operationally suitable,” meaning that the maintenance and repair costs associated with the hybrid helicopter-airplane’s use may be unacceptably high.

Sitting with Baran at the dining-room table of his West Warwick home is Bawer Azadi, another Kurdish immigrant who has established a new life in Rhode Island. Like Baran, he is using a pseudonym and declines to be photographed. If they are identified, the two men fear, the Turkish government will retaliate against their relatives in Turkey.

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