A powerfully disturbing film on the Magnitsky case shown yesterday in Washington (and now available on Youtube) packs a huge amount of investigative work into 17 minutes. (Michael Weiss has a good text summary of the movie).
Not only are all the names named, but their connections and flight patterns as well -- where they often reveal their suspicious activity running off to fill Swiss bank accounts and buy real estate abroad. I'm thinking that William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital for whom Magnitsky worked, must have had cooperation from Aeroflot, if not some moles inside the FSB who actually want to bring their country out of the mire of organized crime. Recently, the anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny joined the board of Aeroflot, and press coverage seemed to indicate that it was a far cleaner operation than most Russian businesses. The movie shows the result of what must have been hundreds of person-hours doing very painstaking research on the biographies and business transactions and movements of some very shady characters.
The question is why this collection of crooks are being protected by the Putin Administration which is perceived as having brought "law and order" to Russia after the wild days of Yeltsin's rule (which, I have to say, are often selectively remembered).
More relevant to those of us watching at home: why won't the State Department name the names of these people clearly involved in the death of Magnitsky (and in some other deaths or cover-ups of crime as well?)
Short of actually being in collusion with some of these "Untouchables," I can't imagine what on earth would be a matter of "national security" or diplomacy. Fear of retaliation from the Kremlin if these names are publicized?
If anything, the State Department should be more afraid for the world than it is -- because clearly this crime syndicate has powerful backing above the levels of these officials if they are never prosecuted and brought to justice.
As I noted yesterday, the reasons we believe we "need" Russia seem to dwindle on scrutiny -- because we don't get anything from them on Iran, Syria, drugs in Afghanistan, and so on. That is, maybe we "need" them, but we should stop trying to hard to court them given that they aren't cooperative -- at root.
The Northern Distribution Network is one such powerful reason to suck up to Russia, I suppose, but Vladivostok isn't the only node on it and while it would be very expensive, the US could deal with Russia deciding to withdraw this transit point. I'm not sure if it is really, truly functioning, although it was supposedly agreed upon. There's a lot of domestic Russian opposition to this idea of having NATO use a facility on Russian soil to do anything, as 50 years of Soviet propaganda and 20 years of Russian propaganda against NATO have taken their toll on the public consciousness.
Say, maybe the US should just leave all that heavy equipment it's trying to get out of Afghanistan to the Central Asians, they'll need it after 2014. That's one way to get around a military budget.
Meanwhile, the Magnitsky bill itself supposedly "passed" at the Senate business meeting, the Cable reports -- but I've never heard of a bill "passing" that in fact still has its central tenet -- glasnost about the very list of sanctioned officials itself! -- still to be an item of contention "to be worked out".
And as suspected, this is the work of Sen. John Kerry. He is trying to help out Obama here and the State Department, possibly in the hopes of running it himself if there is Obama II. I find this disgracefully unprincipled:
Cardin's amendment would impose some more requirements on the administration if it wants to keep the names of the human rights violated secret in a classified annex, rather than publish them publicly.
SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) was the lone vote against the Cardin amendment and unsuccessfully tried to get Cardin to withdraw the amendment during the hearing. He is working to preserve more administration flexibility in administrating the classified list of human rights violators and said that there would be more changes in the bill before it reaches the Senate floor.
"We need to be very mindful of the need for the United States not to always be pointing fingers ... in some ways we could be doing better ourselves on a number of things," Kerry said. "Nevertheless, human rights are in our DNA and we will always be a nation that stands up for and fights for human rights."
What's especially disgraceful is that this perceived need to keep this list hidden then engenders a one-sided philosophy about human rights advocacy all too common to the "progressive set".
Kerry says we should "not point fingers". Why not? Fingers need to be pointed when you have staggering amounts of criminality, human rights violations, mayhem, murder and theft as you do in Russia -- which aspires to be a global partner to the West in the G-8, on the Security Council, in the OSCE, at the Council of Europe -- and soon the WTO.
There really is nothing wrong with invoking universal principles and the rule of law and applying it where it is really in trouble, in Russia. Indeed, concern about universality impels you to point fingers, and that's ok. That doesn't mean that we somehow don't take the log out of our own eye. We have a robust independent jusice system with adversarial defense and a far more freely and fairly elected legislature where we can work out our own salvation, and we have columnists like Glenn Greenwald who aren't arrested as they are in Russia. When was the last time you heard of a lawyer or human rights activist being killed or dying in detention due to state inaction or complicity in any of the other G8 countries?
This idea that we have to beat our breasts and prostrate ourselves in humility -- which began with Obama's Cairo Speech -- just doesn't cut it. We beat our breasts and cry of our guilt in two -- now three -- wars, and then the other side doesn't beat their breasts and cry about the original problem that caused those wars -- autocrats and Islamism and terrorism. You can make critiques of each of these wars, but you can't deny the fundamental problem that engendered them (and it's not missing WMDs): closed, autocratic regimes that spawned mass murder and terrorism. It's ok to counter that without feeling like we're walking on eggshells.
This notion of Sen. Kerry's that "we could be doing better ourselves" comes from the moral equivalency school that really doesn't get it about Russia. The scale and magnitude of human rights violations there and the lack of remedy are so far out of proportion to anything that the US does that it's hard to know where to start if somebody doesn't get that.
Where do these notions come from? Som knee-jerk compliance with old imperatives of the Democratic Socialists of America and similar groups -- don't criticize the Kremlin and collaborate with it against imperialism; don't jeopardize peace by complaining about human rights?
We're told that the Russians are going to respond to the Magnitsky List by making a similar list with US officials said to be responsible for Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Good! Bring it! I'm all for showing up the disproportionality here that will inevitably result. On the one hand, there's Crime Syndicate 'R Us -- Russia, Inc. -- unable to stop this rolling menace of corruption, theft, cover-ups and murders that spawns many cases in fact, not just Magnitsky's case although he is central to the story as the whistle-blower. On the other hand, there's the US, attempting to deal with the conundrums of fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban -- people detained on the battlefield that can't seem to be easily let go because they will go out and become jihadists once again, and the difficulty in trying them, especially when we see what a circus the initial trial has become.
Would Russia like to help the US close Guantanamo by accepting all the detainees for resettlement in Russia? I wouldn't recommend it, as there is no guarantee they wouldn't be interrogated, tortured and kept in worse prisons there, in the end.
As for Abu Ghraib, these crimes have already been addressed in US courts, but perhaps Russia feels, like some activists, that only lower-level soldiers were punished and higher-ups were only demoted. If they think they can do better with this, have at it. Germany tried this and failed, not only because of lack of evidence but simply because the German political leadership changed. If Russia thinks that pursuing sanctions against those it believes responsible for Abu Ghraib will lead to justice and upholding of international law, again -- go for it. Of course, the disconnect is enormous between pursuing such a politicized case against the US merely as a tit-for-tat gambit, and all of the mass crimes against humanity Russia itself committed in Chechnya -- which were supposed to be prosecuted as a condition for joining the Council of Europe, and never were.
What else you got?
In fact, if the US human rights community were advising Russia on this they might have urged them to go more thematically with trying to prosecute the officials responsible for exonerating "water boarding" and not considering it torture. But Russia itself practices too many forms of torture as a matter of policy to be credible in pursuing this.
There's something really deeply wrong about thinking America has something to be ashamed about because it doesn't like having lawyers die for blowing the whistle on huge corrupt schemes by organized criminals. It doesn't.
In fact, Russia only looks bad here trying to threaten sanctions regarding war crimes, when what the Magnitsky list is about is sanction for crimes in peace, not war -- which have far more effect on far more people.
And frankly, trying to protect the Russians and protect Obama protecting the Russians from these harsh realities only looks bad, too.