Last Thursday, in retaliation to US Congress passing the Magnitsky Act which bars Russian officials accused of human rights abuses from traveling to the US, and owning real estate and financial assets there, Vladimir Putin voiced support for sanctions against US judges accused of violating the rights of adopted Russian children. The Magnitsky Act, named after Sergei L. Magnitsky who died in a Russian pre-trial detention center in 2009 after being arrested for trying to expose government tax fraud provoked the ire Moscow.
In a furious reaction the Kremlin dubbed the Magnitsky Act hypocritical “purely political” and a “vindicatory reaction” by the US government to satisfy internal political squabbling. The Kremlin cited a list of human rights violations perpetrated by the United States at home: “Don’t people die in their prisons as well? Perhaps, even more than in ours,” and abroad. Referring to Guantanamo Bay Putin stated: “People are kept there without trial – in shackles and chains just like in the Middle Ages,” and now, he continued, people “who opened secret prisons and legalized torture during investigations” point out Russia’s shortcomings.
Putin has approved the creation of a counter list of American adoptive parents suspected of abusing adopted children from Russia and passing a law named after Dima Yakolev-the two year old Russian boy who died after his adoptive father locked him in a car on a scorching day in 2008. Like the Magnitsky Act, the Dima Yakolev law will deny visas for blacklisted Americans suspected of abusing adopted Russian children and freeze bank accounts they hold in Russia. In an Op-Ed Mark Nuckols of the Moscow Times wrote, “[the Kremlin’s] measures are also easily susceptible to ridicule since nobody on the blacklist is likely to ever hold their money in a Russian bank or buy property in the country.” Worse, Nuckols suggests that the people associated with Magnitsky’s death the related tax fraud scheme are even less likely to be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. Moscow refuses to be perceived as bending to pressures from Washington. Washington is the unrelenting braggadocio of protecting human rights and takes advantage of every opportunity it gets to reinforce this image.
Meanwhile, the agonizing list of American human rights violations is mounting. CIA “black sites” have come under recent scrutiny, last Thursday the Senate Intelligence Committee approved, by a 9-6 party-line vote, a 6,000-page report on C.I.A. detention and interrogation. It remains classified, of course, and is allegedly filled with claims that tortured prisoners provided crucial intelligence that led to Bin Laden’s targeted killing (assassination). The European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously last week that US foreign intelligence kidnapped German national Khaled el-Marsi who was mistakenly identified as an Al-Qaeda operative with the same name. El-Masri “was locked in a hotel room for 23 days, then handed over to a C.I.A. rendition team at an airport, where he was “severely beaten, sodomized, shackled and hooded. Later he was sent to Afghanistan and illegally detained for months.” During Private Bradley Manning’s hearing on December 11th details were disclosed of the unlawful pretrial punishments Manning was subjected to at Quantico brig. Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture spoke of Manning’s conditions at Quantico: “Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of their specific conditions.” Drone strikes are still killing hundreds including unarmed civilians and untried US citizens in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The US prison-industrial-complex continues to streamline thousands of new inmates convicted of non-violent crimes behind bars for sentences unrivaled across the world in a criminogenic nightmare that begets more social violence. America’s complicity in human rights abuses is without end and the political grandstanding surrounding the Magnitsky Act is as Putin chides an “unfriendly act.” Then again unfriendly regimes would use dead whistleblowers and abused children to score political points.