In the introduction to their 43 page report,
The seven Russians were all detained soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan and eventually spent about two years in Guantanamo. Although they complained of mistreatment by the Americans, all of the detainees repeatedly asked authorities at Guantanamo not to be returned to Russia because they expected to be treated worse there. And indeed, three of them experienced serious torture and ill-treatment after being arrested in Russia. Two of them were convicted at unfair trials, and all of them have been harassed and hounded by Russian law enforcement.
The 43-page report, “The ‘Stamp of Guantanamo:’ The Story of Seven Men Betrayed by Russia’s Diplomatic Assurances to the United States,” reconstructs the experiences of the detainees after being returned to Russia in March 2004, based on interviews with three of the detainees, their family members, lawyers, and others. Access to the ex-detainees is limited because three of them are in prison and the rest have either managed to leave the country or are in hiding.
It is interesting that in the late 70s, Afghanistan was Russia's "Vietnam" - an upopular war of attrition from which the USSR eventually withdrew. CIA operatives have bragged about how they sabotaged the Russian cause by strengthening the local warlords, and creating for them an income in the international opium trade. Afghanistan's output of drugs has continued to skyrocket since the US invasion in 2001: exceding all previous records in recent years (I will provide links shortly to support this -ed).
And now the US and USSR have joined hands in extrajudicial oppression, something suspected since the days of Edward Teller and "Mutually Assured Destruction".
It has long been believed that the "balance of terror" between the US and USSR was a fiction created by power groups in both countries for the preservation of their own absolute authority, in the nature of Orwell's concept of a "permanent war" to sustain the empire of the ultimate dictator. The sociologist Paul Goodman advanced this theory in the mid-60s. I would trace it's lineage back to the person relationship between William Averell Harriman and Joseph Stalin at the time of Roosevelt's demise and the fall of the Iron Curtain. Harriman was US ambassador to Russia at the time and handled the negotiations with Stalin due to Roosevelt's ill health.
It is difficult to deny the details of this particular instance of dubious cooperation. Guantanamo was created under the guidance of Alberto Gonzales with a specific purpose: to facilitate a zone of operation outside of any legal jurisdiction, and it has since served the purposes of repressive regimes around the world. The US gets favors from them in exchange: most notably, the ability to fly politcal prisoners to torture in secret locations for the official state department policy of "extrajudicial rendition". This policy was something that Colin Powell could not stomach and was a turning point in his departure from the Bush cabinet. The international nature of this operation is now laid bare by this groundbreaking report. In this excerpt, complete with footnotes, the abuses born by the human beings at the endpoint of "govenment policy" are detailed:
Post-Return Abuses by RussiaRussian government abuses of the ex-Guantanamo detainees fell into three main categories: torture; harassment; and denial of the right to a fair t rial. Detainees, detainees’ relatives, lawyers, and other individuals with whom Human Rights Watch spoke reported that law enforcement officers left a clear impression of intending to “get” (“ustroit”) the detainees or “hang” (“povesit”) a crime on them. Over the course of several run-ins with law enforcement, Airat Vakhitov said, “I was told many times that after my time in Guantanamo, it wasn’t necessary to prove I was a terrorist. That any one of us could be thrown in jail because we were terrorists.”44
The two law enforcement agencies described as most abusive by those whom Human Rights Watch interviewed were the Federal Security Service, or “FSB” in Russian; and the Organized Crime Department of the Ministry of the Interior, a police unit known by its Russian acronym “UBOP.”45 Some detainees also complained of abuse by investigators from the procuracy, who were responsible for building criminal cases. Often local and regional FSB and UBOP conducted interrogations together. Sometimes the men who beat or detained them did not wear any identifying insignia.
In addition to being serious violations of human rights for which the Russian government is primarily responsible, incidents of torture are also evidence that the US government violated the Convention against Torture by returning the seven detainees to Russia. The fact that all the ex-detainees were frequently harassed by law enforcement, and two of them were denied a fair trial, is part of the general pattern of abuse they suffered. But the harassment and unfair trials also clearly had the objective of returning the ex-detainees to state custody. These measures therefore put the ex-detainees at greater risk of torture as well.
Torture and Ill-TreatmentThe mistreatment of the former Guantanamo detainees began from the moment they touched down on Russian soil. Airat Vakhitov told Human Rights Watch,
When we [first] got to Russia they didn’t torture us, they just dealt with us very roughly, they beat us when we touched down at SheremetyevoRavil Gumarov did not remember specific abuse, but told Human Rights Watch he thought officials were trying to act tough by treating the seven men like terrorists, putting masks on them, tying their hands, and laying them down on the floor of the airplane.47
Vakhitov told Human Rights Watch that he was only once formally interrogated in prison in Pyatigorsk: he was asked to provide a chronology of his activities in Afghanistan. Although he was never tortured, on one occasion while he was praying he was told to get up onto his knees and pray not to Allah but to Jesus Christ. When he refused, he was rolled over and his clothes were burned with the ends of cigarettes.48 Other detainees told lawyer Alexandra Zernova that the facility in Pyatigorsk was “very quiet” compared to what they had endured in Guantanamo—and what some of them endured afterwards.49
Rasul KudaevRasul Kudaev presents the strongest case of mistreatment in Russian detention because eyewitness testimony, photographic evidence, and official medical documents exist to prove it. Kudaev returned from Guantanamo in poor health. According to his mother, he suffered from hepatitis, stomach ulcers, the after-effects of a bullet he received in the hip in Afghanistan that was never removed, serious headaches, high blood pressure, and other ailments. These medical problems rendered him unable to work and to walk without a crutch and a profound limp.50
On October 13, 2005, several groups of armed men attacked government buildings in Nalchik, the republican capital of Kabardino-Balkaria in southern Russia. Kudaev lived in the village of Khasania on the outskirts of Nalchik with his mother and brother. Approximately 150 people died in the attacks, including at least 94 people reported to have been attackers, 35 policemen, and 12 civilians.51 His mother claims that Kudaev was home on the day of the attack, as he was every day, due to his health. Ten days later, on October 23, as part of a sweep of dozens of arrests in connection with the attack, a group of agents picked up Kudaev at his home.
According to his mother, Fatimat Tekaeva, who was home with him at the time of the arrest, about two dozen men dressed in camouflage and masks arrived in armored vehicles, cars, and trucks, armed with automatic weapons and sniper rifles, and swarmed onto the property. They beat Kudaev as they handcuffed him and hustled him across the yard.52 In a statement she wrote on December 28, 2005, in connection with an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, Tekaeva said she screamed to her neighbors to come and witness the fact that her son was walking on his own, because she was afraid that he would be beaten in custody until he was no longer capable of walking. In response, she said, an officer of the local UBOP, R. Kiarov, said, “We’re not going to beat him here, all will start at the UBOP.” 53
Several pieces of evidence make it clear that, indeed, Kudaev was very seriously beaten in the days immediately after his arrest.
On October 24 lawyer Irina Komissarova gained access to Kudaev at the UBOP, also known as the “Sixth Department.” She described the scene:
Upon arrival at the Sixth Department I saw Kudaev R.V., who was sitting on a stool, in a contorted position, holding his stomach. There were a large bruise and many scratches on the right side of his face near the eye. Apart from the investigator, there were many other persons in the office (three to five people). Investigator Artemenko A., who had worked with him that day, gave me the record of the interrogation of suspect Kudaev R.V. to read. After reading the document, I asked Kudaev R.V. whether he had indeed given the testimony. In response, he expressed the wish to talk to me alone…
In our conversation, Kudaev R.V. told me that he had been tortured and beaten after he was brought to the Sixth Department. The testimony in the interrogation record was not his, it had been made up, and it was not correct...
When Kudaev R.V. informed the investigator that he would not sign the interrogation record… all hell broke loose!!! From all sides people in the office gathered around (by the way, none introduced themselves) and everyone started issuing threats at Kudaev R.V. In the end, he could no longer stand it and said that he would sign the interrogation record because he was afraid that after I left they would beat him again. Someone in the room told me “you are free to go, we don’t need your services any more.”The fear expressed by Kudaev R.V. that he would again be beaten I saw as realistic.54
On October 25 Kudaev was taken before a Nalchik City Court judge, who authorized his continued detention on suspicion of terrorism, participation in an illegal armed formation, attempt on the life of a law enforcement official, and murder.55 After the hearing he was transferred to a pretrial detention facility, or SIZO, where he was evidently beaten again.56 Komissarova gained access to him the following day:
They almost carried him in because he could not walk without outside help. In my conversation with him, he told me that he had been subjected to physical violence. That is, he was beaten when he was delivered to the building of the UBOP on 23 October 2005, and he was also brutally beaten at the time of his arrival at the SIZO on 25 October 2005. He was beaten in the area of the lower back and on the heels. One could see that he could not straighten out because of the pain, the leg that he could not stand on twitched, there were bruises on his face.57
Komissarova described other details of Kudaev’s wounds to a local journalist:
When I came to the pre-trial detention centre to talk to Rasul, two men carried him to me because he couldn't walk. Rasul couldn't hold up his head. On the right side of his face there was a large haematoma, his eye was full of blood, his head was a strange shape and size, his right leg was broken and he had open wounds on his hands.58
On October 27 Komissarova lodged a formal request for a forensic medical examination of Kudaev. Later, Kudaev told Komissarova that he was beaten again on the following day, October 28.59
On November 9, despite her objections, Komissarova was interrogated as a witness in her client’s case. The following day an investigator issued a decision removing Komissarova as Kudaev’s lawyer because she had given witness testimony.60
Kudaev was also denied necessary medicines, which may have contributed to his suffering. Despite daily pleadings from his mother, only eight days after his arrest did officials on duty at the detention facility accept packages of medicine that his mother said he required on a daily basis.61
In November 2005 photographs of several people detained after the October 13 events, including Rasul Kudaev, began circulating on the internet. They were all headshots showing the subjects covered with bruises, sores, and swelling. All of them except the photograph of Kudaev showed the prisoner’s number at the bottom of the image, making it clear that they had come from official investigations.62
The photograph of Rasul Kudaev resembles the others in quality and in the background visible behind the detainees’ heads. Although it is not possible to officially authenticate its provenance, the preponderance of other evidence of mistreatment of Kudaev suggests that it is genuine.
Footnotes from the above excerpt: --------------------------------------
44 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Airat Vakhitov, September 7, 2006.
45 UBOP stands for Upravlenie Borby Organizovannoi Prestupnosti, or Directorate for Fighting Organized Crime. It is also sometimes known as the “Sixth Department”—see below.
47 Human Rights Watch interview with Ravil Gumarov, date and place withheld.
48 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Airat Vakhitov, September 7, 2006.
49 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Alexandra Zernova, September 24, 2006.
50 Human Rights Watch interviews with Fatimat Tekaeva, Nalchik, Russia, November 2, 2005, and Khasania, Russia, July 26, 2006.
51 “Interior Ministry: Attackers on Capital of Kabardino-Balkaria Connected with Foreign Special Services” (“MVD: Napadavshie na stolitsu Kabardino-Balkarii svyazany s inostrannymi spetssluzhbami”), Caucasian Knot News, October 17, 2006, http://www.kavkaz.memo.ru/newstext/news/id/1082860.html (accessed January 14, 2007).
52 Human Rights Watch interview with Fatimat Tekaeva, November 2, 2005.
53 Written testimony of Fatimat Tekaeva, appendix document 4 submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, dated December 28, 2005, unpublished document on file with Human Rights Watch.
54 Complaint to the lawyers' association of Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, the procuracy of Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, and others by Irina Komissarova, appendix document 11 submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, dated November 3, 2005, unpublished document on file with Human Rights Watch.
55 Ruling of the Nalchik City Court, October 25, 2005, on file with Human Rights Watch. At this writing, Kudaev has not been formally indicted.
56 SIZO is the Russian acronym for sledstvennyi izoliator, or “investigation-isolation unit.”
57 Complaint to the lawyers' association of Kabardino-Balkaria Republic by Irina Komissarova.
58 Luisa Orazayeva, “Suspect Vanishes From Kabardino-Balkaria Jail,” International Caucasian Forum, February 2, 2006, http://kavkazweb.net/english/viewtopic.php?t=894&sid=5871651713d07309329d3463c141adba (accessed July 22, 2006).
59 Timeline of the arrest of Rasul Kudaev, section 14.23, document submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, unpublished document on file with Human Rights Watch.
60 Decision on the removal of lawyer by Kotliarov E.A. of the Procuracy General of the Russian Federation for the Southern Federal Region of November 10, 2005, appendix document 22 submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, unpublished document (in Russian) on file with Human Rights Watch. The prosecutor’s office invited Komissarova in to discuss her allegations that her client had been abused, and then she was promptly prohibited from representing him because she had given evidence in the case. Human Rights Watch interview with Irina Komissarova, Nalchik, Russia, July 25, 2006. Human Rights Watch has found several cases in the Russian criminal defense system of energetic defense lawyers being barred from serving their clients after they are forced to submit to interrogations and then declared “witnesses.”
61 Human Rights Watch interview with Fatimat Tekaeva, November 2, 2005.
62 The full set of photographs is available at http://www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=227 (accessed July 22, 2006).
This section of the report "The Stamp of Guantanamo" continues at HRW.org
The details of the report reveal that high ranking officials in the victims' home country did not have the authority to end the harrassment and oppression these men experienced, orders for which seem to have come from invisible authorities.
This 43 page report is one that cannot be ignored: