On Feb. 9, 2001, the USS Greeneville, a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, was traveling off the coast of Hawaii on a public relations mission. In the course of entertaining 16 civilian visitors on board of the submarine, Greeneville performed an emergency surfacing. As the submarine surfaced, it struck Ehime Maru, a Japanese training fishery ship. Within minutes of the collision, Ehime Maru sank, killing 9 of its crewmembers, including 4 high school students.
The U.S. Navy conducted an investigation that put the responsibility for the accident on Greeneville's captain, Commander Scott Waddle. Commander Waddle, however, wasn't court-martialed; instead, he was allowed to retire from active duty with full pension. (In 2004, Waddle started his own business as consultant and inspirational speaker. Topics of his speeches cover "leadership" and "patriotism.") One of the arguments against more severe punishment for Waddle was that, while at sea, he was always in direct communication with his base, so that the responsibility for his actions should be shared by his superiors, too. In other words, the U.S. Navy chain of command is so complicated that no single person can bear full responsibility for their individual actions.
I recall this story every time I hear complaints that Russia has done nothing to punish people responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for the Hermitage Capital Management. Seriously ill at the time of his imprisonment at the Butyrka prison in Moscow, Magnitsky died in November 2009 as a result of negligence on the part of the prison administration. Responding to Magnitsky's death, President Medvedev fired 20 senior prison officials, including deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service. Yet, this wasn't enough for Sen. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. McGovern (D-MA) and some other U.S. lawmakers who were frustrated that no single individual was charged with a crime. To bring their point across, they introduced a bill that froze financial assets and blocked U.S. entry visas for 60 Russian officials "responsible" for Magnitsky's death. On Apr. 19, McGovern added 3 more names to the "black list," including Alexander Bastrykin, Head of the Investigative Committee.
The logic of that evades me. If Commander Waddle couldn't be held fully accountable for his actions because he had a few superiors to listen to, then how a single individual — or even a few individuals – can be identified as "responsible" for Magnitsky's death if as many as 63 different people were involved?
In all fairness, one has to remember that people die as a result of medical negligence in the pen in the United States, too. Here is a story of Adam Montoya who died in a federal prison in Pekin, IL of internal bleeding. For days preceding his death, Montoya pleaded with his guards to take him to the doctor. They refused. The only medication he had in his prison cell was Tylenol. Has any single individual been charged with Montoya's death? Isn't it time for the Russian State Duma to open an investigation into the Montoya case and ban Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, from traveling to Russia?
I guess, what really pisses off the Cardin-McGovern crowd is the fact that some of the officials from the "Magnitsky list" have been recently promoted. This is a bummer indeed: at least, Commander Waddle wasn't promoted for sinking Ehime Maru. But here is another story. In 2003, CIA agents in Macedonia kidnapped a German citizen named Khaled el-Masri and placed him in a secret prison in Afghanistan where, incidentally, he was drugged, beaten and sodomized. But then, the agents realized that el-Masri wasn't a terrorist, as they initially thought, but, rather, a completely innocent guy. Eventually, after 5 months of total hell, el-Masri was quietly released. And what happened to a CIA analyst who originally pointed to el-Masri and then stubbornly refused to accept his innocence? You betcha! She was promoted and now occupies one of the top positions at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center.
To be sure, decision-making in Washington, DC is so opaque — and so influenced by special interests – that identifying people personally responsible for anything isn't an easy job. It was therefore so heartening to learn that President Obama's decision to undertake military actions in Libya was a brain child of 3 prominent members of his foreign policy team: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation Susan Rice, and the National Security Council official Samantha Power. (Interestingly, Obama made this decision over objections of his Vice President and Secretary of Defense.) Instead of composing lists of foreign nationals, U.S. Congress would better invite the three Valkyries of the Obama administration to Capitol Hill to explain what our game plan in Libya is.
Yes, I know that launching ill-conceived military adventures (often euphemistically called "wars of choice") isn't a crime for American statesmen. So I don't expect any punishment here. Rather, promotions will follow. If Clinton retires in 2012, as promised, Price will be a natural choice to replace her as Secretary of State. And Powel will have a decent chance to move into Rice's chair at the United Nations.
We will see. But for now, the last story. This one is about a police officer, Aaron Hess, who, under murky circumstances, shot and killed a 20-year-old college student during a disturbance in the New York City suburbs. A grand jury has cleared Hess of criminal wrongdoing. Recently, he was awarded by his police union with the Officer of the Year award.