A Russian version of this piece was published by Комсомольская Правда (June 27, 2012)
A piece of legislation, the Magnitsky bill, is steadily moving through the bowels of U.S. Congress. It bears the name of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax attorney who died under suspicious circumstances in the Moscow police custody in 2009. If adopted, the bill will create a list of Russian officials suspected in “human right abuses.”
Legislating by creating lists is an interesting invention of our perennially innovative lawmakers. The problem with the Magnitsky bill, though, is that it’s unclear which exactly American interests were affected by Magnitsky’s tragic death. For, if our elected officials do take into account the U.S. national interest – or care about human rights in their own country – they ought to consider a number of completely different lists.
They could start, for example, with creating an Adam Montoya list. In 2009, Montoya was sentenced to a prison term for counterfeiting commercial checks and credits cards. Shortly after arriving at the Pekin, Illinois, federal penitentiary, Montoya began complaining of abdomen pain. For nine days, he pleaded with his guards to take him to the doctor; they refused and instead gave him Tylenol. On the morning of Nov. 13, 2009, Montoya was found dead in his cells. The autopsy showed that he had died of internal bleeding caused by a burst spleen. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice denied a wrongful death and personal injury claim filed by the Montoya family.
Why did Congress not create a list of people responsible for Montoya’s death? Is it because our legislators have no interest in an “ordinary” victim of the U.S. criminal justice system?
Well, if members of Congress do prefer high-profile cases in distant countries, they would have considered creating a “bin Laden” list. We know that for the 6 years preceding his death, Osama bin Laden had been living a comfortable life in an upper-middle-class city of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Does anyone in their right mind believe that bin Laden’s whereabouts were a secret for Pakistani authorities? The only unknown, perhaps, is whether they simply “knew” about his presence in Abbottabad or were providing him with active operational support. It also remains to be established whether this knowledge rested with a bunch of middle-level military and ISI officers or went all the way to the top of Pakistani military and intelligence leadership.
Why then did Congress not create a list of Pakistani military and intelligence officials who should be held responsible for harboring the al-Qaeda leader, whether willingly or by an outrageous dereliction of professional duty? These individuals must be denied entry into the United States — and their banks accounts frozen — until the Pakistani government provides a comprehensive report on what it knew about bin Laden’s multiyear sojourn in Abbottabad. And mind you, we aren’t talking here about a case of mid-level corruption in Russia, as in Magnitsky case; we’re talking about the world’s once most wanted terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people.
Sticking with Pakistan for a bit more, Congress could have also considered creating the Shakil Afridi list. Afridi is a Pakistani doctor who cooperated with the CIA to help locate Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. For this act of courage, Afridi was sentenced to 33 years imprisonment for treason. Why did Congress not create a list of Pakistani investigative and judiciary officials responsible for the outraging treatment of a man who risked his life defending our national security?
I’ll explain you why: lobbyists hired by the Pakistani government rushed to Capitol Hill and told members of Congress that Islamabad knew nothing. Zero. Zilch. And guess what? It was enough for our usually vigilant legislators to drop the matter.
A lesson that Russia has so far stubbornly refused to learn is simple: Moscow must begin lobbying its interests in the United Sates. For, with a functional pro-Russian lobby, the Magnitsky bill would have never emerged.