On November 16, 2009, Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor for the investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, died under suspicious, and not yet fully understood, circumstances in a Moscow prison. Reacting to this tragic event, Russia’s then president Dmitry Medvedev fired 20 senior prison officials, including deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service. This wasn’t however enough to mollify our noble statesman, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who, frustrated that no single individual was charged with Magnitsky’s death, introduced a bill that that would freeze financial assets and banned entry in the U.S. of 60 Russian officials allegedly involved in the Magnitsky case.
There are many strange things about the Magnitsky bill, but two strike me the most. First, it’s the very number of people included on Cardin’s list of Magnitsky’s oppressors. I can see how a single individual can be responsible for the deaths of 60 other people, but it’s very difficult to imagine how 60 different individuals can simultaneously cause the death of one single person. Even in cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the number of culprits is usually smaller: for example, the historic Nuremberg Trial featured only 24 defendants. Which precisely algorithm has Sen. Cardin used to select Russian officials for his list? A phone book of the Ministry of Interior?
Second, what was so special about Magnitsky’s death in the first place? People die in prisons around the world every single day, including, unfortunately, the United States. I already wrote on numerous occasions about the death of Adam Montoya who was essentially killed by the guards in the Pekin, Illinois federal prison. In a sad coincidence, Montoya died on November 13, 2009, three days before Magnitsky, but so far, no single person was charged with his death. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice denied a wrongful death and personal injury claim filed by the Montoya family. Has Sen. Cardin ever heard about Montoya? Did he attempt to look into the matter?
In another sad coincidence, on June 26, the day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was reviewing the Magnitsky bill, the Huffington Post posted a piece that began this way:
“A prisoner was left in his urine-soaked cell to die after a nurse turned away an ambulance, even though he had suffered several seizures.”
What happened? Xavius Scullark-Johnson, 27, was in the middle of his five-month sentence for a probation violation. He suffered from schizophrenia and on the night of June 28, 2010, was having seizures. A corrections officer called 911, but when an ambulance showed up to take Scullark-Johnson to a hospital, the nurse on duty turned the ambulance away. Scullark-Johnson was pronounced dead hours later. The statement provided by the prison authorities explained that ambulance visits are “strictly monitored” in “an effort to cut costs.”
Now, Scullark-Johnson’ mother, Olivia Scullark, is suing officials at the Minnesota Department of Corrections for her son’s death. Good luck to her!
Any chance that Sen. Cardin will get interested in this case? Hardly. In contrast to Sergei Magnitsky, neither Adam Montoya nor Xavius Scullark-Johnson have any influential followers capable of financing Sen. Cardin’s 2012 re-election campaign.