Undivided attention

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.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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15 Responses to Undivided attention

  1. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene
    “Which precisely algorithm has Sen. Cardin used to select Russian officials for his list?” As you previously suggested, it could be his balance sheet (I am sure, that only of his electoral campaign contributors & not his personal accounts ), And of course, the Hon Sen Cardin was worried with the tax which Russian Government did not collect – that’s why there are so many people in his list. It seems, soon the Russians will help him to sleep better: with this http://podkontrol.ru/ and likely resulting taxation of such activities.

    (although, frankly, I think the Russians should not pay attention to this matter publicly – I am not saying they should forget it, but no reason to rush with response. The list was a pointless offense made in public – the whole world, and despite what some Russian retired elders or “real patriots” profess, it was an offense issued to every Russian regardless of their political affiliations. The time will come – and even better if USG forgets about they behavior by then – that’s how you train long term memory – by repeating the lesson after some time.).


    • Eugene says:

      Hi Alex,

      I actually have a great suggestion on how to respond to the Magnitsky bill. Russia should ban entry to the country of all the bill sponsors: 33 senators and 34 or so members of the House. This will really hurt because some of them come to Moscow “on business.” For the rest it will have no practical consequences but become a powerful blow to their supersized egos. Can you imagine? A US senator banned from entering an “inferior” country.

      How about that?


      • Alex says:

        Sounds good – “proportional” & with the appropriate measure of humor. Freezing the assets should not be forgotten too.
        (actually, reading my own comment above, I feel that it sounds a bit more serious than I actually feel about the whole matter. In fact, the situation with this bill is not unlike one sometimes experiences on the road: a car with a teenage driver, cutting in front of you and him shouting and booing and showing fingers to you. What is an appropriate reaction of a mature person to this? When this happens, I sometimes feel a great urge to do something similar in response. But is it wise? Once I caught such a guy in the car park shortly after & simply asked him what it was he really wanted to achieve? Boy, you shouldev seen how embarrassed he was)

        • Eugene says:

          I’m with you on reacting to the road хамство. There might be a slight difference though between this phenomenon and international relations. On the road, every time you deal with a different хам; in international relations, you deal with the same “bully” all the time. So in the latter case, some thoughtful measured response is warranted. Again and again, my problem with Russian “reaction” to the bill is that there is no reaction; only promises of such. You either fight or not mention fighting at all.


          • Alex says:

            Don’t push them (the Russians) 🙂 – the only “obvious” their reaction I e.g. can see available immediately (eg. Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, SE Asia etc) would be in a different weight category – something like throwing a grenade at the “bully’s car” .. The teenager’s “parents” would not understand this 🙂 – and they will be right.
            (as I said – your proposed list, advertised worldwide , the same way as this Magnistky Bill was, could be a good response – meaningless & harmless public display of that Russia can show the finger too . that is – if they do not mind to look like a teenager too)

        • Pro says:

          I was going to give Euxx’s answer, but I think I’ll give beesnoarkcr’s answer turn the warnings off.You can turn warnings off in two ways: you can change the compiler settings, so the warnings don’t appear in the first place, OR you can use the @SuppressWarnings annotation. (Mind you, if you compile outside of Eclipse, there’s only a subset of warnings you can supress with this)Personally, I turn warnings I don’t care about off; I don’t need the noise level. The only reason I don’t make the warnings I _do_ care about errors is because I don’t want to have to fix them before running tests.

  2. George A. Marquart says:

    I too was born in Tallinn, somewhat before 1940. That difference in years is why you cannot understand why the western world is concerned about the death of Magnitsky. By the time you were born, the bourgeois concept of truth had been supplanted by truth being “what is good for the party” (V. I. Lenin). Therefore your cynicism in promoting the reductio ad absurdum about 60 people being responsible for one person’s death is particularly abhorrent. You know it is not true! You know that the heirs of those who sent millions to their death and to the Gulag, who were brought up knowing only one kind of truth, did not think twice about stealing those millions of dollars, and then killing Magnitsky so that he could not talk. It was just lying there, asking to be taken. Even though the murder of one individual is a tragedy, you know that there is a great deal more to the story. You are pretending that that whole sordid business with the Hermitage Fund never took place and that somehow, probably by his own fault, Magnitsky wandered into prison and started provoking the guards until they really could not help doing him harm. Ah yes, life has become better, life has become happier!

    George A. Marquart

    • Eugene says:

      Dear George,

      Thank you for your comment. I assume that in contrast to many Magnitsky bill’s supporters, who never read it, you did. And if you did, you know that the bill is not about Magnitsky’s death; it’s about “gross violations of human rights” in Russia. But Magnitsky’s isn’t a human rights case; it’s what the Washington Post once called a case of “middle-level corruption.” So your comparing Magnitsky to the victims of Gulag is ridiculous on its merits and highly disrespectful to these victims. And it’s only the time and place of your birth that prevented me from questioning whether you know what Gulag is. Reading Lenin isn’t enough; add some history books to your reading list.

      But better go to Tallinn and walk around the Old City. It clears mind and restores the sense of proportions.

      Best Regards,

  3. Another fine article on the subject Eugene. Truly you are fighting the good fight!

  4. George A. Marquart says:

    No amount of walking around Tallinn will change the fact that you posted an out and out, deliberate lie when you wrote, “Reacting to this tragic event, Russia’s then president Dmitry Medvedev fired 20 senior prison officials, including deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service.” I do not need to elaborate; anyone interested can easily check it.

    But now, to the 21 April 2012 Editorial from the Washington Post: “Though it involves hundreds of millions of dollars and a wrongful death, the Magnitsky case is an example of mid-level Russian corruption. The most senior official involved is a deputy interior minister, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his circle are untouched. Despite that, and the overwhelming evidence posted on the Internet by Mr. Browder and Mr. Firestone, the officials involved continue to enjoy impunity (sic). That they do so is an extraordinary testament to the lawlessness and the disregard for basic human rights that prevail in Russia — and that the Obama administration, in its zeal for a “reset” of relations, has largely ignored.” Inasmuch as the Washington Post knows as little about Russian realities as the vast majority of Americans, their opinions do not necessarily represent objective truth. A “deputy interior minister” is mid-level? Maybe he is, but that is as high as people have been identified by name. You and every Russian know that if a deputy minister is involved, so is his boss, and his boss.

    If you knew that around midnight on Wednesday, 21 August 1991, I was kneeling at the monument to the victims of the Gulag in Moscow, remembering its victims, from members of my own family to those of my Russian friends, you would not accuse me of being disrespectful to the victims of the Gulag. Magnitsky was one of them in the sense that thousands never made it to the Gulag; their end came in the prisons where they failed to confess under interrogation using “special means.” They also were victims of mid-level corruption: someone wanted their apartment, their job, their girlfriend …

    George A. Marquart

    • Dear George,

      Any conflation between what happened to Magnitsky and the Stalinist Terror is as I am sure you will on reflection agree (and as Eugene has said) wildly inappropriate and unhistorical and is so regardless of what happened during the Terror to your family. For the rest an investigation is still underway and until it is concluded it is inappropriate to say how Magnitsky died or that Magnitsky was killed or to claim that certain persons killed him. Doing so takes away the presumption of innocence from these persons in a way that denies them their right to a fair trial. It also concerns me that you assume Browder’s accusations are true when nothing of the sort has been proved and when investigations of the case are still underway.

    • Eugene says:

      Dear George,

      If walking around Tallinn doesn’t work for you, try walking in a forest — the same effect. For, there is a confusion in your head, as Mr. Mercouris has rightly pointed below.

      The major point of my post was that the Magnitsky bill is a bad, unprofessional piece of legislation — legally and politically speaking. Involving victims of Gulag may appear to you as an answer to this point. But it’s not, and you’d be better to come up with something more rational and intellectually sound. Sure, we can compare the lists of Gulag victims in yours and my families. Let’s do it, but I suspect that my list will be longer — and I even won’t need “help” from my Russian friends.

      Best Regards,

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