Remembering 9/11

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

Sept. 11, 2001 is to forever remain one of the most significant milestones in the American history. And not only history: the very fabric of American society abruptly changed on that fateful day.

The rest of the world – while fully appreciating the scale of the terrorist attack that took lives of almost 3,000 people and caused $100 billion in property damages and other losses – considered 9/11 as a criminal act. But in the view of Americans, what happened on the second Tuesday of September 2001 was more than that. It was an attack on American values and ideals, an assault at the very core of the American way of life. The Americans didn’t want to just prosecute the criminals. They wanted to fight back; they wanted to go to war with this new mortal enemy.

Then-U.S. President George W. Bush was quick to grasp this sentiment and to use the occasion of the 9/11 to turn around his young, but already troubled presidency. The invasion of Afghanistan that began on Oct. 7, 2001 was met with a stunning 88 percent approval rate in the U.S. The world’s reaction was somewhat uneven, yet major U.S. allies, such as the UK, Canada, France and Germany supported the military strike.

But overturning the Taliban and chasing al Qaeda out of Afghanistan – or even capturing or killing Osama bin Laden – wasn’t exactly what Bush had in mind. With an administration packed with career neo-conservatives, he was setting his sights on a larger goal: to re-design the whole world to Washington’s liking. The Middle East was the place to start, and Bush’s personal nemesis, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, was the natural first target.

The invasion of Iraq, launched in March 2003, destroyed the fragile national unity that had been formed in the wake of the 9/11. Slightly more than half of the American population supported the military action in Iraq at its outset, but even this tentative support soon evaporated: By June 2005, almost 60 percent of Americans told pollsters that the war should not have been fought in the first place. The war in Iraq also put a strain on U.S. relations with France, Germany and Russia. Although those with France and Germany were eventually patched up later on, the bitter disagreements over the Iraq war still poison Washington’s relationship with Moscow.

The 11th anniversary of the 9/11 gives Americans another chance to reflect on whether any gains in national security have been achieved as a result of two wars, which – considering that the one in Afghanistan still going on – lasted longer than the Civil War and World Wars I and II and have cost the country more than 6,000 deaths and over $1.3 billion in treasury.

It’s also time to reflect on whether we’re learning anything from what happened after the 9/11. One would think that the utter mess that followed the end of major military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq would ensure that no world power goes on war in any part of the globe without conducting a thorough post-war recovery planning. Alas. Last year, NATO launched a military strike at the central authorities in Libya in order to remove Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi from power. The result of this “success” has been a de facto fragmentation of the country, a development whose long-term geopolitical consequences are impossible to forecast. And these days, the same folks in Washington, who just a few short years ago promised us that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power would usher the era of “peace and stability” in Iraq and around the Middle East, demand a military intervention in Syria, arguing – incredibly as this might sound – that this is the only way to prevent the civil war in the country.

What happened on Sept. 11, 2001 still matters today – to the U.S. and to other countries as well. Are we smart enough to learn all important lessons from just one 9/11?

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The identity crisis

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

Countries, just like people, suffer from identity crises, which I would define as inability to fully comprehend their worldwide raison d’être (known, for example, in Russia as “the national idea”), their true values and aspirations, and, most importantly, their vision for the future. The identity crisis also often involves a gap between ordinary citizens and the country’s leadership as well as discontent between different social groups.

There is every reason to believe that a hundred-plus days into Vladimir Putin’s third presidency, Russia finds itself in the identity crisis of sorts. The situation was somewhat different even four years ago, when a young and energetic president, Dmitry Medvedev, began promoting his modernization agenda. Everyone would agree today that Medvedev’s attempts to reform the country’s outdated economic model and authoritarian political system did not yield much. Yet his efforts and, equally importantly, refreshing rhetoric helped usher in an image of Russia as a country aspiring to become better home for its own citizens, an image that was welcomed both in Russia and around the world.

Medvedev isn’t president anymore, but he’s still around and still pretends being a modernizer. These days, he runs a cabinet staffed with young technocrats with undeniably liberal credentials. The problem is that from the very beginning, Medvedev’s team has been suspiciously quiet, and its impact on the situation in the country is far from clear. The last thing I personally heard about the cabinet was the news that the government was spending $730,000 dollars on new furniture for the young modernizers’ offices.

For his part, since his inauguration in May, President Putin has made no attempts to articulate any coherent strategic vision of the country’s future. Having tacitly rejected his predecessor’s idea of “modernization” and having completely exhausted his own promise of “stability” – the term he struggled to define during the last presidential campaign – Putin has offered virtually nothing in their place. The country’s problems are real – the economy is still humiliatingly dependent on oil prices and corruption is out of control – but the top Russian officials have spent the whole summer in a childish play of counting medals that Russia won or lost during the Olympic Games in London. It would appear that the only “national idea” the Russian political class can come up with would be winning the gold medal competition during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Ah, by the way, the Sochi Olympiad is shaping up as the most expensive sports event in history; just don’t ask what all this money ($45 billion and counting) is going to buy.

And then, there was the verdict in the Pussy Riot case. It’s bad enough that a minor disturbance of public order has been allowed to reach the proportions of the major political and cultural event in the modern Russian history – all due to petty vindictiveness of Russia’s political and, much more disturbingly, spiritual leaders. It’s equally bad that at the time when unity must become Russia’s true “national idea,” yet another divisive factor that splits the country along ideological lines has been created out of nowhere – as if Russia hasn’t got plenty of those already. Worse, by igniting widespread protests and condemnations all around the world, Russia yet again lost the chance to define its identity on its own terms. Now, this will be done by others, and the Kremlin may not like the result.

One could argue, of course, that so far, the identity crisis hasn’t killed any single individual. Nor is there any history of countries collapsing under the weight of such a crisis. And this is true. Yet, identity crises must not be taken lightly, and the reason is simple: they are usually closely followed by other, much more damaging, crises.

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Jackson-Vanik Forever?

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

On Aug. 22, Russia will officially become the 156th member of the World Trade Organization, finally concluding its bumpy, 18-year-long journey to membership in the world’s largest trade body. By accepting the WTO rules, Russia will significantly reduce import tariffs – from the current level of 9.5 percent to 6.0 percent in 2015 – allowing other WTO members to expand their presence on the vast Russian domestic market. Unfortunately, there will be one country that is going to miss on this opportunity: the United States.

The reason why the U.S. won’t be able to benefit from Russia’s membership in the WTO is the notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment. Adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1974, the amendment deprived the Soviet Union, and later Russia, of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status as a punishment for restricting Jewish emigration. Since then, the amendment has completely outlived its purpose, but members of Congress have refused to lift the amendment, considering it as a means of putting political pressure on Moscow.

Facing Russia’s imminent accession to the WTO, American business groups – supported by the Obama administration – lobbied Congress to repeal Jackson-Vanik and grant Russia the PNTR status. Doing otherwise, they argued, will allow Russia to discriminate against American companies which, as a result, will lose positions in Russia to Europeans and Asian competitors.

Only a short while ago, it appeared that the passage of the PNTR bill was imminent: the bill was approved by two high-profile congressional committees – the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee – paving the way for a final vote in both chambers. But then last week, things rapidly unraveled: the House leadership decided that there was not enough time to bring the bill to the floor, and the Senate made it clear that it wouldn’t vote for the bill until the House voted first. Given that there are only eight congressional workdays left before the November elections, and given that the lame duck Congress in November/December is unlikely to take up the PNTR bill at all, this delay essentially keeps the Jackson-Vanik amendment on the books until after new Congress convenes in 2013.

Congressional observers pointed out that crucial to the demise of the PNTR bill were attempts to link its passage to the simultaneous adoption of the so-called Magnitsky bill, a piece of legislation punishing Russian officials for alleged violations of human rights. Two different versions of the Magnitsky bill, S. 1039 and H.R. 4405, were considered by the Senate and the House, respectively, and there was not enough time – nor enough good will – to reconcile the differences between the two versions before the August recess. Yet, it is also obvious that many lawmakers, especially members of the Republican caucus, opposed repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment on principle – regardless of the Magnitsky bill – arguing that the PNTR bill would be a gift to Russia, the gift that Moscow clearly doesn’t deserve given its “unaccommodating” position on Syria.

The Republican leadership in the House blamed President Obama for insufficient lobbying for the PNTR bill, and they might have a point. From the very beginning, the Obama administration has opposed the Magnitsky bill, arguing that its adoption will damage U.S.-Russia relations. When the White House realized that the passage of the “clean” PNTR bill was impossible, it reluctantly agreed on the addition of the Magnitsky bill language to the trade legislation. However, it would appear that the administration is pretty comfortable with the current stalemate: the adoption of the Magnitsky bill is indefinitely postponed, and the Democrats will make the failed PNTR bill an election issue by portraying the Republicans as hostile to the interests of U.S. businesses.

The inability of the U.S. Congress to pass the PNTR legislation creates a new political reality for Russia: by acquiring a legal right to punish American companies, Moscow gets the rare opportunity to have an upper hand in its stormy relationship with Washington. Hopefully, Russia will wisely protect the interests of its trusted and unfailingly supportive long-term corporate partners, including Boeing, Caterpillar and Microsoft. On the other hand, by refusing to reduce tariffs for American exporters, Russia may be able to drive out of business a couple of large U.S. food producers, a temptation it may not be able to resist.

In addition, the Kremlin should learn some lessons from the recent visit of a delegation of the Russian Federal Council in WashingtonWidely ridiculed in the U.S. media and berated by pundits, the visit may have been more successful than the supporters of the Magnitsky bill would be willing to admit. The speed with which the Magnitsky bill lost steam in Congress suggests that some lawmakers began questioning which American interests will be served by adopting a legislation bearing the name of a foreign national who may have committed serious crimes in a foreign country. The Kremlin should re-double its efforts to investigate financial activities of the major driving force behind the bill, Hermitage Capital CEO Bill Browder. The more information about Browder becomes available to the public, the less chance that U.S. Congress will ever come back to the Magnitsky bill.

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What foreign policy do Russians want?

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

Only a year ago, few people outside of Russia’s expert community heard of Mikhail Dmitriev, the president of the Center for Strategic Research, an economics and social studies think tank. Today, Dmitriev, 51, is one of the country’s most recognized and respected opinion-makers.

Dmitriev’s rise to prominence began after March 2011, when his center published a report entitled “Political crisis in Russia and possible mechanisms of its development.” Based on analysis of public polls and focus group data, Dmitriev and his co-author Sergei Belanovsky argued that Russia was in the middle of a full-blown political crisis that was characterized, among other things, by a sharp drop in public trust in the country’s political leadership. Many analysts, critical of the center’s methodology – its use of the focus group approach in particular – attempted to dismiss the report as a self-promoting exercise in political alarmism. However, the mass public protests that erupted after the December State Duma elections and then followed the presidential election in March were widely considered a justification of Dmitriev’s point of view. All of sudden, Dmitriev found himself in high demand: he became a frequent guest on political TV shows; his articles now are regularly published in both Russian and international print media.

The center’s latest report released in May went a step further: it claimed that the political crisis in Russia has become irreversible, and that regardless of possible future scenarios, the return to the pre-crisis status quo is not anymore possible. In particular, Dmitriev and his colleagues argued that the post-election spike in approval ratings of President Vladimir Putin and his Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was no more than a transient uptick and that further decline would inevitably follow, a prediction lately proven by published public poll data.

The center’s May report is a must-read piece of analysis for everyone interested in Russian domestic politics. Yet, somewhat unexpectedly, it provides some interesting insights into possible directions of Russia’s foreign policy as well.  The report’s data show that a solid majority of Russians – regardless of age, geography and level of education – believe that their country is surrounded by enemies who seek to forcefully take over Russia’s resources and territory. Among these “enemies,” the United States in particular is considered the major strategic threat. Not surprisingly, the respondents overwhelmingly support Russia’s assertive foreign policy and the need for a strong army; they approve of an increase in military spending, even if this would limit state funding for health care, education and pensions.

Curiously, the external threat to Russia’s sovereignty was one of the major themes invoked by Vladimir Putin during his winter presidential campaign. Back then, many observers argued that the anti-American sentiments articulated by Putin the candidate represented no more than a tactical approach aimed at winning the “patriotic” vote.  Once back in the Kremlin, the thinking went, Putin would return to the more pragmatic foreign policy characteristic of his first two presidential terms.

The report’s findings, however, suggest differently. Far from being a transient trend, a foreign policy based on exploiting external threats and anti-western rhetoric may become a central piece of the regime’s whole political agenda, an “anchor” that would prevent further sliding of political support of the authorities by the citizens. The more disillusioned ordinary Russians become with the regime’s domestic policies, the more tempted the Kremlin would be to compensate for this disillusionment with conducting a muscular foreign policy.

Russia’s position on Syria may represent the most obvious manifestation of this approach. Last week, for the third time in the past nine months, Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria – proposed by the UK and backed by other Western countries – calling for international intervention to stop the escalating violence in the country.

There is no shortage of explanations of Russia’s support for the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Some analysts remind us that Syria is a trusted buyer of Russian military equipment and also the host of a naval base in Tartus, Russia’s last military base outside the former Soviet Union. Others point to Russia’s ideological aversion to “humanitarian interventions,” which Moscow views as slightly veiled pretexts for toppling Western-unfriendly regimes. And there are also those who claim that Russia simply wants to “avenge” the West for the last year’s U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya, the resolution that Russia chose not to veto and then watched helplessly as the United States and its allies used it as an excuse to overthrowing the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

Obviously, all of the above is at play. And yet, Moscow’s behavior may be driven by far simpler and pragmatic consideration: at times when the productive cooperation with the West looks all but impossible, the best that Russia can do is to consistently confront the West. Given the domestic situation, the Kremlin would be foolish not to explore something that it still shares with its constituents: the image of the enemy knocking at the country’s door.

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It’s time for Congress to wise up (re: Magnitsky)

Today, U.S. Senate Finance Committee will consider a bill that would establish permanent normal trade relations (PNTP) with Russia and also graduate Russia from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment. Introducing the PNTP bill, the Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) pointed out that the bill will create “thousands of U.S. jobs across every sector of the American economy, including manufacturing, agriculture and services, by helping double U.S. exports to Russia within five years.” Unfortunately, some in Congress want to complicate the adoption of the PNTP bill – an urgency, given Russia’s upcoming joining the WTO — by artificially linking it to another, completely unrelated piece of legislation: the so-called Magnitsky bill (S. 1039 and H.R. 4405).

The Magnitsky bill bears the name of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian auditor who worked for the British investment fund Hermitage Capital. In November 2008, Magnitsky was arrested on tax fraud charges; a year later, he died in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow. According to the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Magnitsky’s arrest was illegal and was an act of retaliation for his uncovering of the embezzlement of Russian state funds committed by a group of tax and law enforcement officials. Moreover, Sen. Cardin and Rep. McGovern allege that while in prison, Magnitsky was tortured and perhaps even killed by his prisoners. Consequently, the Magnitsky bill (the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011) was introduced that would punish 60 Russian officials allegedly involved in Magnitsky’s death by banning their entry in the United State and also freezing their financial assets held in American financial institutions.

Last week, a delegation of the Russian Federation Council headed by Vladimir Malkin, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, came to Washington to meet with members of Congress to discuss the Magnitsky bill. Russian senators presented their American counterparts with a Federation Council preliminary report on the investigation of the Magnitsky case, a document that includes previously unpublished materials related to Magnitsky’s work for the Hermitage Capital, his arrest and pre-trial detention, and his death on November 16, 2009.

Regretfully, Sen. Cardin has refused to meet with Sen. Malkin and other members of the delegation. Even more regretfully, the U.S. legislators outright dismissed the findings of the Federation Council report without giving it full consideration. This is unfortunate, given that the report sheds additional light on the Magnitsky case, and Congress would be wise to review this information before voting on the Magnitsky bill in the coming weeks.

The Federation Council report makes it very clear that “the death of Sergei Magnitsky deserves a comprehensive, large-scale investigation.” It further establishes that Magnitsky “was not provided timely medical assistance in connection with the illnesses that he had” and claims that “those who are to blame…have been identified and must be held liable.” To this end, one has bear in mind that recently, Russia’s Investigative Committee has completed an investigation of the case of Dmitry Kratov, former head of the pretrial detention center where Magnitsky died. The investigation found that Kratov neglected his official duties — which led to Magnitsky’s death — and should stand trial.

At the same time, while admitting that Magnitsky had not received proper medical treatment in a pre-trial detention facility, the Federal Council report insists that his incarceration was legal. The evidence presented in the report alleges that Magnitsky, following the orders of his boss, the Hermitage Capital’s CEO William Browder, designed a tax-evasion scheme allowing the Hermitage Capital to defraud the Russian treasury in the amount of 5.4 billion rubles ($195 million).

The conclusions of the Federation report are not final, yet they put a spotlight directly on William Browder, a British citizen and the driving force behind the Magnitsky bill. Before voting for the bill, members of Congress must ask themselves what motivated Browder’s relentless lobbying for the bill. Is it solely concerns about the death of his former employee or an attempt to shift attention away from his own actions, possibly criminal?

Members of Congress should also explain to the American people why so much effort is being spent on investigating the death, tragic as it is, of a single individual in a remote country. Why has Congress never opened a similar investigation in the deaths of Adam Montoya and Xavius Scullark-Johnson, who both died in U.S. prisons as a result of the criminal negligence of prison officials, exactly as it happened with Sergei Magnitsky? And if our lawmakers are serious about corruption they should look around and reflect why a recent Washington Post op-ed called the District of Columbia a District of Corruption.

Finally, members of Congress should think about the damage that passing of the Magnitsky bill will do to U.S.-Russia relations. Who will benefit from sacrificing our vital national interests for the sake of promoting the selfish agenda of a foreign national?

It’s time for Congress to wise up and to put the Magnitsky bill on hold.

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The Drought of Trust

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

However dissimilar various natural disasters might appear – be it an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, forest fire or a flood – they all share a number of striking similarities. First, even if anticipated, a disaster strikes in such a way that it impacts people’s lives in the most damaging and disruptive fashion. Second, there is always a loss of control over situation by the authorities, the severity of this power vacuum varying from a simple inability to promptly launch a relief effort to the total chaos accompanied by looting and violent crime. Finally, no matter how fast or slow the consequences of the disaster are being liquidated, there is a general sense among the population of being abandoned by their government. And then, the blaming game inevitably begins.

Take, for example, the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States: it caused the deaths of more than 1,800 people and inflicted property damage to the tune of $81 billion. Although both the timing and location of Katrina’s landfall were known in advance, no one anticipated that the levee system in New Orleans, Louisiana, would fail under a sea wave and cause 80 percent of the city and surrounding parishes to be submerged for weeks. The government’s response to the hurricane was widely considered grossly inadequate, a sentiment exacerbated by constant public bickering between federal and local authorities over who was in charge. In particular, then-President George W. Bush became a popular target of criticism for his slow reaction to the crisis; it could be argued that the Katrina disaster inflicted such damage to Bush’s second term that his political reputation never recovered.

It will take a while to fully calculate the amount of destruction caused by the torrential flooding that struck the cities and towns of Russia’s Krasnodar Territory in the early hours of July 7. At least 172 people died, and this number will inevitably go up as the rescue operation continues. The cost of restoring roads, electric power systems and homes will obviously reach into the billions of rubles.

It will also take time to answer the perennial Russian question, “Who’s to blame?” Experts are largely unanimous in their opinion that what happened in the hardest-hit town of Krymsk (pop. 57,000) – when a 20-foot-high wave of water and mud from the mountains engulfed it in a matter of minutes – was a rare natural phenomenon that could not be prevented. But if the property loss could not have been avoided, the deaths of people could and should have been. It appears that the local authorities knew at least three hours in advance that a flood would hit Krymsk; yet, they did very little to alarm sleeping people about the incoming danger. Moreover, no attempts were made to organize the evacuation of the most vulnerable among the population: children, the elderly and the disabled.

The Krymsk tragedy leaves a more bitter taste because the town suffered a similar flash flood in 2002, causing about 100 deaths. It now appears that the regional authorities did nothing since that time to prevent future disasters, either by upgrading dilapidated irrigation systems or by establishing efficient communication channels. No wonder that the opposition in the State Duma is calling for the head of the Krasnodar governor Alexander Tkachev. However ill-timed, the call holds certain merits.

Additionally, the tragedy highlighted the lack of trust between residents and the authorities. Shortly after the flood, the prevailing public opinion in Krymsk was that the disaster was actually “man-made:” rumors began circulating that in order to save the all-important port city of Novorossiysk, the authorities “sacrificed” Krymsk by releasing excess water from a nearby reservoir. Many in Krymsk keep believing in this scenario despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

The Krasnodar flooding came at a precarious time for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Public opinion polls show that his once sky-high ratings are on a decline, which suggests a growing public mistrust in his ability to govern the country in the role of undisputed national leader. So far, no one has directly blamed Putin for what happened; yet his critics immediately pointed out that the day of mourning for the victims of the flood that Putin announced on July 9 was 16th such mourning day since he assumed power in 2000.

For his part, Putin seems to have done everything expected of him: he immediately visited the disaster region and promptly promised state funding for the recovery. But he could do more. As Russians of all political preferences have united in their efforts to help the victims of the flood – by sending food, goods, medicine and by volunteering on the spot – Putin could use this opportunity to begin a nationwide dialog with the society, including his fierce critics, on the problems facing the country. Of course, no dialog will stop a future flood from happening; but it might prevent a drought of trust.

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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.

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