Day: June 30, 2006

Friends Extradited

Extradition issues have recently been figuring in the news, particularly in connection with the attempts by Russia’s Federal Security Service and law enforcement agencies to secure the extradition from Britain and Israel of Russian businessmen and politicians perceived to be hostile to Moscow and the Kremlin.

It’s sad to see, therefore, that the use of extradition as a political and judicial weapon is not confined to states like Russia. The West, too, has its own political ideologues and agents whose commitment to personal liberty is shaky, to say the least – and this is particularly true of Britain and the United States.

On March 31 2003, David Blunkett, the then UK Home Secretary, signed an Extradition Treaty on behalf of the UK with his United States counterpart, Attorney General John Ashcroft, which was promoted on the basis of the need for a streamlined extradition process to deal with the new global terrorist threat after September 11. One of the first cases to arise for consideration under the new treaty was that of three British NatWest investment bankers, who were charged with having conspired to commit “wire fraud”, sending faxes and emails across US federal borders in furtherance of an alleged conspiracy to defraud NatWest. If convicted, the men face up to 35 years in a US penitentiary.

As the Friends Extradited website makes clear, no charges – either criminal or civil – have ever been lodged against the men in the United Kingdom, and all three protest their innocence. It appears that a law intended to trap terrorists has been misapplied in a way that is reminiscent of the judicial system in states where democracy and the following of due process are held in low regard.

In a letter to the Financial Times today, Jeremy Putley has commented on the NatWest Greenwich case. Though the letter was published in the paper edition, it did not appear in the FT’s electronic editions, and the author has asked me to give it an airing here:

The Editor
Financial Times
London

Sir

A treaty unequal in execution and content

With respect, it is not the lack of reciprocity that is the chief concern over the US-UK extradition treaty of 2003. A more fundamental consideration is that it is wrong in principle for this country to hand over its citizens under extradition arrangements where there is no requirement for prima facie evidence that there is a case to answer. It is particularly wrong for the courts to rule that human rights considerations do not give grounds to refuse the US request. This is not solely because extradited individuals will probably be incarcerated for extremely lengthy periods while the cases are prepared for court hearings.

It must also be considered relevant that in recent times the American administration has routinely denied detainees in its custody access to courts, legal counsel and relatives; it has engaged in deceptions in order to subvert basic human rights protections and the rule of law, by moving detainees around and keeping them in secret locations; it has been involved in the secret transfers of detainees between itself and countries known to use torture; and it has unlawfully abducted individuals from other countries. Documented conduct towards prisoners of the US administration includes instances of treatment indistinguishable from torture.

Amnesty International wrote last year: “The USA’s continuing penchant for secrecy in the field of detentions betrays a lack of genuine commitment to its international obligations on human rights and the rule of law.”

This country must pay heed to its own standards. The extradition of three former investment bankers should now be urgently reconsidered.

Jeremy Putley

Update: the letter is now available in the electronic editions, but only as a restricted access item.

Presidential Tit-for-Tat

Moscow is blaming the United States for the deaths of the four abducted Russian embassy workers in Iraq at the hands of an Al Qaeda group. Following up on the FSB’s recent assassination of ChRI President Sadulayev, President Putin has ordered Russia’s secret services to find and kill the kidnnappers.

Meanwhile, in EDM, Andrei Smirnov notes that Shamil Basayev, now Ichkeria’s vice-president, has created a new assassination strategy that targets the FSB:

On June 21 assassinations rocked the city of Khasavyurt, in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. Saigidsalim Zabitov, head of the local police organized crime division, was shot dead together with Shamsudin Kachakaev, a policeman who was accompanying him. Rebels ambushed their car late at night as Zabitov returned home.

According to Kommersant, the rebels had been hunting Zabitov for two years, finally succeeding on their fourth attempt. In 2004 gunmen planted an explosive device on a street that Zabitov usually passed on his way to work, but that day he took a different route. Next the rebels tried to plant a bomb near his house, but the bomb detonated accidentally, killing the rebel planting the mine in front of the gate to Zabitov’s house. In 2005 Zabitov was shot in the hip but survived. He was regarded as one of the most ruthless fighters against local militants, and had helped eliminate Chechen field commander Anvar Visaev and Abdullah Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen and Dagestani rebel groups in Khasavyurt. On October 1, 2005, Zabitov headed a special operation against a rebel group in the village of Tortuybi-Kala Kommersant, June 22).

Zabitov’s death follows that of his colleague, Dzhabrail Kostoev, in Ingushetia, another restive North Caucasus republic. Like Zabitov, Kostoev had battled the Ingush insurgency, although his drive was fueled by the deaths of two of his brothers, policemen who were killed during the rebel assault on Ingushetia in June 2004 (Kommersant, May 18). The first attempt to kill Kostoev was made in 2005, when he was the police chief of Nazran. A roadside bomb hit his car, wounding him, but Dzhabrail managed to survive. Kostoev refused to be cowed by the militants and did not hesitate to assist the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in fighting the Ingush and Chechen insurgents. Before he was killed by a car bomb in May, Dzhabrail Kostoev had been named first deputy interior minister of Ingushetia.

The assassinations of Zabitov in Dagestan and Kostoev in Ingushetia were not the only insurgency operations this year targeting senior police officers in the North Caucasus. In March Magomed Magomedov, a deputy head of Dagestan’s criminal investigation department, and two other senior officers from the organized crime division were killed. Musa Nalgiev, commander of the Ingush police special-task unit was shot dead in Ingushetia on June 9, and two months earlier, on April 12, rebels fired two shots at the headquarters of the anti-terrorism department in the city of Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, using disposable grenade launchers. Official reports say that a soldier in the watch tower near the headquarters was killed, but locals told Regnum news agency that the second shot had destroyed a car parked at the facility, killing two officers inside the vehicle (Regnum, April 12). The officers were likely the primary target of the attack.

In May rebel leaders described their new tactics to the media. Just two days before the assassination of Kostoev, the Kavkaz Center website posted an interview with Amir Magas, the commander of the Ingush insurgency. Magas said that Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev had convened a meeting of the North Caucasus rebel commanders in Chechnya during which he called on rebel factions to set up “special operations groups all over the Caucasian front, which should target personalities and conduct operations to destroy objects planned in advance.” Magas called the formation of these groups an adequate response to the FSB activities in the region (Kavkaz Center, May 15).

Indeed, their name, Special Operations Groups, sounds very similar to the Unified Special Groups (or SSG in Russian) of the FSB and the Russian Interior Ministry that operate in the North Caucasus. These SSGs are subject to the Operations and Coordination Directorate of FSB whose headquarters are located in the town of Pyatigorsk in Stavropol Krai (the ethnic-Russian-dominated region of the North Caucasus) or to the Regional Operations Anti-Terrorist Staff headquartered in Khankala, a Russian main military base in Chechnya (Novaya gazeta, January 19). These Unified Special Groups are usually those unidentified masked men whom human rights organizations like to talk about and who enter houses in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, or Dagestan to detain those whom they suspect in rebel activity. By giving a similar name to his special squads Basaev wants to demonstrate the capability of his forces and that the rebels are not weaker in the Caucasus than the Russian security officials.

Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen rebel leader killed last March, often said that the Russian army is just a primitive force and the FSB and Russian military intelligence are the brains of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus. However, the FSB will also become a benign force without information provided by local police in the region. That is why the rebels target senior police officers, diligent individuals who work hard against them. Basaev and his commanders know that weakening local police forces will in turn weaken FSB activity in the region, and weak Russian intelligence will ultimately weak the Kremlin’s control over the North Caucasus.