Bluster on Russia reveals U.S. double standards on extradition, human rights
Announcing President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel a planned bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House press secretary Jay Carney yesterday offered several justifications for the diplomatic snub.
“Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” the press secretary said.
Almost as an afterthought, Carney added: “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship.”
While the bilateral U.S.-Russian relationship has been strained for some time and there are real concerns regarding Moscow’s recent crackdown on civil society, the timing of the announcement – just a week after Russia granted the NSA whistleblower one year of asylum – appeared to be a thinly veiled rebuke intended to punish Moscow for failing to bend to Washington’s dictates. After all, the other areas constituting a “lack of progress” were apparent long before the summit was even scheduled, and the only new factor in the strained relationship is the Snowden affair.
The Kremlin said it was “disappointed” by the U.S. decision, with Putin’s foreign affairs adviser saying the move showed the U.S. could not develop ties with Russia on an “equal basis.”
Russian foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov added that Russia was not to blame over the Snowden affair.
“This decision is clearly linked to the situation with former agent of U.S. special services Snowden, which hasn’t been created by us,” he said.
He pointed out that there is not even an extradition agreement in place between Russia and the United States, largely due to the intransigence of Washington, and therefore there is no legal basis for the U.S. to demand extradition from Moscow in the first place.
“For many years, the Americans have avoided signing an extradition agreement,” Ushakov said, “And they have invariably responded negatively to our requests for extradition of people who committed crimes on the territory of Russia, pointing at the absence of such agreement.”
Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has broken many of the recent stories regarding the NSA’s dragnet surveillance, noted that the U.S. in fact has a long record of refusing to extradite individuals accused of very serious crimes to a whole range of countries, many of which actually have formal extradition treaties in place with Washington.
In a February 28, 2007 article, for example, the New York Times reported:
A senior U.S. official said Wednesday that the United States would refuse any Italian extradition request for CIA agents indicted in the alleged abduction of an Egyptian cleric in Milan, a case investigated by the European Parliament.
“We’ve not got an extradition request from Italy,” John Bellinger, a legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told reporters after meeting in Brussels with legal advisers to EU governments.
“If we got an extradition request from Italy, we would not extradite U.S. officials to Italy.”
Or, as the Washington Post reported on July 19, 2013:
A former CIA operative detained in Panama this week at the request of Italian authorities over his conviction in the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan was released Friday and had boarded a flight to the United States, U.S. officials said.
Robert Seldon Lady’s release from Panama appeared to avert the possibility that he would be extradited to Italy, where he faces a sentence of up to nine years in prison for his role in the CIA capture of a terrorism suspect who was secretly snatched off a street in Milan and transported to Egypt.
Lady, who left Panama on Friday morning, was “either en route or back in the United States,” Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman, told reporters at a midday briefing.
Bolivia has also faced difficulty in extraditing fugitives from the United States, as The Guardian reported on September 9, 2012:
The view that Sánchez de Lozada must be extradited from the US to stand trial is a political consensus in Bolivia, shared by the government and the main opposition party alike. But on Friday night, the Bolivian government revealed that it had just been notified by the Obama administration that the US government has refused Bolivia’s extradition request:
“‘Yesterday (Thursday), a document arrived from the United States, rejecting the extradition of people who have done a lot of damage to Bolivia,’ leftist [President Evo] Morales, an outspoken critic of US foreign policy in Latin America, said in a speech.
“Calling the United States a ‘paradise of impunity’ and a ‘refuge for criminals,’ Morales said Washington turned down the extradition request on the grounds that a civilian leader cannot be tried for crimes committed by the military …
Then of course, there is the long-running case of former CIA employee and terrorist mastermind Luis Posada Carriles, a criminal who is being harbored by the United States despite requests from Venezuela for his extradition to face trial on 73 counts of murder.
The United States has refused to extradite him to Venezuela because he allegedly faces possible torture by the authorities there, according to his lawyers.
Ironically, the torture issue is also one of the concerns that Russia has expressed regarding the case of whistleblower Edward Snowden, prompting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to awkwardly assure Moscow that the U.S. government will not torture or kill Snowden upon his return to the United States.
“We…understand from press reports that Mr. Snowden has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty,” Holder wrote in a letter to his Russian counterpart. “These claims are entirely without merit,” he wrote, adding that “torture is unlawful in the United States.”
Of course, what Holder left unsaid is that although torture is unlawful in the United States, it has still been a widespread policy and those who torture others or high-level officials who authorize torture in violation of the law are granted official impunity by the U.S. Justice Department.
As Human Rights Watch pointed out in a 2011 report, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” although substantial information exists warranting criminal investigations of Bush and senior administration officials, the U.S. Justice Department has failed to initiate a single investigation of these crimes.
“There are solid grounds to investigate Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet for authorizing torture and war crimes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime. His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished.”
More recently, the United States was accused of torture in its treatment of political prisoner Bradley Manning, who is awaiting his sentence upon his conviction for exposing embarrassing state secrets of the United States government.
Manning’s solitary confinement regime during his first year of incarceration “constitute[d] at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture,” said Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. “If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture,” he told the Guardian in 2012.
Regarding Manning’s conviction last week, Russian Commissioner for Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov said that the United States is applying double standards in Manning’s case “without paying attention to the observance of human rights.”
“This double standard that we see in the U.S. authorities’ assessment of approaches to this situation [around Manning] raises questions,” said Dolgov. “If you demand full observance of freedom of speech from others, in principle, you should apply this position to yourself. If the applied standard is different, this cannot help but cause complaints on the part of both other governments and human rights institutions.”
Disregarding these apparent double standards, human rights groups have praised the U.S. decision to cancel the Obama-Putin summit, focusing nearly entirely on the premise that the decision was prompted by American concerns over the human rights situation in Russia. U.S.-based NGO Freedom House welcomed yesterday’s announcement, stating in an email,
According to the White House statement announcing the cancelation, the “lack of progress” in U.S.-Russia bilateral relations includes the human rights and civil society situation in Russia in the past 12 months. Indeed, it was during this period that the most serious crackdown against civil society and Russia’s opposition since the break-up of the Soviet Union has occurred.
A series of restrictive laws passed by the Russian Duma are meant to silence dissent against the regime and cripple civil society. In addition, we have seen the prosecution of opposition leaders, including Aleksei Navalny; the disgraceful posthumous conviction of lawyer and whistleblower Sergey Magnitsky; the aggressive campaign against non-governmental organizations; the banning of adoptions of Russian orphans by American citizens; the expulsion of the US Agency for International Development; and the outrageous campaign targeting the LGBT community. Together these actions and policies represent a full-bore and utterly deplorable campaign against human rights and democratic standards engineered by the Putin regime. Enormous differences over Syria and the Snowden case are further reason for canceling the visit.
“I applaud the President’s decision to cancel his bilateral meeting with Putin and hope that when he goes to St. Petersburg for the G20 summit that he’ll meet with Russian civil society activists,” said Freedom House President David J. Kramer. “Obama’s decision to cancel his Moscow visit should signal to Putin that there are costs to his bullying, unrestrained drive to silence critics and eliminate serious opposition.”
Of course, what Freedom House has overlooked is the distinct possibility that the cancellation in fact has very little to do with human rights concerns, and nearly everything to do with Moscow’s refusal to hand over Snowden to the U.S. justice system where he will almost certainly find himself suffering the same fate as imprisoned whistleblower Bradley Manning.
Similarly, Amnesty International cited human rights concerns in Russia in its statement regarding the cancelation of the summit. Rather than discussing the merits of Snowden’s asylum in Russia or the U.S. obligation to respect Moscow’s decision regarding his extradition, Amnesty focused its criticism on the White House for not condemning Russia’s human rights record more forcefully. Frank Jannuzi, Amnesty International USA deputy executive director, issued the following statement:
President Obama said he canceled his summit with President Putin because there has been a lack of progress on human rights and civil society in Russia. That is an understatement. Russia continues to backslide on human rights. The United States should press Russia to respect freedom of expression and not allow backroom discussions on other priorities to override the urgent task of protecting the Russian peoples’ basic rights and dignity.
Curiously, just a month earlier, Amnesty was among Snowden’s most vocal supporters in his efforts to seek political asylum, harshly condemning the U.S. government for its ruthless persecution of the whistleblower.
“The U.S. authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is deplorable and amounts to a gross violation of his human rights,” Amnesty International said in a press release on July 2.
“The U.S. attempts to pressure governments to block Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum are deplorable,” said Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International. “It is his unassailable right, enshrined in international law, to claim asylum and this should not be impeded.”