As some of you know, the US Congress actually passed a law that was signed by president Obama named the Magnitsky Act requiring the administration to impose sanctions on those people deemed to be responsible for the death of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. Not surprisingly, the Russian government deemed this to be interference in its internal affairs and responded by banning adoption of Russian babies by Americans.
Then this week, the Obama administration imposed visa bans on 18 Russian officials as part of the Act. Of course, when the US accuses other countries of human rights violations, metaphors of glass houses and pots and kettles immediately come to mind and Russia followed suit with bans on 18 US officials. Some on the list are familiar names.
The list published in Moscow includes John Yoo, a former US Justice Department official who wrote legal memos authorising harsh interrogation techniques, and David Addington, the chief of staff for former vice-president Dick Cheney. Two former commanders of Guantanamo Bay, retired Major General Geoffrey Miller and Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, were also named. In addition, there were 14 Americans whom Russia claims violated the rights of Russians abroad. The list includes several current or former federal prosecutors in the case of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms merchant who was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison, for selling weapons to a US-designated foreign terrorist group.
There is also a private list of banned Americans. The Magnitsky Act also provides for the US administration to compile a closed list of Russian officials subject to visa bans.
The Russian deputy foreign minister rubbed it in by saying that their list was based on better reasons. “On the Russian list, including the closed part, are people actually responsible for the legalisation of torture and indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo, for arrests and unjust sentences for our countrymen.”
Hard to argue with that. I am curious to see if the Obama administration will try and defend the honor of appalling people like Yoo, Addington, and Miller. It will also be interesting to see if the stakes will be raised in this poker game and higher and higher officials on both sides restricted from travel to other countries. Since countries are reluctant to prosecute their own for war crimes and human rights violations, this may be the only way of bringing some accountability to them.