Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Russian ‘Guantanamo’ Found in North Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 11 – To hide certain kinds of high-value or impossible-to-release prisoners from society, Moscow has created a special detention center in the North Caucasus under the auspices of the interior ministry rather than the penal administration and shifted them to other locations to prevent the Presidential Human Rights Council from studying their fate.

            This strange and frightening situation has been described by Elena Masyuk of “Novaya gazeta” who says the facility constitutes a Russian variant of the Guantanamo prison set up by the US to house Islamist combatants that Washington is unable either to charge or release (

            As such, the facility in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Osetia, is an example of the way in which a facility like Guantanamo can be copied by other governments and then put to even more nefarious and inhumane use against inmates if the government involved, as is the case in Russia, won’t allow even minimal oversight of what is going on inside its walls.

            Last week, the Human Rights Council of the Russian President decided to investigate the situation of prisons and detention centers in the North Caucasus. They decided to visit one they had heard about in Vladikavkaz, but before they got there, the jailors removed all the prisoners to other sites and refused to provide records about those who had been held there.

            Local prosecutors told the visitors from Moscow that they had to take these steps to ensure security for society as a whole and even for that of the former inmates, pointedly suggesting that those who had been in this isolator were guilty of killing many people in terrorist attacks.

              Masyuk says this is “a strange position” for procuracy officials to be taking: “Instead of standing up in defense of the law, [they] are justifying its violation,” and by their statements are in fact admitting that in regular prisons, the lives of those confined in this special facility would be in danger.

            Even more ominously, she continues, “it was found that this isolator is subordinate not to the interior ministry of North Osetia but is under the Provisional Operational Group of the Russian interior ministry in the Republic of North Osetia-Alania and in fact is being used as a secret prison by the interior ministry and magistrate committee.”

            Those who had been held there, she says, “should have been either in a special prison or a camp;” but instead, they were held in a facility where the normal order and rules do not apply and where torture and mistreatment can be inflicted without the risk that one or another guard or prisoner will be able to report it to other authorities.

            What makes the Vladikavkaz facility so frightening, the investigation showed, is that among its inmates were not only those who had taken part in terrorist actions but also businessmen and politicians who had run afoul of the authorities.  All of those who had been there and could be contacted by the commission said they had been tortured.

            Lawyers for those who had passed through this facility in the past say that “among the population, this facility is called ‘Guantanamo’” because it appears to be beyond the reach of Russian law.   The attorneys continue that they have been unable to gain access to the kind of records that would allow them to bring charges against those who operate the facility.

            Masyuk says that the procuracy general of the Russian Federation “must take up this case of  a secret prison operating under the guise of a special isolator. Hundreds of people from many regions of Russia have been subjected to tortures … and inhuman conditions” and then their fate hidden from those who have a right to investigate.

            The operation of such facilities must be stopped, she says.  But there is little reason for optimism. Unlike in the case of the American facility at Guantanamo, the Russian authorities are doing everything they can to hide what they are doing from lawyers and journalists and as long as the Putin regime is in power, they are likely to continue to do so.

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