Bill Browder, a human rights activist who has fought for justice for murdered Russian patriot Sergei Magnitsky, has found himself in Vladimir Putin’s sights again. And — so far — Donald Trump’s administration is playing along. This had better be temporary. Jay Nordlinger explains:
Vladimir Putin keeps putting William Browder on Interpol’s wanted list, or trying to. As far as I’m concerned, these attempts are the equivalent of medals of freedom.
Remember who Browder is: He is the financier whose lawyer was Sergei Magnitsky, who became a prisoner of the Russian state and was tortured to death — real slow. Thereafter, Browder dedicated himself to the cause of justice in Russia.
. . . .
In 2012, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which targets Russian human-rights abusers: It freezes their assets and deprives them of visas. Boris Nemtsov called the Magnitsky Act “the most pro-Russian law ever enacted by a foreign government.” (Nemtsov was the leader of the opposition to Putin in Russia. In 2015, he was murdered within sight of the Kremlin.)
The Magnitsky Act drives Putin nuts. It means that his men can’t act as they always have, i.e., with impunity. Now there are consequences, which is a problem for Putin. Four countries have Magnitsky acts: the U.S., Britain, Estonia, and now Canada. (They passed theirs last week.)
Browder is a driver behind these Magnitsky acts, and Putin hates him for it, understandably. Twice in 2013, he tried to add Browder to Interpol’s wanted list, and twice he failed, because Interpol knew that Putin was politically motivated. Browder is not a criminal. He is an anti-criminal, which is why Putin targets him.
In 2014, Putin tried again — no dice. Last summer, Browder testified against him before the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. Senate, to damning effect. Obviously ticked, Putin tried again. This time, Interpol had Browder’s name on the list for a month, before deleting it.
In the wake of Canada’s new Magnitsky act, Putin has tried again. Tried for a fifth time. Interpol has accepted his request. Worse, the U.S. government seems in partnership with the Kremlin: Our government has revoked Browder’s visa. (American-born, Browder is a British citizen.)
Let’s be very clear: officials in Putin’s Russia tortured and killed Magnitsky because they wanted to prosecute Browder, and Magnitsky would not roll over and provide them a false story implicating Browder. The notion that Browder committed any crime is pure fiction. It is the type of accusation that thugs like Putin use: they accuse you of doing what they themselves have done. As Stacy McCain has said in another context, it is an “accuse the accusers” strategy. It is 100% false and made-up.
For Interpol to reject a “red notice” such as Putin has repeatedly tried to put on Browder is nearly unprecedented. Interpol has been criticized in the past for cooperating too freely with bogus requests from strongmen. But here, the move is so transparently phony that even Interpol can see through it. Since four red notices were previously rejected, Putin opted this time for a loophole called a “diffusion notice” which apparently does not trigger the same sort of scrutiny as a red notice.
To understand just how outrageous this all is, the reader would benefit from reading Browder’s book Red Notice — or, if you’re pressed for time, my six-part series on Browder and the Magnitsky Act. (Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six.) So far, the real outrage here lies in Putin’s actions in using Interpol in such a cynical way, and not necessarily the Trump administration’s actions in revoking Browder’s visa. The visa revocation could well be a temporary bureaucratic snafu that will hopefully be rectified very soon. (Although this has happened so many times that, in all honesty, there should already be a flag in the system that causes any Putin-inspired notice against Browder to be scrutinized before action is taken.)
For now, I am giving Trump and the State Department the benefit of the doubt. I don’t even want to think about what happens if I turn out to be wrong. Many of us will be watching this situation very closely. If Trump or the State Department delay unreasonably in fixing this — or worse, if they actually defend this action — that will be very, very bad.
UPDATE: I should have checked Browder’s Twitter account before posting. I saw this story earlier today and planned the post for when I got home. But Browder tweeted two hours ago that his visa waiver has been restored:
GREAT NEWS! My ESTA (US visa waiver) was restored. I successfully checked into a US flight. Now we need to fix bogus Interpol arrest warrant
— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) October 23, 2017
I was right to give the administration the benefit of the doubt. But they need to take steps to ensure that nothing like this happens again.