In a Russian language interview from June 2011, Bill Browder explained how he acquired his extraordinary fly-on-the-wall knowledge of Sergie Magnitsky’s final hours alive in the custody of Russian police.
Sadly, Browder also gave yet another variation of Magnitsky’s death scene in which no beating occurred but—in what surely must have represented excessive precautions on his murderers’ part—both a straitjacket and chains were used to restrain the mortally-ill and agony-stricken prisoner.
At long last, however, someone finally had the good sense to at least ask Browder how in God’s name he knew about that darned straitjacket.
Upon which Browder claimed the information had come from a report by an outfit called the Moscow Public Oversight Commission (MPOC).
In a March 2, 2012, op-ed he published at Foreign Policy, Browder also cited the MPOC report to corroborate his completely different story that Magnitsky was beaten to death by eight riot guards. Though this time, neither handcuffs, a straitjacket, a rope, nor any other instruments of restraint were employed:
[T]hey put him in an isolation cell and let eight riot guards with rubber batons beat him for one hour and 18 minutes until he was dead. He was 37 years old. There is nothing debatable in this story. It was laid out in great detail by the Moscow Public Oversight Commission on Dec. 28, 2009.
But, contrary to Browder’s “nothing debatable” spiel, the MPOC report—an English language version of which is available on the Wall Street Journal’s website—says absolutely nothing about riot guards, or batons, or a beating, or a straitjacket, or chains, or rope, or anyone waiting for Magnitsky to shut up and die outside his cell door while he begs for medical attention.
Nor does it mention any of the other accouterments appearing in Browder’s various different stories apart from one pair of handcuffs used to transfer Magnitsky between prisons and a second used out of fear that he would harm himself when he began to behave erratically that were removed 30 minutes later.
In fact, though the MPOC is very critical of the Russian authorities’ treatment of Magnitsky, raises questions about many crucial parts of the official story, and does ultimately hold the Russian authorities responsible for his death, they nonetheless never even claim that anyone meant for it to happen!
Here’s the first paragraph of their conclusion:
A man who is kept in prison is not capable of using all the necessary means to protect either his life or his health. This is a responsibility of a state which holds him captive. Therefore, the case of Sergei Magnitsky can be described as a breach of the right to live. The members of the civic supervisory commission, have reached the conclusion that Magnitsky had been experiencing both psychological and physical pressure in prison, and the conditions in some of the wards of Butyrka can be justifiably called torturous. The people responsible for this must be punished.
As you can plainly see, contra Browder, the MPOC report does NOT conclude that the authorities intentionally killed Magnitsky. It says his case “can be described as a breach of the right to live” because prisons have a responsibility to adequately care for their inmates.
Nor does it say that Magnitsky was tortured but, instead, says that the general conditions in the prison can “justifiably be called tortuous,” which is a long way from riot guards, rubber batons, straitjacket, and a couple of Russian cops intentionally arranging the poor man’s torture and murder.
Browder straightforwardly and glaringly lied not just about the specific details of Magnitsky’s death described in the MPOC report, but even about their general conclusion that his demise was intentional:
- (i) When he answered his Russian interviewer’s question concerning how he knew about the straitjacket.
- And (ii) in his Foreign Policy piece claiming there’s “nothing debatable” about his completely different story involving eight riot guards with rubber batons because it’s “laid out in great detail” in the MPOC report.
Moreover, the MPOC report—which one would like to think McCain, Rubio, the other legislators responsible for pushing the Magnitsky Act through Congress and at least someone on Obama’s staff actually bothered to read since it’s explicitly cited as justification for the punitive measures against Russia that were signed into law—also contradicts every single one of the other details about Magnitsky’s treatment Congress heard from Browder!
- Browder to Congress:
“They put him in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds and left the lights on 24 hours a day in order to sleep deprive him.”
The MCOP report, on the other hand, lists every cell Magnitsky was kept in during his 11 months of confinement along with every single complaint he made or anything else they could discover by any other means concerning any serious deprivations or discomfort he may have suffered.
It also gives the number of beds and inmates and even the bloody square footage for all but a few of the cells Russian authorities put Magnitsky in.
At no point do they say he was kept overnight in a cell with any more than eight other inmates; usually listing more and never fewer beds than inmates. And, the only reference the MPOC makes to Magnitsky losing any sleep is that on one occasion he complained about not getting the eight nightly hours guaranteed to prisoners by Russian law because his transfer to a new cell wasn’t completed till 1:30am.
- Browder to Congress:
“They put him in cells with no heat and no window panes in December in Moscow and he nearly froze to death.”
The MCOP report, on the other hand, says Magnitsky was placed in such a cell with other inmates once in September, not December. And while its authors are outraged that “the inmates had to sleep with their clothes on and cover themselves with jackets,” this is a far cry from Browder’s claim that, because it was December, Magnitsky “nearly froze to death.”
Moreover, the MPOC report, again, gives absolutely no indication that Magnitsky and his fellow inmates were being intentionally made to suffer; instead, attributing the missing panes of glass to the general negligence found in Russian prisons.
And, most importantly, their report says that the windows were repaired after Magnitsky and his fellows complained they’d caught colds!
That, by itself, is enough to reveal Browder’s story that Magnitsky was intentionally tortured to be the ludicrous fiction it is.
- Browder to Congress:
“They put him in cells with no toilet with just a hole in the floor where the sewage would bubble up.”
The MPOC report, on the other hand, says that at one point Magnitsky was placed in a cell with three other inmates (and four beds) in which “there was an intolerable odor coming out of the toilet,” not that there was a hole in the ground in lieu of one from which sewage bubbled up.
At one point sewage did begin “to flow up over the toilet bowl,” but—once again indicating Browder’s story about Magnitsky’s depraved torturers is complete rubbish—“[o]n that same evening, the inmates were moved” to another cell.
- Browder to Congress:
“They moved him to a prison called ‘Butyrka’…that had no medical facilities whatsoever.”
The MPOC report, on the other hand—as anyone in Congress could have easily discovered by bothering to read the bloody thing—refers to Butyrka’s medical facilities 7 times, to Butyrka’s “Deputy Head for Medicine,” Dr. Dmitri Kratov 18 times, and to “Dr. Litvinova, the head of the medical ward of Butyrka, who “examined Magnitsky every day from October 7 to November 12, 2009,” for God’s sake, 27 times.
With regard to Browder’s claim that Butyrka “had no medical facilities whatsoever,” it must be said that the MPOC report does describe their facility as inadequate for Magnitsky’s medical needs, clearly blames his demise on its insufficiency and the negligent and inattentive treatment he received there, and leaves little doubt that its authors believe that, had Magnitsky not been transferred from a prison with better facilities, he might still be alive.
So, though a lie, if Browder’s claim that Butyrka had no medical facilities were his only one, it would be of little consequence since the distinction between moving Magnitsky to a prison with no medical facilities whatsoever and moving him to one with none sufficient to keep him among the living is—for the purpose of evaluating the authorities’ culpability in his death—one without a heck of a lot of difference.
But, Browder isn’t just painting Butyrka’s inadequacies with a broad brush. He’s claimed that the MPOC report completely corroborates the details of two completely different stories he’s told of Magnitsky’s demise according to which he was put in Butyrka in order to torture him and hasten it.
And, while the MPOC report does question the official justification for Magnitsky’s transfer—besides containing none of Browder’s gruesome details—nowhere does it draw any conclusions that the aim in moving him to Butyrka was to harm, torture, or kill him.
But the MPOC report isn’t the only Russian document Browder has brazenly misrepresented. And, unlike one of the others, at least there’s no reason to also believe it’s a forgery.