Earlier today, Bill Browder, American-born British billionaire and also grandson of the notorious CPUSA leader Earl Browder, posted the above picture on Twitter from inside a conference on "human rights challenges" at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. Hosted by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the conference was billed as an "international hearing" into the death of Browder's longtime accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, in Russian state custody. Browder's tweet reads: "Magnitsky denial filmmaker complaining how unfairly he's been treated in his ambitions to spread FSB version that Magnitsky wasn't murdered."
Tsk, tsk. I don't know what filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov said -- he was not permitted to record the proceedings -- but you would think that whatever it was, Browder could take it: five scheduled minutes of dissent in an uninterrupted battery of pro-Browder speakers and even an after-dinner play, all endorsing the international Magnitsky movement as he, Browder, and his impressive organization, have created it.
What is the Magnitsky movement? For starters, it is an amazing success. By dint of Browder's ceaseless lobbying and influence, the US Congress and parliaments in Canada, the UK, Estonia, Latvia have passed "Magnitsky Acts" sanctioning mainly Russian individuals connected with the arrest, imprisonment and death of Sergei Magnitsky, who died at the age of 37 under terrible circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009.
Apparently, Browder sees fit to tar anyone who questions whether Magnitsky's prison death was an intentional "murder" (carried out by eight men wielding batons for over an hour, as Browder tells it), or, perhaps, a result of criminal negligence by prison medical personnel, as mouthpieces of the "FSB version" -- the FSB being successor to the KGB.
I wonder if Browder realizes he has just slimed not only filmmaker Nekrasov, director of the quite amazing documentary, "The Magnitsky Act -- Behind the Scenes," but also at least two significant persons who appear in the Nekrasov film. One is Sergei Magnitsky's own mother. The other, Andreas Gross, a Swiss socialist parliamentarian, is the author of the 2013 Council of Europe report on the Magnitsky affair, which Browder and others point to as the gold standard Magnitsky investigation.
Gross tells Nekrasov in the film: "They let him die. I agree totally that they didn't have the intention to kill him. They did not take care about him. `Assasination' is too much. `Murdering' is too much. In German you say ... `you didn't take care enough.' "
Is this point too small to make about the undeserved death of a human being? After all, Sergei Magnitsky should never have perished of neglect or anything else in pre-trial detention. What is significant in Browder's tweeting, however, is that any deviation from the movement narrative is verboten. Differences of opinion, different interpretations, even different translations of written evidence, are all heresy -- or, in this quite peculiar era of ours, the "FSB version."
Such is life in the 21st century information warfare trenches. But if the objective is to control the narrative, Browder has succeeded here as well. It is his version of events that echoes with near-biblical force by rote repetition throughout the press and parliaments of the Western world.
Really, Browder should relax. Let Nekrasov have his five minutes. Stop tweeting.
Vadim Kleiner is director of research at Browder's Hermitage Fund, where he has worked since 1997.
Valery Borschev is the 2017 winner of the Magnitsky Award.
The point is not that these men are wrong because of their associations with Bill Browder and his cause; the point is that they are not impartial commentators. Indeed, judging by the conference line-up, this Norwegian Helsinki Committee's Magnitsky hearing was in fact a Browder posse.
Does this matter to the American reader? I believe so. Along with the "Russian collusion" infrastructure that has been hastily thrown up all around Washington, D.C. to defend the "Deep State" from whatever President Trump might possibly figure out to do to bring it down, the Magnitsky movement, too, heightens tensions -- and not just between the US, the West, and Russia (whether such "tensions" are real or kabuki is another matter), but also inside the capital itself. It is hard not to notice, for example, that #NeverTrumper John McCain is both a Magnitsky Act co-author, and, also, with his associate David Kramer, the conduit from British intelligence circles to the FBI for the unverified trash known as the GPS Fusion Russian "dossier" to bring Trump down, bought and paid for by the DNC and Hillary campaign.
Meanwhile DNC/Hillary contractor GPS Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson was himself huddling with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, both before and after her June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Don Trump Jr., arranged, ostensibly, to convey anti-Hillary information. Simpson's lawyer now says his client and Veselnitskaya did not discuss the Trump meeting; their business together was related to defending a Russian client against Browder-Magnitsky related money-laundering charges ...
Yes, it hurts my head, too. But there's something there.
Sometimes the Magnitsky movement and the Trump-Russian collusion travel parrallel tracks. Sometimes, they wreck. At the moment, the Magnitsky movement is way ahead. Think about it. President or billionaire, it is not every man who can drive legislation through houses of congress that changes or, in this case, whips up the diplomatic posture of a nation toward its traditional and nuclear-armed adversary, Russia. Nor is it every man who can persuade elected representatives in democratic bodies to turn themselves by their own laws into extraordinary tribunals, judges and juries against individuals (not "specially designated terrorists") in foreign countries. And especially not when it becomes clear that the evidence under consideration has never been researched or verified by impartial investigators. Almost every shred of it comes from Browder himself.
This revelation is a foundational achievement of Nekrasov's film. Without entering here into the film's (fascinating) complexities, it is worth underscoring that Nekrasov has proven, through a series of on-camera interviews, that key figures in this heated political phase of the Magnitsky movement have relied on Browder and his organization for almost all of their information about the case, including English-language summaries of key Russian documents. Even if Nekrasov's alternate theory of events is incorrect -- premised on his discovery of mistranslations that he believes incorrectly depict Magnitsky as a whistleblower when Magnitsky was himself under questioning or investigation -- he has nonetheless exposed the underlying weakness of Browder's international crusade, and in dramatic fashion.
Viewers see Marieluise Beck, a German Bundestag member and founding member of the Green Party, who serves on the Council of Europe's committee on legal affairs and human rights, along with her assistant, Maria Sannikova-Frank, an experts on human rights in Russia, baffled to a point of speechlessness by Nekrasov's allegation that a key Russian document, one that the Browder version relies on to prove Magnitsky was a whistleblower, does not say what they have been led to believe it says. The women refer Nekrasov to Andreas Gross, the Swiss Socialist Party parliamentarian who is the author of the Council of Europe's special report into Magnitsky's death.
Nekrasov's exchange with Gross makes Gross's reliance on Browder quite plain.
Nekrasov: What we actually came to you for, is, is, because you've looked into it in great detail and investigated it, so --
Gross: I tried, with the help of Browder...
Nekrasov: Because I think when the Americans passed their sanctions, they didn't have an equivalent of your report. ...
Gross: Not really. Browder delivered them -- must have delivered them some things, but they didn't investigate themselves.
Nekrasov: One day I looked at some documents. In one document of the 7th of October, it doesn't seem to accuse those officers. It's in Russian unfortunately --
Gross: We always had to use the translations of the Browder office because I can't speak, I don't really understand Russian myself.
Nekrasov: It can't be a coincidence. One says the 5th of June, the other one is the 7th of October, and that's what your timelines says, but, um, they don't really accuse them.
Gross: They don't accuse them?
Gross: Both don't accuse them. The documents we got -- these kinds of documents -- all come from Browder's sources. ...
It's a bit like the "The Emperor's New Clothes" except in this case there are so many little emperors walking about. Even a US Homeland Security agent in charge of tracing Magnitsky-related millions admits in a video clip from a legal deposition (the case that involved both Veselnitskaya and Simpson) that in the course of his investigation he interviewed no witnesses other than Browder and his associates, and checked none of the financial documents they provided.
So much for "trust but verify."
Such revelations alone make the film required viewing for anyone seeking to evaluate the Magnitsky movement, its players, and their continuing, even escalating, impact. Indeed, according to Nekrasov, the film's producer, Torstein Grude of Piraya Film AS, and Knut Olav Åmas, executive director of Fritt Ord, a Norwegian free speech organization, the film was originally scheduled to be screened and discussed in a conference hosted by, yes, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in Oslo.
What happened? Mr. Åmas replied by email:
When Nekrasov’s/Piraya Film’s film was first shown in Oslo in June 2016, I promised the deputy secretary general of the Helsinki Committee, Mr Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal, immediately after the premiere, that Fritt Ord was willing to be a co-funder of an independent, open and public hearing on the Magnitsky case and the film. The mutual plan and ambition was to give the film an important role in the hearing, since it was so intensely disputed.
Several months of communication, mostly between Piraya Film and the Helsinki Committee, but occasionally involving Fritt Ord, did not lead to an agreement on the profile of the hearing. The Helsinki Committee then said graciously no to the Fritt Ord board’s funding of the hearing, NOK 250 000 and went on with the preparations on their own.
In other words, enter, Browderworld.
By the way, that was over $30,000 the Norwegian Helsinki Committee turned down from Fritt Ord -- along with a screening of the Nekrasov film, along with a vigorous debate, and along with the dedication to pursue the facts wherever they lead.
It seems fair to say that "human rights challenges" begin when the human determination to seek the truth is not on the agenda.