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The Ordeal of Andrei Babitsky

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

106th Congress, Second Session

Mr. Speaker, a small bit of good news has emerged from the tortured region of Chechnya, where the Russian military is killing, looting, and terrorizing the population under the guise of an “anti-terrorism operation.”

Andrei Babitsky, the Radio Liberty correspondent who had disappeared in Chechnya in early February after Russian authorities had “exchanged” him to unknown persons in return for some Russian prisoners of war, has emerged in Dagestan and is now in Moscow recuperating from his ordeal. Mr. Babitsky’s courageous reporting from the besieged city of Grozny had infuriated Russian military authorities, and he was arrested in mid-January and charged with “participating in an unlawful armed formation.”

Prior to his release, Mr. Babitsky had spent time in the notorious Chernokozovo “filtration” camp where the Russian military has been detaining and torturing Chechens suspected of aiding the resistance. Following his arrival in Moscow, Mr. Babitsky provided a harrowing account of his incarceration at the Chernokozovo prison, and especially the savage treatment of his fellow prisoners. It is another graphic reminder that for all the fine words and denials coming out of Moscow, the Russian military has been conducting a brutal business that makes a mockery of the Geneva Conventions and the code of military conduct stipulated in the 1994 Budapest Document of the OSCE.

Mr. Speaker, last month President Clinton stated that Russia’s Acting President Putin is a man the United States “can do business with.” With this in mind, I would suggest for the Record excerpts from Mr. Babitsky’s interview with an NTV reporter in Russia. If Mr. Putin is aware of the state of affairs at Chernokozovo and condoning it, I would submit that our business with Mr. Putin should be extremely limited. If he is not aware of the truth, then his authority over Russia is a chimera, and we might better deal with the real rulers of Russia.

Babitsky’s statement follows:

[From Hero of the Day NTV Program, 7:40 p.m., Feb. 29, 2000]

INTERVIEW WITH RADIO LIBERTY CORRESPONDENT ANDREI BABITSKY

Babitsky: On the 16th I tried to leave the city of Grozny through the settlement of Staraya Sunzha, a suburb of Grozny which at the time was divided into two parts. One part was controlled by federal troops and the other by the Chechen home guard.

I entered the territory controlled by the federals and it was there that I was recognized. I was identified as a journalist, I immediately presented my documents. All the subsequent claims that I was detained as a person who had to be identified are not quite clear to me. I had my passports with me, my accreditation card of a foreign correspondent.

Then I was taken to Khankala. Not what journalists who had covered the first war regarded as Khankala, but to an open field. There was an encampment there consisting of trucks used as their office by army intelligence officers. Two of my cassettes that I had filmed in Grozny were taken from me. They contained unique frames. I think those were the last video pictures ever taken by anyone before Grozny was stormed. Those, again, were pictures of thousands of peaceful civilians many of whom, as we now know, were killed by federal artillery shells.

I spent two nights in Khankala, in the so-called Avtozak, a truck converted into a prison cell. On the third day I was taken to what the Chechens call a filtration center, the preliminary detention center in Chernokozovo.

I believe I am the only journalist of those who covered the first and the second Chechen wars who has seen a filtration center from the inside. I must say that all these horrors that we have heard from Chechens who had been there have been confirmed. Everything that we read about concentration camps of the Stalin period, all that we know about the German camps, all this is present there.

The first three days that I spent there, that was the 18th, 19th and the 20th, beatings continued round the clock. I never thought that I would hear such a diversity of expressions of human pain. These were not just screams, these were screams of every possible tonality and depth, these were screams of most diverse pain. Different types of beatings cause a different reaction.

Q. Are you saying that you got this treatment?

A. No, that was the treatment meted out to others. I was fortunate, it was established at once that I am a journalist, true, nobody knew what type of journalist I was. Everybody there were surprised that a journalist happened to be there. In principle, the people there cannot be described as intellectuals. They decided that there was nothing special about this, that such things do happen in a war. As a journalist I was “registered”, as they say, only once. They have this procedure there. When a new detainee is being taken from his cell to the investigator he is made to crawl all the way under a rain of blows with rubber sticks.

It hurts but one can survive it. This is a light treatment as compared with the tortures to which Chechens are subjected day and night, those who are suspected of collaborating with the illegal armed formations. There are also cases when some testimony is beaten out of detainees.

Q. What is the prison population there?

A. In my opinion ….. I was in cell No. 17 during the first three days. In that cell there were 13 inhabitants of the village Aberdykel (sp.–FNS). Most of them were young. Judging by their stories, I am not an investigator and I could not collect a sufficiently full database, but in such an atmosphere one very rarely doubts the veracity of what you are told. Mostly these were young men who had nothing to do with the war. They were really common folk. They were treating everything happening around them as a calamity but they were not taking any sides. They were simply waiting for this calamity to pass either in this direction or that direction.

Beatings as a method of getting testimony. This is something that, unfortunately, is very well known in Russian and not only Russian history and tradition. But I must say that apart from everything, in my opinion, in all this torture, as it seemed to me, a large part is due to sheer sadism. In other words, an absolutely unwarranted torturing of people.

For instance, I heard ….. You know, you really can’t see this because all this happens outside of your cell. But the type of screams leaves no doubt about what is happening. You know this painful reaction. For two hours a woman was tortured on the 20th or the 19th. She was tortured; I have no other word to explain what was happening. That was not hysteria. I am not a medic but I believe that we all know what hysteria is. There were screams indicting that a person was experiencing unbearable pain, and for a long period of time.

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