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STALIN WILL ALWAYS BE WITH US
Islam Sheikh-Ahmedovich Hasuhanov was born in 1954 in Kirghizia. Beginning in 1973, he served in the Soviet army. He graduated from the Kiev Higher Naval Political College, and in the 1980s served in the Baltic Fleet, and from 1989 in the Pacific Fleet. In 1991 he graduated from the Lenin Political Military Academy, in Moscow. As a submarine officer who had graduated from a military academy, Hasuhanov would have been regarded as the elite of the Russian navy. He retired to the reserves in 1998, with the rank of captain first class, from the position of deputy commander of a B-251 nuclear submarine. From 1998 he lived in Grozny, where he was head of the Military Inspectorate in the government of Aslan Maskhadov and head of Maskhadov’s operational staff. He is married to Maskhadov’s niece, his second wife, and has two sons. Hasuhanov took no active part in the first or the second Chechen war and was never in hiding from the federal authorities. Arrested on April 20, 2002, in the district center of Shali by special units of the FSB as an “international terrorist” and “one of the organizers of illegal armed formations [IAFs],” he was sentenced by the Supreme Court of the republic of North Ossetia-Alaniya to twelve years’ detention in a strict-regime labor camp.
The Prehistory of the Trial
What happens to a man after he is picked up by the FSB? Not the Cheka of 1937, not the Cheka of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag, but the one funded by today’s taxpayers? Nobody has any hard facts, but everybody is frightened, just as people used to be.
And just as under the Soviet regime, only rarely does any information get out. One of those rare instances is the case of Islam Hasuhanov.
According to the file of Criminal Case No. 56/17, Islam Hasuhanov was arrested on April 27, 2002, on Mayakovsky Street in Shali, and charged under Article 222 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation with “being in possession of and bearing firearms.” The wording would lead one to expect some evidence of the alleged weapons.
In fact, armed individuals wearing masks, as is usual in Chechnya, burst at dawn into the house of Hasuhanov’s relatives, where he was living with his family. They dragged him off to an unknown destination without bothering to plant any firearms on him; he had none of his own. The federal special units operating in Chechnya in the search for “international terrorists” have long been confident that they can behave, no matter how despicably, with impunity. This time they were acting on a tip-off from an informer, and had no doubt they were picking up one of the leaders of an IAF whose fate was already sealed. As he would not be surviving, no pistol, no assault rifle was registered as material evidence.
The charge under Article 222 was allowed to stand anyway. The false date of April 27 was also left intact. Missing weeks are characteristic of the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya. A man is arrested and goes missing. The first seven days of his detention are the most brutal. No organization is responsible for him; none of the security agencies admits to knowing anything about him. His relatives search desperately, but it is as if he does not exist. It is during this time that the intelligence services beat everything they need out of him.
Hasuhanov has barely any recollection of the period between April 20 and 27. Beatings, injections, more beatings, more injections. Nothing beyond that. The record of the court hearing ten months after that terrible week states: “For the first seven days I was held in the FSB building in Shali, where I was beaten. Dating from that time I have 14 broken ribs, one rib in my kidney.”
What did the authorities want to get out of Hasuhanov before he died from his injuries? They demanded that he lead them to Maskhadov. After that he could die. The trouble was, Hasuhanov didn’t take them to Maskhadov, and with the robust good health of a submarine officer, he didn’t die, either.
On April 30 it was decided to formalize the case against him. He was dragged off (the public prosecutor of Chechnya at the time was Alexander Nikitin) to a temporary interrogation unit in another Chechen district center, Znamenskaya. This village was blasted from the face of the earth by a female suicide bomber on May 12, 2003. Afterward there was general satisfaction in Chechnya, where most people felt that justice had been done at last. How many people had been tortured there and were secretly buried in the area?
When Hasuhanov arrived in Znamenskaya, he looked like death. His body resembled a sack, but he was breathing. The torture continued under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Anatoly Cherepnev, deputy head of the investigative section of the directorate of the FSB for Chechnya. Cherepnev was to be the main investigator in the Hasuhanov case, deciding on the level of torture and directing the process to obtain the required evidence.
From the court record:
“Why were violent means being used against you?”
“In all the interviews, all they were interested in was where Maskhadov was and where the submarine was that I supposedly was intending to hijack. Those were the two questions in connection with which violent means were used against me.”
Hasuhanov could not lead his questioners to Maskhadov because he had last seen him in 2000 and subsequently had contact with him only on audiocassettes. When necessary, Maskhadov would record one and send it to Hasuhanov by courier. Occasionally Hasuhanov would reply. One of the couriers had become an FSB informer. The last time before his arrest that Hasuhanov had received a cassette was in January 2002, and he had replied two days earlier. On the tapes, Maskhadov usually asked Hasuhanov, apparently for the record, to confirm how much money he, Maskhadov, had transferred to which field commanders. We shall see why Maskhadov was interested in this subject.
Let us turn to the submarine. Its story deserves to be told in some detail. As noted earlier, Hasuhanov had been a high-ranking submarine officer before retiring. He was the only Chechen who ever became an officer in the nuclear submarine fleet, in either Soviet or post-Soviet times. Accordingly, Lieutenant Colonel Cherepnev set about trying to incriminate him in the “planning of an IAF to hijack a nuclear submarine, gain possession of a nuclear warhead, seize Deputies of the State Duma as hostages, demand changes to the constitutional system of the Russian Federation by threatening to use a nuclear warhead and to kill hostages.” This is a quotation from a form returned by Cherepnev to the public prosecutor’s office in Chechnya with a request for permission to continue the detention of Hasuhanov. The request was not refused.
Cherepnev did his utmost to incriminate Hasuhanov, but the results were unspectacular. Hasuhanov would not, and indeed could not, give in. In 1992 he himself had “built,” as they say in the navy, the very submarine Cherepnev was accusing him of planning to hijack. Hasuhanov had monitored the submarine’s construction, knowing that he would be serving on it. Thus he had supervised the project on behalf of its future crew.
Cherepnev worked hard on the story of the submarine hijacking. The FSB forged documents supposedly written by Chechen fighters on the basis of intelligence supplied by Hasuhanov. There was a “Working Plan of Chechen IAFs for carrying out an act of sabotage on the territory of the Russian Federation and hand-drawn maps of the bases of 4 Nuclear Submarine Flotilla of the Pacific Fleet” and a “Plan for conducting a terrorist act on the territory of Russia.” There was a helpful note added to the effect that “detailed planning of the operation was carried out on the basis of visual and reconnaissance intelligence of the region of interest to us during December 1995.” It was under these words that Hasuhanov was meant to place his signature.
The trouble was, the authorities could not get him to sign. The FSB set about beating him more ingeniously, although there was little they hadn’t already tried. Now, however, they were punishing him for disrupting their plans.
The only things Cherepnev ever got Hasuhanov to sign (“endorse” was the term used in the verdict), out of his mind from a combination of pain and psychotropic drugs, were blank sheets of “orders and operational instructions of Maskhadov.” Cherepnev wrote in whatever it seemed would go down well. Here is an example of one such fabrication:
On September 2, 2000, Hasuhanov issued a combat instruction ordering all field commanders to scatter small nails, nuts, bolts, and ball bearings on highways and routes of deployment of federal forces in order to disguise mines and explosive devices. Thus, availing himself of his leading role in the IAF, by his deliberate actions Hasuhanov incited other participants of the IAF to commit terrorist acts directed at opposing the establishment of constitutional order on the territory of the Chechen Republic.
Cherepnev also demanded that Hasuhanov sign the minutes of his interrogations without reading them. Here is an example of their quality:
Question [supposedly asked by Cherepnev]: You have been shown a photocopy of an Address to Russian Officers, No. 215 of November 25, 2000. What testimony can you give? Answer [supposedly given by Hasuhanov]: The preparation and distribution of such documents was a component part of the propaganda carried out by the operational directorate of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria under my immediate leadership. The Addresses referred to were intended to counteract the Russian mass media in respect of their coverage of the progress of the antiterrorist operation. I understood that distribution of such documents could lead to destabilization of the situation on the territory of the Chechen Republic, but continued my activities….
This document is typical of the army’s literary style. For a month Hasuhanov was tortured in Znamenskaya so that material of this caliber could be accumulated.
From the court record:
“And when as a result of these beatings I no longer understood or reacted to anything, I was given injections and transferred to the FSB in North Ossetia. They didn’t want to admit me to the interrogation unit there because their doctor said that, as a result of the earlier beatings, I would die within 48 hours. I was then taken to a timber mill, Enterprise No. YaN 68-1.”
“Were you given any medical assistance?”
“I just lay in the timber mill recovering for three months.”
What timber mill is this? Mention is occasionally made of it in stories about people who have vanished without a trace after purges in Chechnya. Some who have been there and survived call it a lumber camp, a term from Stalin’s times; others call it a timber mill. Its official title is Enterprise No. YaN 68—1, and it comes under the administration of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of North Ossetia.
What we do know about the timber mill is that it is the destination of people who have been beaten half to death by officers of the law-enforcement agencies (primarily FSB agents). The enterprise closes its eyes to the fact that these individuals have no identification documents. They are nonpersons who have vanished without a trace after their encounter with the feds.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those who work at the timber mill for illegally accepting the outlawed into their enterprise. They have saved many from certain death: those who were supposed to die but whom the feds simply couldn’t be bothered to shoot as they were brought from Chechnya to Ossetia, and those who were sent to the mill to die without the FSB getting its hands dirty. Nobody knows how many people have died there in the course of the second Chechen war or who they were. They have left behind not so much as a grave mound. On the other hand, we do know how many survived. Hasuhanov is one of these. A guard took pity on him, no more than that, and every time the man was on duty he would bring Hasuhanov milk from his home.
Hasuhanov thus survived yet again, and yet again found himself facing Cherepnev. In the Chechen directorate of the FSB, there is a rule that anyone who survives interrogation is put on trial. Not many do, and hence trials of “international terrorists” are few and far between. Nevertheless, for the sake of expediency, at least, some trials are held: within the antiterrorist operation, it is thought desirable to sentence the occasional “terrorist.” Western leaders ask Putin questions from time to time; he demands information from the FSB and the prosecutor general’s office, and they do their best to oblige. Only, of course, when someone survives.
Vladikavkaz is the capital of the republic of North Ossetia—Alaniya, which borders on Chechnya and Ingushetia. Ossetia, too, is a fully paid-up member of the antiterrorist operation. Mozdok, in North Ossetia, is the main military base where federal groups are formed before being sent to Chechnya. It was the scene of two major suicide bombings in 2003: on June 5 a woman got on a bus transporting military pilots and blew herself up and on August 1 a man crashed a truck loaded with a ton of explosives into a military hospital.
In Vladikavkaz, the traditional setting for many fabricated court cases against international terrorists, the local lawyers act less as counsels for the defense than as functionaries in close liaison with the court, the FSB, and the prosecutor’s office. Vladikavkaz is also where agents of the Chechen directorate of the FSB often have extended tours of duty, preferring to bring their victims there to interrogate them, as far away from the war as possible.
Cherepnev now went to Hasuhanov in Vladikavkaz and found him a lawyer. Since June 1, 2003, Russia has had a progressive code of criminal procedure in conformity with the highest European standards. Among other things, it prohibits interrogating a suspect without a lawyer being present, but of course, “when necessary,” everything continues as before. In any case, from April 20 until October 9, 2002, for almost six months, Hasuhanov had no legal representation at all. Not until his skull had healed over and his fractured ribs and broken hands had recovered at the timber mill could he be readied for a court appearance.
Here again, the details are of interest. On October 8, Cherepnev summoned Hasuhanov to an interrogation and instructed him to address an application to him. Cherepnev dictated the following: “I request you to provide me with a lawyer for the preliminary investigation. Up to the present time, I have had no need of the services of a lawyer, and in this connection I have no complaints against the investigative services. I request you to appoint an advocate chosen at the investigator’s discretion….” On October 9, then, Hasuhanov had his first interrogation in the presence of a Vladikavkaz legal-aid attorney. Hasuhanov suspected the attorney was an FSB agent. The lawyer did nothing to cause him to change his mind. He gave Hasuhanov no advice, sat passively at the interrogations, and said nothing.
From the court record:
“You may say whether there is a difference between the evidence you gave before a lawyer was present and after, and if so, what that difference is.”
“There is a difference. Before, I was not given the record to read at the end of an interrogation. After the appearance of a lawyer, I was.”
In all, Hasuhanov had three such interrogations in the presence of a defense lawyer, on October 9, 23, and 24, 2002. More precisely, in the course of these three days, Cherepnev simply copied the testimony beaten out of the defendant in Znamenskaya onto new forms, which became “testimony in accordance with the code of criminal procedure.”
Cherepnev declared that October 25 would be the final day of the investigation. He informed Hasuhanov that he would shortly receive the text of the indictment and that he was to sign it as quickly as possible. So that he should have no illusions. Hasuhanov was taken from the solitary-confinement unit for two days, October 29 and 30—naturally, without a lawyer. He did not know where he was being taken. He had a hood put over his head and was led out as if to be executed. “That’s it, the end,” the guards said, cocking their rifles.
His execution was a hoax, designed to frighten him into signing the indictment.
Of course he signed. But he remained unbroken, and at the trial he retracted everything on which the indictment was based. The indictment was nonetheless confirmed by the new prosecutor of Chechnya, Vladimir Kravchenko, and the text migrated, virtually intact, into the verdict of Judge Valerii Dzhioyev.
Here are quotations from both the indictment and the verdict, with my comments. It is easy to see how criminal cases are fabricated, and also that none of the counterfeiters are the least bit worried about being exposed or about the fact that these records will remain as the raw material of history (which, in accordance with Russian tradition, will surely be rewritten in the course of time).
In April 1999, Hasuhanov… voluntarily entered an armed formation not permitted under federal law. Hasuhanov made contact with Hambiev Mahomed, an aide of Maskhadov, who proposed that he provide assistance to Maskhadov using his experience to organize the work of “Military Audit,” an IAF then being created.
After retiring, Hasuhanov had returned home to Grozny. Unique in being a Chechen officer with an academic education, he was invited by Maskhadov to work in the Chechen government, which, in 1999, was the official republican government, financed from Moscow, and Maskhadov was the lawfully elected president of Chechnya, recognized by Moscow. The “Military Audit” that Maskhadov invited Hasuhanov to join was an urgent requirement. The Chechen bureaucracy was shamelessly corrupt, as indeed were the bureaucrats in Moscow, and the republican government needed a knowledgeable person to monitor the flow of military funds, in particular those coming from the Russian Federal Treasury. What kind of IAF is that?
From the court record:
“Did you consider the actions of President Maskhadov to be lawful?” [the prosecution asked].
“Yes. I had no way of knowing that Maskhadov, the government, and security ministries would later be considered illegal. I knew that Maskhadov was the president. He was recognized as such by the Russian leaders. There were meetings with his ministers, financial resources were allocated, so of course I did not know that I was joining an IAF.”
“Was it your job to inspect the finances and general administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria?”
“Yes, I reported the results of the audit to Maskhadov in June 1999. I listed everything money had been spent on. I received this information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. All the information was received through official channels. I had no reason to suppose anything was unlawful.”
Hasuhanov’s work before the war did indeed include the inspection of finances and administration as well as the setting up of a system to audit and monitor the financial resources allocated for maintaining the security services of Chechnya: the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the national and presidential guards, and the army’s staff headquarters. In the summer of 1999, Hasuhanov established that considerable sums of money were passing through staff headquarters for the purchase of weaponry and uniforms but that, for example, the rocket launchers the Ministry of Defense was ordering from the Grozny Red Hammer Factory were known to be militarily useless. This was a blatant misappropriation of funds, as was the purchase of uniforms. They were being sewn in the Chechen town of Gudremes at a price of sixty rubles per outfit, but the accompanying documentation stated that they were “made in the Baltic States” at a higher price.
Hasuhanov reported all this to Maskhadov, and the director of the military audit office immediately ran into trouble with the president’s security forces, who were involved in all phases of the embezzlement. After Hasuhanov had worked in the military audit office for just a week, Maskhadov appointed him chief of staff, simply because he needed honest people around him.
It was the end of July 1999. Chief of Staff Hasuhanov began work in August, a few days before the start of the second Chechen war, in which he refused to take part.
As you read the record of the court hearings (which took place behind closed doors), you cannot help feeling that the trial was a put-up job. Someone had decided that Hasuhanov had to be sent down for a very serious offense, but no one would characterize that offense. Had Hasuhanov, back in 1999, found out something that came back to haunt him three or four years later? Was it the secret of those embezzled federal funds? There is even some suspicion that the fraud itself was, to a large extent, the reason the second Chechen war was started, perhaps a war to ensure that the tracks of the wrongdoers would be covered forever. And is this a reason why the upper echelons of Russia’s armed forces are still so set against peace negotiations?
Here is a further quote from the indictment:
Hasuhanov was actively involved in the work of the IAF and in 1999 was engaged in matters relating to the financing of the IAF. He devised and implemented an auditing system for the financial resources provided to maintain the National Guard, general headquarters, and Ministry of Internal Affairs IAFs of the self-proclaimed “Republic of Ichkeria.” Having demonstrated organizational ability and efficiency in this position, Hasuhanov was appointed by Maskhadov to the post of his chief of staff in late July 1999. Actively engaged in the work of the above-named IAF, Hasuhanov was involved in formulating the basic decisions relating to opposition to the forces of the federal government, by means that included armed opposition, in its task of restoring constitutional order to the territory of the CRI.
The charge would be laughable if we did not know the price exacted from Hasuhanov for this brazen falsification of history by the forces of the FSB.
From the record of the court hearing:
“Tell the court what necessity there was for you personally to be in Chechnya from the beginning of combat operations until the day of your arrest.”
“I did not consider it possible to turn my back on Maskhadov because I considered him the legally elected president. I could not stop the war and did everything in my power…. I sometimes fulfilled his requests. I was not in a fit condition to march through the forests, but what I could do I did. I saw people dying. I know what is meant by ‘restoring constitutional order.’ I will not conceal the fact that this entire war is genocide. However, I never called for the carrying out of acts of terrorism.”
“Did you call for the killing of federal troops?”
“In order to call for that, I would have had to have men under my command. I had no men under my command.”
“Were any of the field commanders directly subordinate to you?”
In front of me I have documents marked OFFICIAL USE ONLY. When he was preparing the court case, Cherepnev sent out inquiries to every local FSB department in Chechnya requesting information on terrorist acts committed in its district on “combat instructions from Chief of the Operational Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the CRI Hasuhanov.” Recall the “combat instructions” Hasuhanov signed during his interrogation: blank sheets of paper, on which Cherepnev then wrote in whatever he wanted. Not surprisingly, every local department head replied that Hasuhanov was not wanted for any terrorist acts. These responses came back to Cherepnev not from Chechen fighters but from his own people.
The negative feedback did not, however, halt the machinery that was to proclaim the guilt of “a leading member of the IAF,” as Hasuhanov, after he had survived, now began to be called. The court paid not the slightest attention to this pile of papers for OFFICIAL USE ONLY, and neither did the prosecutor general’s office.
The Hasuhanov case was heard behind closed doors and at great speed, from January 14 to February 25, 2003, in the Supreme Court of the Republic of North Ossetia—Alaniya, Judge Valerii Dzhioyev presiding. The court found nothing untoward—not in the fact that the accused had had no access to a lawyer for six months, or that the lawyer invited to act on his behalf had been chosen by those who had been beating his client, or that there was no information on the whereabouts of the accused between April 20 and 27. The court noted that he had been tortured but had no comment to make on the subject. Here is a quote from the verdict:
Hasuhanov made no admission of guilt during the investigation but under physical and psychological pressure from officers of the FSB was forced to sign previously prepared records of the interrogations.
“You have said that violent means were used against you,” the judge told Hasuhanov. “Can you give the names of those who used violent means against you?”
“I cannot give their names because I do not know them.”
The court passed over this detail, since the torturers had failed to identify themselves to their victim. It even refused to commission a medical report, despite the fact that the accused had a dent in his skull. The court confined itself to asking Tebloev, the director of the timber factory, whether Hasuhanov had stayed in his hospital section. He replied, “Yes. He was there from May 3 until September 2002 with a broken rib cage.” The court took this information in stride. To quote again from the verdict:
At the court hearing the accused, Hasuhanov, did not admit to being guilty of the crimes committed. He stated that he considered it his duty to carry out certain requests and missions for the legally elected President Maskhadov. He denied making preparations for the committing of terrorist acts or providing financial resources for field commanders. He acknowledged only that he authenticated certain orders and instructions of Maskhadov, annotating them “True copy” in his own hand.
Was that it?
Yes, that was it. The sentence was twelve years in a strict-regime labor camp without eligibility for amnesty. The prisoner’s final comment was, “I wish to state that I have no intention of repudiating my beliefs. I consider what is going on in Chechnya to be a flagrant violation of people’s rights. Nobody makes any attempt to catch the real criminals. While the present situation continues, there will be many more people like me in the dock.”
THE SHROUD OF darkness from which we spent several decades during the Soviet era trying to free ourselves is enveloping us again. More and more stories are heard of the FSB using torture to fabricate cases to suit its ideological needs, implicating the courts and the prosecutor’s office as its accomplices. This practice is now the rule rather than the exception. We can no longer pretend that the occurrences are random.
The implication is that our constitution is on its deathbed, in spite of the guarantees intended to safeguard it, and the FSB is in charge of the funeral arrangements.
When I learned that Hasuhanov had been brought to the notorious Krasnaya Presnya transit prison in Moscow, a kind of distribution center from which those already sentenced are sent off in convoys to other parts of the country, I rang the Moscow office of the International Red Cross. Those who work there are among the few people allowed to visit particular prisoners. I called because I knew that after the torture Hasuhanov had endured, he was in poor health indeed. I asked the agency to visit him in Krasnaya Presnya, to provide him with medicine, to ask the prison authorities to ensure that he received treatment, and to get their consent for regular visits.
A week passed, during which the Moscow office of the IRC considered my appeal. Then the charity rejected the request, mumbling something about the situation being “very complicated.”
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