Terror and Equity in Russia and America

 Consider this scenario: a powerful country - call it country A - is suddenly attacked by terrorists.

 Consider this scenario: a powerful country - call it country A - is suddenly attacked by terrorists.  Innocent civilians are murdered.  The attackers come from training camps in country B.  The leader of country A offers to negotiate with the government of country B on three conditions: first, the leaders of B must disavow terrorism; second, they must close terrorist training camps in their country; third, they must extradite the leaders of the attack.  The government of country B refuses the offer.  Country A declares the government of country B a terrorist organization and attacks.

Sound familiar?  This is what happened in the last days of September 2001 as President Bush called upon Taliban leaders to sever ties with al Qaeda and extradite its leaders to the United States.  The war in Afghanistan occurred because Afghan leaders declined to treat the 9/11 attacks in criminal terms and to negotiate the extradition of al Qaeda leaders. 

But this is also what happened in the last days of September 1999, when Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov declined the offer of Vladimir Putin, then Russian Prime Minister, to negotiate following the invasions of Dagestan.  Dagestan is the Russian republic wedged between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea.  On August 2, 1999, and again on September 5, 1999, Dagestan was invaded by about 2,000 militants who were based in al Qaeda-supported camps in Chechnya.  The invaders murdered dozens of civilians, and displaced 32,000 people.  Though 90 percent of Dagestanis are Muslim, they wanted nothing to do with the radical fundamentalism of the invaders.  They organized citizen militias, fought back, and appealed for support from Russian federal troops.  On September 29, Putin offered to negotiate with Maskhadov and his government on essentially the same terms that President Bush offered to negotiate with the Taliban government two years later.  When Maskhadov refused, Russia did in Chechnya what America did in Afghanistan.  It invaded.

Now consider this scenario:  after a murderous terrorist attack on country A, and after the leadership of country B refuses country A's offer to negotiate the problem in criminal terms, country A attacks country B.  Throughout most of the world, public opinion is hostile towards whom?  Country A or country B?  The United States was fortunate in that most of the world supported its invasion of Afghanistan.  By contrast, world opinion turned fiercely against Russia as soon as it invaded Chechnya in 1999.

In both Chechnya and Afghanistan, early military victories by both Russia and the United States gave way to a stubborn guerilla resistance, punctuated by terrorist attacks.  Human rights violations occurred, and prisoners were systematically abused.  In Chechnya, abuses were much worse.

Now consider this scenario: a leading member of the Taliban is found in a country, such as Pakistan, where he is vociferously defending Taliban policies.  American officials seek his extradition.  The Taliban leader appeals for asylum.  Taliban supporters in Pakistan defend the Taliban leader, organizing a popular campaign that plays upon anti-American prejudices.  The Pakistani government caves in and grants asylum to the Taliban leader.  They justify it by pointing to prisoner abuse by Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with America's policy of systematic abuse for al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, arguing that a Taliban leader would not receive due process in the United States. 

Of course, this scenario is not occurring in Pakistan.  It is occurring in America.  Illyas Akhmadov was the foreign minister of Chechnya during the invasion of Dagestan.  Like the Taliban, his government did not support those attacks publicly, but neither did they repudiate them nor seek to prevent them while they were in progress.  Afterwards, when they were given the opportunity to avoid war and to negotiate the matter in criminal terms by condemning terrorism, closing terrorist bases and extraditing terrorist leaders, they refused.  Hence, Russia declared the Chechen government a terrorist organization, just as America declared the Taliban government a terrorist organization.

Mr. Akhmadov is now in America, where he has been defending claims of the Chechen government and where he has applied for asylum.  A Boston immigration judge granted asylum on the ground that he would not receive due process in Russia.  The Department of Homeland Security is appealing the decision, arguing that Mr. Akhmadov should not receive American asylum because he has been connected with terrorism.  Perhaps the DHS is motivated by concern that Mr. Akhmadov's presence could make it all the more difficult for America to justify the extradition of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders from other countries. 

What is to be done?  First, the same standards must be applied to the judgment of Russia, America and their respective adversaries. If the government of Afghanistan was wrong to harbor terrorists, then the government of Chechnya was also wrong.  And if Americans wish to condemn failures of due process in other systems, then they must also look to their own.  Second, we must maintain standards of due process because any individual case is subtle and complex.  Therefore, it must be left to an appellate judge to determine if Mr. Akhmadov receives American asylum.  At a minimum, Mr. Akhmadov should now do what he failed to do in September 1999: renounce any connection to the Chechen government and firmly repudiate terrorism.


Robert Bruce Ware is an associate professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and is a specialist on the Caucasus.