Washington Babylon — July 10, 2007, 2:03 pm

Georgia Provides Troops for Iraq; Gets a Free Pass on Human Rights?

Guess which Eastern European country will soon have the third largest military force in Iraq? That same country is strongly pro-NATO and has on retainer a Washington lobbyist who was a leading advocate for the war in Iraq? Now guess which country is getting a free ride from the Bush Administration—and the media—on human rights and democracy?

The answer is Georgia. Ever since the “Rose Revolution” of 2003 that toppled Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet official, the Bush administration has maintained close ties to the government in Georgia. The media, too, has been sympathetic to President Mikhail Saakashvili, who is generally portrayed as a spunky leader who is creating a Western-style state bound by the rule of law.

That portrait, though, is far from accurate. In 2005, Human Rights Watch released a report that described “the ongoing impunity for torture, a problem that persists despite some government measures taken to combat it.” In another report last year, “Undue Punishment: Abuses against Prisoners in Georgia”,” Human Rights Watch found that many prisoners “live in severely overcrowded, filthy, and poorly-ventilated cells. In the last two years, the prison population has nearly doubled due to the routine use of pretrial detention, even for nonviolent offences.” (Incidentally, there were 16,911 convictions in Georgia last year and just 37 acquittals, a rate that even an old Soviet-era prosecutor would have had a hard time matching.)

This year, the U.S. State Department’s own human rights report says of Georgia, “The government’s human rights record improved in some areas during the year, although serious problems remained . . . [T]here were some reports of deaths due to excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, cases of torture and mistreatment of detainees, increased abuse of prisoners, impunity, [and] continued overuse of pretrial detention for less serious offenses.”

Consider court proceedings now under way against Maia Topuria, a 41-year-old mother of three who along with 12 other defendants is now on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government. In an echo of the Communist era, the judge has closed the courtroom to the public, the media and foreign observers. The defendants, who are members of the political opposition, are held in cages in the courtroom (except for one, who was released after providing an incriminating statement against the others).

The evidence, to put it mildly, is weak. When they were originally arrested, the defendants were accused of participating in a May 24, 2006 meeting where they were said to have plotted the government’s overthrow. When one of the defendants proved that he was out of the country on that day, the government changed the date of the alleged plot to May 4. When another defendant proved he was at a cardiac clinic on that day, the government suggested he sneaked out to attend the coup meeting, though four doctors at the clinic have said it that would have been impossible for him to have done so unnoticed.

The government has offered as evidence a handwritten statement implicating the defendants from a witness who claimed he provided it in September of 2006 after he heard of the plot. But when questioned by a defense attorney in court, the witness could not even define numerous words from his original statement. (He defined “dispute” as “a TV debate,” “imitation” as an “attempt,” and said that he no longer knew what “spontaneous” meant but he did when he wrote his original statement.)

“The government doesn’t want any public scrutiny of the case because there is no case,” Melinda Sarafa, an American lawyer who is representing Topuria, told me. “Every day I’m in court I wish the media were there because the situation is so preposterous.” Sarafa says that Georgia is moving towards a “super-executive” style of government with no meaningful checks and balances, and charges that other than the State Department report, she can find “no other affirmative efforts by the Bush Administration to express concerns about identifiable instances of human rights violations.”

The Bush Administration could probably stop the farcical trial if it complained to the government, but since Saakashvili is “pro-Western” it doesn’t utter a peep of protest. Its silence might have something to do with the fact that Georgia recently announced it would increase its troops in Iraq from 850 to 2,000. After South Korea pulls its troops out, as it has announced, that will leave Georgia, a nation of about 4.5 million people, with the third largest contingent in Iraq after the United States and Great Britain.

Georgia’s cause in Washington is probably also helped by its lobbyist, Randy Scheunemann, a former advisor to Donald Rumsfeld who helped draft the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. A week after the 9/11 attacks Scheunemann joined with a group of conservatives who sent a letter to President Bush calling for Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, and in 2002 he became the founding president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq; now he’s helping former Soviet Bloc states win business there.

It’s ironic that the Bush Administration criticizes Russia for backsliding on democracy but says nothing about similar types of problems in Georgia and other former Soviet states that have undergone pro-Western revolutions. The media faithfully echoes the charges on Russia but has generally failed to explore the situation elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2017

Preaching to The Choir

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Monumental Error

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Star Search

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Pushing the Limit

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bumpy Ride

Bad Dog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Article
Star Search·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 3, 2016, less than a month after Donald Trump was elected president, Amanda Litman sat alone on the porch of a bungalow in Costa Rica, thinking about the future of the Democratic Party. As Hillary Clinton’s director of email marketing, Litman raised $180 million and recruited 500,000 volunteers over the course of the campaign. She had arrived at the Javits Center on Election Night, arms full of cheap beer for the campaign staff, minutes before the pundits on TV announced that Clinton had lost Wisconsin. Later that night, on her cab ride home to Brooklyn, Litman asked the driver to pull over so she could throw up.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Pushing the Limit·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Bumpy Ride·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

One sunny winter afternoon in western Michigan, I took a ride with Leon Slater, a slight sixty-four-year-old man with a neatly trimmed white beard and intense eyes behind his spectacles. He wore a faded blue baseball cap, so formed to his head that it seemed he slept with it on. Brickyard Road, the street in front of Slater’s home, was a mess of soupy dirt and water-filled craters. The muffler of his mud-splattered maroon pickup was loose, and exhaust fumes choked the cab. He gripped the wheel with hands leathery not from age but from decades moving earth with big machines for a living. What followed was a tooth-jarring tour of Muskegon County’s rural roads, which looked as though they’d been carpet-bombed.

Photograph by David Emitt Adams
Article
Bad Dog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abby was a breech birth but in the thirty-one years since then most everything has been pretty smooth. Sweet kid, not a lot of trouble. None of them were. Jack and Stevie set a good example, and she followed. Top grades, all the way through. Got on well with others but took her share of meanness here and there, so she stayed thoughtful and kind. There were a few curfew or partying things and some boys before she was ready, and there was one time on a school trip to Chicago that she and some other kids got caught smoking crack cocaine, but that was so weird it almost proved the rule. No big hiccups, master’s in ecology, good state job that lets her do half time but keep benefits while Rose is little.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Estimated portion of French citizens with radical-Islamist beliefs who grew up in Muslim families:

1/5

Human hands are more primitive than chimp hands.

Trump declared flashlights obsolete as he handed them out to Puerto Ricans, 90 percent of whom had no electricity in their homes; and tweeted that he wouldn’t keep providing federal hurricane relief “forever” to Puerto Rico, a US territory that the secretary of energy referred to as a “country.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today