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Mandate of thedead
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, 24 2008

1Six years ago, on October 23rd, 2002, a group of militants led by Movsar Barayev seized the theatrical center on Dubrovka during a showing of the musical 'Nord-Ost'. 923spectators and artists were taken hostage. Inexchange for the lives of the hostages, the terrorists demanded the immediate cessation of hostilities in Chechnya, and the withdrawal of federal forces from there. Themilitants' demands were not met, and the authorities went on the assault. 130hostages were killed, and over 700injured. Theassault, which took place on October 26th, killed all 40terrorists: 21men and 19women.

In March of 2003, former hostages and the relatives of captives slain at Dubrovka created the 'Nord-Ost' public organization to protect the rights of victims of terrorist attacks. Theyjoined with victims from other terrorist attacks. InRussia, there are more than 20thousand victims of terror attacks, and 8000have been killed. It's impossible to deal with future terrorist attacks without first thoroughly investigating earlier ones, said 'Nord-Ost' co-chairman Dmitry Milovidov, with whom we talked on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the 'Nord-Ost' tragedy.

Dmitry, has the investigation into the terrorist attack on Dubrovka ended?

It has been suspended once again. Theinvestigation of case number 229133on the seizure of hostages in the theater on Dubrovka was initiated on the evening of October 23rd, 2002. Later, as we understand it, they have been carrying out a presidential order to quietly bury this thing, punishing no one. Butit was only due to our persistence that they have not succeeded in doing so. Itis important to know who is to blame for the deaths of our loved ones. During these six years, various theories have been put forward. Thefirst version tried to blame it on the failure to provide proper medical care. Former Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev discussed this in 2004. Onone of the news programs, in response to our question as to why the huge investigative team was disbanded, he said that the investigation was complete and it had concluded that the doctors were to blame. After this, the prosecutor general's office officially commented on Vasilyev's statement, in a letter they said that it was only that individual's opinion. Theycited resolutions they made back on December 31st, 2002, that there was nothing criminal in the actions of the rescuers and medics. Because of this, we learned of the existence of their resolutions, but we only got acquainted with the text much later.

How?

Our Code of Criminal Procedure in general does not allow access with case materials until the completion of the case, that is, it turns out that we still have no need to know about the investigation or any of its activities. FromApril of 2004to May 5th, 2005, the Zamoskvoretsky court held hearings on a claim by one of the hostages, Kazakhstan citizen Svetlana Gubareva, whose daughter was killed during the assault. Since the court responded to the claim of a foreign citizen, we stated they we had also been denied the initiation of criminal charges for the deaths of our relatives. Ourbasis was that the investigation of the hostage crisis was a single case. So, thanks to the persistence of the judges, as well as the perseverance our attorney, Karinna Moskalenko, case materials were subpoenaed and we received 17of the at the time 120volumes of the criminal case. Nowthey are many more.

What did it give you?

Work with the facts could begin. Fora whole year we went through the case files, 5000pages of text were sorted and summarized. Afterwards our book appeared, Nord-Ost: an incomplete investigation. It was published on April 26th, 2006, translated into English, and distributed to every international non-governmental organization. There was no emotion. Thepublic was only offered the facts. Ourown conclusion, based on analysis of the case, was as follows: the authorities made an unprovoked attack using a highly toxic substance, and there were clearly not enough rescuers with the antidote. Theyused a gas based on fentanyl, which has both color and smell. Itwas, of course, noticed by the terrorists, and could have provoked them to respond, but, fortunately, this did not happen. Thehostages claimed that the terrorists smelled the gas. Their leader ran out onto the stage and told the terrorists to break the window. Onlyafter 20minutes did the gas have an effect.

So you think that the authorities are responsible for the deaths of the hostages?

We blame no one. Thisshould be done in a court of law. Wedemand an honest investigation, but for now we are just establishing the lies on the part of the officials. Inparticular, the lies of former Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko, who assured all citizens that the gas was completely harmless, and that it was widely used in anesthesia. Butit is not. Hiscolleagues told us: We don't understand why Yuri (Shevchenko) took the fall for somebody else. By the way, Putin also said that the gas could not cause harm. Thegeneral impression is that the authorities really wanted to carry out a splendid operation. Theywanted the best, but it turned out even worse than usual. Fromthe very beginning, the security forces were preparing for an assault, and, in my opinion, it was deliberately provoked. Before the assault three people managed to penetrate the triple cordon and enter the theatrical center building, and all were allegedly shot dead by the militants. Ipersonally tried to get in. Itwas impossible.

But in general, has there ever been a case in the history of hostage rescue where they used gas?

Iknow that in 1996they considered using gas in the rescue of 700hostages in Peru, who had been seized at the Japanese ambassador's residence. Theidea was abandoned because, in order to successfully implement it, they would have needed 1000physicians to provide medical care, and this was unrealistic. Therefore they bet on prolonging the negotiation process. Theymanaged to get up to 90percent of the hostages released, and only then did they carry out the combat operation. Wealso failed to find any examples of operations in the Soviet Union that used derivatives of fentanyl. Asfar as Iknow, some experiments were conducted at the Military Medical Academy. Apparently someone wanted to conduct a 'natural experiment'.

The death of the hostages during the operation, in my opinion, only discredited the government. Werethey really interested in this (outcome)?

The investigation revealed that four persons were running the (hostage rescue) headquarters, but it is not known who exactly made the decision to use the gas. Sergey Yastrzhembsky, who was the press liaison at the headquarters, though not a member of the staff, was asked who decided to use the gas. Hewas asked who decided to go forward with the assault, and who planned the operation. Hereplied that he did not know. Webelieve that the same questions were asked of other officials, but we do not know what they answered, and to whom. Wedo not have access to all of the testimonies. Perhaps the security forces counted on the gas not causing a reaction. Commandos from the 'Alfa' (Alpha) Detachment entered the building wearing gas masks, but the 'Vympel' (Pennant) and 'Rys' (Lynx) commandoes did not. According to physicians, absent any information on the chemical substance, many resuscitation measures were not applied. Alot of people talked to us, nodding mysteriously to over their shoulder to their 'neighbor': did you not realize that they were trying to 'set up' Putin? Weassume that Putin, Vladimir Pronichev, and Nikolai Patrushev had not been privy to every detail of the operation, but we want all this sorted out by the prosecutor's office. Ofcourse we rule out that it was premeditated, but as far as those miscalculations that led, in our opinion, to involuntary homicide, someone must be held responsible.

How did the investigation get around the fact that people were killed as a result of the gas?

By falsifying evidence. According to the death certificates, no hostage died from the gas. During the autopsies they did not use tests to detect synthetic chemicals. Itturned out that the hostages died because they did not eat enough, did not drink enough, did not breathe enough fresh air, and had various organic problems. Theinvestigation was not interested in what gas was used. Therecords indicate that some of the hostages had respiratory illnesses caused by an unidentified substance, but there was no direct connection between the deaths of the hostages and the gas.

But can this connection be completely ignored?

In the case materials there is even this phrase: Killed as a result of special unit actions in an extreme situation and then a list. Theconclusion: the situation was hopeless and nothing could be done. Ourlawyer suggested that there would be large-scale experiment, but nothing of the sort ever happened. Thetypical practice is silence. Thisphrase was also used in resolutions assessing the activities of the physicians. Bringing them to justice failed, they wrote honestly about all the shortcomings of rescue operation, and they only transported corpses. Theinvestigation determined that 114people were killed almost instantly. Further arguments that they may have died on the bus were groundless.

Simultaneous death cannot occur from not eating enough.

Naturally. Inthe witness testimonies they noted signs of narcotic poisoning: pulmonary edema, hemorrhages in all the organs. 14who died had no signs of chronic disease. Theprosecutor's office ignored all these facts, because, even before the results of comprehensive examinations, at a news conference the authorities talked about the type of substance used and stated that the leading cause of death was a sudden progression of chronic illnesses. Theauthorities also did not want to admit that they had violated the Convention on the use of chemical weapons.

What are the future prospects for the case?

It is unlikely that we will ever see open hearings. Recall the transparent trial in Beslan, where the victims had access to case materials and uncovered negligence by the (hostage rescue) headquarters. Theauthorities will not let this happen in the 'Nord-Ost' case. Sothat nothing would come to light, for six years they systematically destroyed every alleged organizer of the terror attack: Maskhadov, Basayev, Yandarbiyev. Accomplices are either in jail, or in hiding. Theyhad separate criminal cases opened against them. Zaurbek Talkhidov, in particular, was the Chechen who used his mobile phone to allow relatives of one of the female hostages to contact the leader of a gang. Healso led negotiators and journalists into the auditorium. According to Talkhidov, he was working undercover for the FSB. Thespecial security services later denied this, and Talkhidov was accused of aiding the terrorists. Intocourt they introduced a telephone recording of the Chechen, in which he informed the bandits of the locations of armored vehicles. Allother recordings were destroyed. Talkhidov got eight and a half years. Thisis a very complicated story, because shortly before her death, Anna Politkovskaya wrote me a letter, saying that she had dug up some data on Talkhidov, but asked me not to tell anyone. Thenshe was killed. Wefiled a petition at the Moscow city court to be recognized as victims in this case (ed: Talkhidov's, in order to have access to materials). Wewere denied. Other accomplices also were convicted behind closed doors.

What is most important for the terror victims: justice, or material compensation?

We are working on two fronts: we are seeking both the truth and financial compensation. Throughout Russia there are 20,000 terror attack victims, and 8,000 deaths because of terror attacks. AtDubrovka there were 912hostages, including 111minors. 69children were orphaned. Legal grounds are needed to assist them. Thefederal and Moscow city budgets allocated 100thousand rubles (ed: about$4000) for the relatives of those who were killed, and 50thousand to injured hostages. Weare very grateful for these funds they helped pay for our loved ones' funerals. There are special instances, however. Agrandmother received 215rubles (ed: about$8), on which to raise grandchildren whose parents had been killed. Kopecks. There is another case where attorney Venera Kamalova got the court to award 50thousand dollars to Sonya Khaziyeva, who lost her father during the terrorist attack on Dubrovka. Backthen Icalled up her mother, Tatyana Khaziyeva, and Iasked what we were getting out of these lawsuits, since either way we could not bring back our loved ones. Shereplied: I want the authorities to know that if my tomorrow my child is taken hostage, then neither the FSB, nor the government, will have enough money to play games with his life.

For their poor performance the authorities must bear not only a material liability, but also criminal.

That is possible, but only after completion of the case, which has been delayed. Moreover, the Russian government is trying to avoid responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks. Atthe OSCE (ed: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) meeting, people from other countries were simply amazed when they learned that there are no compensation measures in our country. Longago in the West they developed, at the legislative level, a system of compensation for terror victims. InFrance, for example, there used to be a high level of terrorism, and it affected many people. Thestate began to think: either compensate pay with large sums, or force the security services to get to work. Theychose the second option, and terrorism disappeared. Ourlawyers tried to use this positive practice in claims that named substantial amounts amounting to tens of millions of dollars in order attract attention. Forthe most part our claims have been denied. Inthe draft of a new law on terrorism, the phrase 'overall harm caused to victims of terrorist attacks' has been replaced by the term 'specific damage'. Aidto security force commandos was clearly specified, but with regards to victims of terror attacks there are only general words, and everything is left to the discretion of the relevant agencies of the Russian Federation.

Who do you personally consider to be guilty for the death of the hostages?

Vladimir Putin.

Why? Yousaid so yourself, that the president could have been set up.

Ido not rule out that this information started with his PR people. Iconsider Putin guilty because he was responsible for the situation with the second Chechen war. Backthen he was the director of the FSB. Thewar has become a training center for commandos, free of charge. Inaddition, the security block, whose representative is Mr. Putin, is interested in constant tension. Waris profitable for the security agencies, and it seems that Putin is unable to control them. Thisquestion is not an empty one: do we even have a president? Wemay never know who rules us. Irealize that our words have a political slant. Though our organization is apolitical, we seek to change the political structure of society, and make it so that human life carries a very high price.

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