HRW: Bush visitor responsible for rights abuses in Chechnya

White House says Bush was not aware of the allegations against Gen. Vladimir Shamanov.

human rights watch 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
human rights watch 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A leading US human rights organization says President George W. Bush should not have met at the White House with a Russian military official the group alleges was responsible for serious rights abuses in the breakaway Chechnya province. The White House said Thursday that Bush was not aware of the allegations against Gen. Vladimir Shamanov before their Monday meeting, which also included retired US Air Force Gen. Robert Foglesong. Shamanov and Foglesong are co-chairmen of the US-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, a 15-year-old commission dedicated to accounting for all US military personnel who went missing during the Cold War. Bush agreed to the meeting because he "was attempting to reinvigorate that commission," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. She said, however, that it is "unlikely" that Bush would have done so if he had been aware of the allegations. "Due to the information about the current Russian commission leadership, we're going to review how best to move forward with that important work," she said. Human Rights Watch has compiled records, interviews and other documentation of Gen. Vladimir Shamanov's service in Chechnya less than a decade ago, Rachel Denber, deputy director of the group's Europe and Central Asia division, said Wednesday. She said the documentation leaves no doubt that Shamanov had to have known what his troops were doing. In the town of Akhan-Yurt, for instance, Russian bombs, rockets and mortars rained down in November 1999, killed an unknown number of civilians and destroyed much property, said Human Rights Watch's report, which was based on interviews with survivors. Denber said the POW/MIA commission has "a great mission." But, she said, "It just seems that folks in the Defense Department and the administration just didn't do their homework." Besides their work on the commission, which Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, organized when he was president, Foglesong is president of Mississippi State University and Shamanov is counselor to Russia' defense minister, Sergei Ivanov. Not only should Shamanov have been denied the opportunity to hobnob with the president, she said, the United States never should have accepted him as Russia's co-chairman for the commission. "When his name popped up involved in serious human rights abuses, they should have done some digging," Denber said in a telephone interview from New York City, where Human Rights Watch is based. "It should have rung some alarm bells." At the Russian Embassy, spokesman Alexey Timofeev refused to discuss Shamanov's record in Chechnya. "Are we talking about the meeting with President Bush or about his record in Chechnya?" Timofeev asked. "If I must be honest, it is a very good journalist trick if someone is doing something worthwhile and you take out - excuse me - dirty clothes." The White House did not play up the officers' appearance in the Oval Office for what was said to be a private photo opportunity. A report about the visit on the Mississippi State University Web site described it as a "briefing with President Bush" in connection with the commission's work. "This meeting was important in emphasizing the US commitment to our work on behalf of missing American servicemen and their families," Foglesong was quoted as saying.