Guardians of the Magnitsky Myth

FROM THE ARCHIVES: In pursuit of Russia-gate, U.S. mainstream media embraces any attack on Russia and works to ensure Americans don’t hear the other side of the story, as with the Magnitsky myth, reported Robert Parry on Oct. 28, 2017.

By Robert Parry
Special to 
Consortium News

As Russia-gate becomes the go-to excuse to marginalize and suppress independent and dissident media in the United States, a warning of what the future holds is the blacklisting of a documentary that debunks the so-called Magnitsky case.

The emerging outlines of the broader suppression are now apparent in moves by major technology companies – under intense political pressure – to unleash algorithms that will hunt down what major media outlets and mainstream “fact-checkers” (with their own checkered histories of getting facts wrong) deem to be “false” and then stigmatize that information with pop-up “warnings” or simply make finding it difficult for readers using major search engines.

For those who believe in a meaningful democracy, those tactics may be troubling enough, but the Magnitsky case, an opening shot in the New Cold War with Russia, has demonstrated how aggressively the Western powers-that-be behave toward even well-reported investigative projects that unearth inconvenient truth.

Throughout the U.S. and Europe, there has been determined effort to prevent the American and European publics from seeing this detailed documentary that dissects the fraudulent claims at the heart of the Magnitsky story.

The documentary – “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes” – was produced by filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, who is known as a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin but who in this instance found the West’s widely accepted, anti-Russian Magnitsky storyline to be a lie.

However, instead of welcoming Nekrasov’s discoveries as an important part of the debate over the West’s policies toward Russia, the European Parliament pulled the plug on a premiere in Brussels and – except for a one-time showing at the Newseum in Washington – very few Americans have been allowed to see the documentary.

Instead, we’re fed a steady diet of the frothy myth whipped up by hedge-fund investor William

Browder and sold to the U.S. and European governments as the basis for sanctioning Russian officials. For years now, Browder has been given a free hand to spin his dog-ate-my-homework explanation about how some of his firms got involved a $230 million tax fraud in Russia.

Browder insists that some “corrupt” Russian police officers stole his companies’ corporate seals and masterminded a convoluted conspiracy. But why anyone would trust a hedge-fund operator who got rich exploiting Russia’s loose business standards is hard to comprehend.

The answer is that Browder has used his money and political influence to scare off and silence anyone who dares point to the glaring contradictions and logical gaps in his elaborate confection.

So, the hedge-fund guy who renounced his U.S. citizenship in favor of a British passport gets the royal treatment whenever he runs to Congress. His narrative just fits so neatly into the demonization of Russia and the frenzy over stopping “Russian propaganda and disinformation” by whatever means necessary.

This summer, Browder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and argued that people involved in arranging the one-time showing of Nekrasov’s documentary should be prosecuted for violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which carries a five-year prison term.

Meanwhile, the U.S. mainstream media helps reinforce Browder’s dubious tale by smearing anyone who dares question it as a “Moscow stooge” or a “useful idiot.”

Magnitsky and Russia-gate

The Magnitsky controversy now has merged with the Russia-gate affair because Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who traveled to America to challenge Browder’s account, arranged a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign advisers in June 2016 to present this other side of the story.

Though nothing apparently came from that meeting, The New York Times, which always treats Browder’s account as flat fact, led its Saturday editions with a breathless story entitled, “A Kremlin Link to a Memo Taken to Trump Tower,” citing similarities between Veselnitskaya’s memo on the Magnitsky case and an account prepared by “one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general Yuri Y. Chaika.” Cue the spooky music as the Times challenges Veselnitskaya’s honesty.

Yet, the Times article bows to Browder as the ultimate truth-teller, including repetition of his assertion that Sergei Magnitsky was a whistleblowing “tax lawyer,” rather than one of Browder’s accountants implicated in the tax fraud.

While Magnitsky’s profession may seem like a small detail, it gets to the heart of the mainstream media’s acceptance of Browder’s depiction of Magnitsky – as a crusading lawyer who died of medical neglect in a Russian prison – despite overwhelming evidence that Magnitsky was really a clever accountant caught up in the scheme.

The “lawyer” falsehood – so eagerly swallowed by the Times and other mainstream outlets – also bears on Browder’s overall credibility: If he is lying about Magnitsky’s profession, why should anyone believe his other self-serving claims?

As investigative reporter Lucy Komisar noted in a recent article on the case, Browder offered a different description when he testified under oath in a New York court deposition in a related federal civil case.

In that adversarial setting, when Browder was asked if Magnitsky had a law degree, Browder said, “I’m not aware that he did.” When asked if Magnitsky had gone to law school, Browder answered: “No.”

Yet, the Times and the rest of the mainstream media accept that Magnitsky was a “lawyer,” all the better to mislead the American public regarding his alleged role as a whistleblower.

The rest of Browder’s story stretches credulity even more as he offers a convoluted explanation of how he wasn’t responsible for bogus claims made by his companies to fraudulently sneak away with $230 million in refunded taxes.

Rather than show any skepticism toward this smarmy hedge-fund operator and his claims of victimhood, the U.S. Congress and mainstream media just take him at his word because, of course, his story fits the ever-present “Russia bad” narrative.

Plus, these influential people have repeated the falsehoods so often and suppressed contrary evidence with such arrogance that they apparently feel that they get to define reality, which – in many ways – is what they want to do in the future by exploiting the Russia-gate hysteria to restore their undisputed role as the “gatekeepers” on “approved” information.

Which is why Americans and Europeans should demand the right to see the Nekrasov documentary and make their own judgments, possibly with Browder given a chance after the show to rebut the overwhelming evidence of his deceptions.

Instead, Browder has used his wealth and connections to make sure that almost no one gets to see the deconstruction of his fable. And The New York Times is okay with that.

[For details on the Nekrasov documentary, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Blacklisted Film and the New Cold War.”]

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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An Iranian Viewpoint on the Battle for Syria

A new feature from Iran gives a totally different perspective of the war raging in Syria than Western audiences are used to, explains Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling  Special to Consortium News

West against East on the Syrian battle-field, in the newspapers and now on film: A new, full-length action movie, titled “Damascus Time,” gives an Iranian perspective on the battle against ISIS in Syria.

The movie comes from Iranian screenwriter and film director Ebrahim Hatamikia. Two award-winning Iranian actors, Hadi Hejazifar and Babak Hamidian, play father and son pilots trying to rescue civilians besieged and attacked by ISIS forces in eastern Syria. The pilots have come to help the townspeople escape in an aging Ilyushin cargo plane.

Syrian and Iraqi actors play Syrian civilians and ISIS terrorists hell bent on blowing up the plane or using it on a suicide mission against Damascus.

The movie portrays sensational scenes from real ISIS atrocities with a backdrop showing the Syrian desert and famous ruins of Palmyra. The city where civilians are surrounded and besieged is similar to the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, which was surrounded and attacked by ISIS for years. During that time, the townspeople and soldiers depended on air-dropped food and ammunition to hold off the attackers, as shown in the movie.

Damascus Time”’s starkly sensational scenes are drawn from real ISIS atrocities. The jihadists display a human side, but they are wrapped in sectarianism, hate and violence.

Life’s complexities are demonstrated in the younger of the two Iranian pilots who has left his pregnant wife to be with his father. The mother-in-law of the young pilot bitterly criticizes him for leaving his wife. He tells her it will be his last trip.

While the story is fiction, what it portrays is all too real: Hundreds of thousands of real Syrians and Iraqis have been killed by the unleashing of the ISIS Frankenstein. Ironically, American leaders criticize Iran for being the “leading state sponsor of terrorism.” But in the Syrian war, Iran has been combatting it. Iran is more tolerant than most Westerners think too, as indeed Islam is. How many know for instance that Jews are represented in the Iranian parliament?

Western-backed Extremism

In reality, the U.S. and UK have allied for decades with extremists for short-term political gain. As documented in “Devil’s Game: How the U.S. Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam,”by Robert Dreyfuss, Britain and the U.S. promoted a violent and sectarian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine the nationalist and socialist policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Starting in 1979, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia promoted the founders of what became Al Qaeda to attack the socialist-leaning government of Afghanistan.

This policy has continued to the present. In the summer of 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency outlined their strategy in a secret document : “THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR).”The U.S. looked favorably on what the document predicts will be the creation of the “Islamic State”: “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…”.

Then, in a leaked audio conversation with Syrian opposition figures in September 2016, then Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S., rather than seriously fight Islamic State in Syria, was ready to use the growing strength of the jihadists to pressure Assad to resign, just as outlined in the DIA document.

We know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that Daesh [a derisive name for Islamic State] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened,” Kerry said. “We thought however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him.”

Russia began its military intervention in late September 2015 without the United States, with the Kremlin’s motives made abundantly clear by Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials. But such clear explanations are rarely reported clearly by Western corporate media, which instead peddles the line from officials and think tanks that Russia is trying to recover lost imperial glory in the Middle East.

But Kerry knew why Russia intervened. “The reason Russia came in is because ISIL [another acronym for Islamic State] was getting stronger, Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus, and that’s why Russia came in because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad,” he said in the leaked discussion. Kerry’s comment suggests that the U.S. was willing to risk Islamic State and its jihadist allies gaining power in order to oust Assad.

The Biggest Sponsors

The true “state sponsor of terrorism” is not Iran; it is the West and their allies. Since Iran has been fighting ISIS and other extremists in Syria, it is appropriate that the first feature length movie depicting that battle against terrorism and ISIS comes from Iran.

Hundreds of Iranians have given their lives alongside their Syrian and Iraqi comrades. “Damascus Time” is not the product of Hollywood fantasy; it’s the product of actual human drama and conflict occurring in the Middle East today. “Damascus Time” is fictional but based on a real conflict with actual blood, atrocities, tragedies and martyrs.

The movie is currently being shown at cinemas throughout Iran. In recent weeks it was the second highest ranking movie. A trailer of the film can be viewed here. It should be available for viewing in the West in the near future, unless western sanctions and censorship are extended to culture.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com