A Slap in the Face

At this point, just about everyone is familiar with the NSA spying scandal and the story’s protagonist, a former “infrastructure analyst” at independent contractor Booz Allen Hamilton named Edward Snowden. While one’s perception of whether Mr. Snowden is a hero or a villain is most often an offshoot of one’s opinion on whether the PRISM program is justified or not, the fact remains that Snowden did break American law while in the United States and that makes him eligible for extradition.

Some have argued — among them officials in Russia’s interior ministry and prosecutor-general’s extradition office — that the apparent expectation that Russia will extradite the leaker is wholly unreasonable. Sergei Gorlenko, the acting chief of the aforementioned office, complained that “[t]he United States is repeatedly refusing Russia to extradite individuals, to hold them criminally liable, including those accused of committing serious or heinous crimes … We have been denied the extradition of murderers, bandits and bribe takers.”

The insistence that America routinely refuses to extradite individuals who are wanted by Russia for crimes they had committed has also been made by Russia’s state-run media. They claim that there have been 20 cases in the last decade where the U.S. has denied Russian requests for extradition, according to a report by The New York Times. Specifically cited, according to Andrey Pilipchuk, a spokesman for the interior ministry, are the cases of Chechen separatist Ilyas Akhmadov, who is wanted for charges of terrorism, and Tamaz Nalbandov, who is wanted for charges that he was part of an organized crime group.

This claim by the Russians is wholly without merit. For starters, Russian expert David Satter told National Review Online that under the U.S.-Russian Federation MLAT (Mutual Legal-Assistance Treaty), the United States has returned over 1,700 Russian citizens in the last five years alone. If the 20 cases where they didn’t would have been all in the last five years, that would mean that the Americans granted over 98 percent of Russian extradition requests which, if anything, would establish a pattern of granting requests, not ignoring them.

Second, in the case of Ilyas Akhmadov, for example, it is important to point out that which the Russians are not saying. Akhmadov was a leader in the elected, moderate Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, which denounced the use of the tools of terror in the Chechens’ fight against the Russians. The official position of the American government in his case was that — as the immigration judge wrote when granting him asylum — were Akhmadov to return to Russia, he would likely be “shot without being afforded the opportunity to defend himself in a trial, as has happened to other members of the Chechen government.”

Furthermore, while Russia contends that Akhmadov is a terrorist (their position on all the separatists in Chechnya), Steven Pifer, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told Congress in 2003 that “we do not share the Russian assessment that the Chechen conflict is simply and solely a counterterrorism effort. . . . While there are terrorist elements fighting in Chechnya, we do not agree that all separatists can be equated [with] …  terrorists.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, an easy way to “shake down” the U.S. government for a dissident the tyrannical Putin regime wanted back for execution has been by calling him a terrorist. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security appealed the asylum ruling, arguing that although no evidence existed that Akhmadov engaged in terrorist acts, and conceding that his government had “spoken out against” terror, his “actions and comments” have “furthered acts of terrorism and persecution by Chechen separatists,” which, using Putin’s logic, made him a terrorist. Ultimately, the appeal was dropped after pressure from many elected officials, and Akhmadov enjoys his asylum to this day.

To equate the less than two percent of cases where the United States declines to extradite — cases where the Russians are requesting extradition with a total lack of evidence to back up their requests — with Russia’s denial to extradite Snowden is just plain laughable. Snowden doesn’t deny that he broke American law; on the contrary, he’s quite proud of it. The United States doesn’t have a history of human rights violations like Russia does; Snowden, even when being prosecuted, would be afforded his rights. It’s clear that what is going on here is Putin relishing the opportunity to stick his finger in the eye of the U.S. by refusing to send him back, and then wag that same finger in America’s face while giving a lecture on hypocrisy.

If American anger over something like this isn’t justified, I don’t know if it ever is.