This was the first CODEL to Russia since the passage of the Magnitsky Act, the new law that authorizes the U.S. government to freeze the assets of, and
institute travel bans against, any Russian officials accused of gross human rights violations. It's exceptionally strange for a number of reasons, not
counting Seagal. First, Bachmann as was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin's Dima Yakovlev Act, a "counter-Magnitsky" measure which, among other things,
prohibited Americans from adopting Russian orphans. Second, Rohrabacher, Bachmann, King and Cohen all voted for Magnitsky and yet they were not denied
visas to Russia as was
Representative Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights. "The Magnitsky bill is the reason I didn't
get the visa," Smith told Foreign Policy,
noting that he'd managed to travel unobstructed to the former Soviet Union.
It is unclear as yet as to whether or not they went on to Chechnya, much less under the auspices of the unlikely cultural statesman Seagal, who apparently
directly to Rohrabacher. Politico has described an internal wrangle within the
delegation about the wisdom of traveling alongside the star of Above the Law to the Kremlin's Caucasian suzerainty, which is run by a warlord who is
nothing if not above the law himself.
Under "President" Ramzan Kadyrov's rule, Chechnya has become, in the word of Freedom House's Arch Puddington, "one of the world's largest Potemkin
villages," in which extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, rape and the torture and murder of journalists and human rights activists has become de rigueur.
Kadyrov has personally been implicated in the assassinations of Anna Politkovskaya, the muckraking reporter for Novaya Gazeta, and Natalia Estimerova, both of whom exposed
the depredations of Russia's military occupation of Chechnya, as well as hits against Chechen exiles in Dubai, Istanbul, and Vienna. The Austrian capital
was where Umar Israilov, one of Kadyrov's former bodyguards, was murdered after a long, sordid involvement in the president's thuggish inner circle.
According to the New York Times, Israilov defected and claimed that the Chechen dictator personally beat and electrocuted him, alternating in
the role of torturer with members of Russia's Federal Security Services (FSB).
Other Kadyrov bodyguards -- some of whom bear a strong resemblance to Bashar al-Assad's shabiha
atrocity-makers -- have fared substantially better. Several were arrested in Moscow in 2011 for kidnapping, torture and extortion -- then released in what
Novaya Gazeta suggested was a coordinated state action by the FSB, the Russian Prosecutor's Office, the FBI-like Investigative Committee and the
Presidential Administration. Many FSB officers who contacted the independent newspaper
"informed us that almost all the staff of their department are refusing to go out on the job, and are prepared turn in their official IDs," in anger
against the domestic spy agency's derogation of justice.