Spite Games

Russia Bans John Yoo, Other Ex-U.S. Officials

After the U.S. listed 18 Russians who would be denied visas for human rights violations, Russia tried, clumsily, to respond in kind. Eli Lake reports.

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If John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote legal memos approving the harsh interrogation of captured al Qaeda operatives, was planning a vacation to Moscow, he’ll have to reschedule.

On Saturday, Russia announced that Yoo along with 17 other former U.S. officials would be banned from traveling to Russia, a retaliation for the U.S. decision this week to publish a list of 18 Russians who would be denied visas to come to America for human rights violations inside Russia.

Reached Saturday for comment, Yoo shrugged off the designation. “There goes that vacation dacha in Sochi that the wife always wanted,” he emailed The Daily Beast.

The U.S. list was prompted by a new law aimed at shaming and punishing Russian government officials connected to the torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested in 2008 after he testified against a group of interior ministry senior officials who had stolen $230 million in taxes paid by the investment fund for whom Magnitsky worked Magnitsky died in a jail cell on Nov. 16, 2009, after he was apparently beaten and denied medical treatment.

Since Magnitsky’s death, the man who hired him, an American investor named William Browder, has launched a crusade to get the United States and other western countries to ban the officials implicated in Magnitsky’s murder banned from western travel. Last year, President Obama signed into law the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. Moscow has been furious ever since.

The first act of retaliation came late last year when Russia banned U.S. families from adopting Russian children.Russian authorities have also cracked down on U.S. and European non-governmental organizations since the Act was signed.

While the U.S. list includes Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky’s death and other human rights cases, the Russians have attempted to respond in kind. Yoo’s name was included on the Russian list along with David Addington, a former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as two former military officers who ran the Guantanamo Bay prison where many al Qaeda operatives captured in the war on terror ended up. The Russian list also U.S. officials connected to the prosecution of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is now serving a 25 year long sentence for trying to sell arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Browder Saturday said, "For them to equate Viktor Bout, a man who was a merchant of death, to Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who was tortured and killed for uncovering Russian government corruption, is probably the clearest symbol of the moral bankruptcy of the Putin Regime.”