by Anna Politkovskoj

From edition

All us ask: whether Anna Politkovskoj's murder is connected with preparation of a material by her(it) about tortures which it(she) announced on radio station " Freedom " on Thursday, on October, 5th, one day prior to death. Today on this strip we publish fragments of two materials which have been not finished by our observer.

The first — the text with the certificate firsthand about application of the tortures confirmed by data of physicians.

The second — pictures — a basis for other, nonexistent text. On a disk which has appeared at politkovskoj (we we ask to respond person who has transferred(transmitted) it(her) videorecording), — tortures of unknown citizens. Shooting was carried out by executioners. Under the assumption — employees of one of the Chechen power structures.

The antiterrorist policy(politics) of tortures on Northern Caucasus

Before me every day — tens folders. These are copies of materials of criminal cases of the people sitting at us for "terrorism" or for the present under examination. Why a word "terrorism" here so-called? Because the overwhelming majority of these people — the appointed(nominated) terrorists. And this practice purposes(assignments,destinations) in terrorists » has not simply superseded any true antiterrorist struggle by 2006, it in itself began to reproduce wishing to revenge — potential terrorists. When the Office of Public Prosecutor and courts work not for the sake of the law and punishment guilty, and on the political order and in a pursuit for pleasant to the Kremlin the antiterrorist reporting, criminal cases are baked as pancakes. The conveyor « the organizations of frank recognitions » perfectly provides good parameters « struggle against terrorism » on Northern Caucasus. Here that have written to me to mother of group of the condemned young Chechens: « … As a matter of fact, these corrective colonies have turned in a concentration camp for Chechen condemned. They are exposed to discrimination on national ground. From single chambers and penal insulators them do not let out(release). The majority, or nearly so everything, are condemned on forged to " affairs », without base of proofs.

Being in severe conditions, suffer indignity human advantages, at them hatred to all is developed(produced). In fact it is the whole army which will return to us with spoiled sudbami, with the spoiled concepts … ».

Fairly: I am afraid of their hatred. I am afraid because it will overflow banks. Sooner or later. And those inspectors, which them pytali become extreme everything, and at all. Business(affairs) « appointed(nominated) in terrorists » is that field where a head to head two ideological approaches to that occurs in a zone « counterterrorist operation on Northern Caucasus » collide(:

ARE we the law struggle with lawlessness? Or we lump "our" lawlessness on "them"?
Collide(Face), providing a spark both in the present, and in the future. The result such « purposes in terrorists » — growth of number of interested persons with this to be reconciled.

Recently Ukraine has given out by the Russian inquiry of a certain Beslan Gadaeva, the Chechen, He was arrested in the beginning of August at check of documents in Crimea where he lived as the compelled(forced) immigrant. Here are lines from his letter from August, 29th:
  • « … After me ekstradirovali from Ukraine in Terrible, me have got(started) in a cabinet(study) and at once have asked, whether I killed people from family Salikhovykh, Anzora and its(his) friend, Russian "kamazista"? I have sworn, that anybody I did not kill also nobody's blood did not spill, neither Russian, nor the Chechen. They have told in the affirmative: « Is not present, you killed ». I again began to deny it. After I have answered them the second time, that I killed nobody, they at once began to beat me. First two times have struck me a fist in area of the right eye. While I came to the senses after these impacts, they have braided me and have fastened on me handcuffs in front, and between legs(foots) have sideways pushed a pipe that I could not move with hands though I and was in handcuffs. Then they have taken me, to be exact, this pipe for the ends which has been fixed on me, and have suspended me on standing close by two bedside-tables, height approximately about 1 meter.
  • At once after they have suspended me, they began to attach on little fingers of hands of a wire. Pair seconds later me have started to beat a current and simultaneously beat me rubber dubinkami where only could. Not having sustained a pain, I began to shout, saying a name Supreme, asking them to stop it. In reply to it to not hear and not listen, as I shout, they have put on(allocate) to me a head a black package.
  • How many it proceeded, precisely I do not remember, but I began to lose consciousness from a pain. Having seen, that I lose consciousness, have removed(have taken off) from me a package and have asked, whether I shall speak. I have answered, that I shall be, though did not know, about what to them to speak. I so have answered even for a while to get rid of torture.
  • Then they have removed(have taken off) me from a pendant condition, have removed(have taken off) a pipe and have thrown me on a floor. Have told: "Speak". In reply to it I have told, that I have nothing them to speak. They have answered my words to me with that have struck me the same pipe on which me suspended, in area of the same right eye. From these impacts I have fallen sideways and almost in a unconsciousness felt, how they began to beat me anywhere. … me have again suspended and have repeated the same, as before. How many it proceeded, I do not remember, over me again and again poured water.
Next day they expiated me, smeared on the person(face) and on a body something. Approximately the operative worker has come into lunch time to me in a citizen and has told, that send(have come) journalists and that I should incur three murders and robbery, having threatened with that if I shall disagree, all of them will repeat, and also will lower(omit) me, having applied to me mockery of sexual character. I have agreed.

After I have given interview to journalists, they, also having threatened with the same mockery, have forced me to testify, that all those poboi which I have received from them which they have put(rendered) to me, I have received ostensibly at attempt to flight … ».

Lawyer Zaur Zakriev who is carrying out protection of Beslan Gadaeva, has declared employees PTS "Memorial", that in territory ROVD Groznenskogo (rural) area concerning its(his) client the physical and psychological violence was applied. As follows from the application(statement) of the lawyer, its(his) client has actually admitted fulfilment of armed assault in 2004 on employees of law enforcement bodies. However employees ROVD Groznenskogo (rural) area have decided to receive from it(him) still indications in a number of the crimes not accomplished by it(him) in with. Old Atagi Groznenskogo (rural) area CHR.

According to the lawyer, from application of severe violence over the client on its(his) body there are visible physical injuries. Terrible where now there is B.Gadaev [is accused of first-aid station SIZO-1 on item 209 UK the Russian Federation ("Gangsterism")], the certificate(act) of physical examination in which are fixed(recorded) numerous poboi, physical injuries in the form of rubtsov, grazes, krovopodtekov, the broken edges, and also complaints to internal bodies has been made. On all rough infringements of human rights lawyer Z.Zakriev has directed complaints to Office of Public Prosecutor of the Chechen Republic. <...>

Anna politkovskaya
Here material politkovskoj breaks. It is not finished. What episodes have remained outside the text — edition finds out.

One of last videos received by Anna Politkovskoj

On video: presumably employees of one of the Chechen power structures have grasped and pytayut two young men. One of grasped sits in a motor vehicle, bleeding profusely (the knife which is sticking out in the field of an ear of a victim) is visible. Another, apparently, will throw out from the machine(car) on asphalt. Executioners it is not visible, only Chechen speech (melkhijsky a dialect) which alternates matom is audible.

The literal text:
« — Putin has told: "look", speaks, « from different directions … ».

— It(He) still thinks! (Addresses to a victim scornfully in a feminine gender.) this will not die in any way, <…> bl … the Goat, a pancake … Ped … st, e … j. Look, what beautiful. muchayus when you I do not see.

— Breathe, bratan, breathe, … For God's sake, I speak you, I speak …

— Ready, and? It(He) is ready?

— Yes, it is ready.

— We leave … to me!

— Hey, suffice <…>, take a position, take a position, properly under supervision take adjoining district. »

" The new newspaper " № 78

Anna Politkovskaya last piece published

Murdered Russian journalist's last piece published

The unfinished final article that the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was working on when she was murdered at the weekend, giving a grisly account of alleged torture by Chechen officials, was published in her newspaper today.

The story in Novaya Gazeta included written testimony from a Chechen man extradited from Ukraine to a Chechen government office in Grozny.

There, he says, he was hung by his hands and feet from a pole and beaten, subjected to electric shocks and suffocated with a bag over his head to force him to confess to killings he said he had not committed.

"They attached wires to my little fingers," Beslan Gadayev wrote. "Seconds later, they started to give me electric shocks and at the same time beat me with rubber truncheons. I do not know how long this went on for."

Politkovskaya, 48, who won international acclaim for her reporting on the brutality of Russian forces in Chechnya, was shot dead in the lift of her apartment block in Moscow on Saturday.

Police are hunting a man filmed by a CCTV camera entering the building a few moments before she was shot three times in the chest and once in the head. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday that "all necessary efforts" would be made to find the killer.

The article was accompanied by graphic images taken from a video showing, the newspaper said, Russian-backed Chechen security services torturing two young men described as terrorists.

The video, seemingly shot by the people committing the attack, shows one man lying in a pool of blood, apparently dead, as well as a man's face covered in blood and a body slumped with what the caption describes as a knife sticking out of the area around the ear.

In her report, Politkovskaya said the abuse was provoking hundreds of law-abiding young Chechens to take up arms and join the insurgency.

Some reports have claimed Politkovskaya's murder could have been linked to the article. She told a radio programme last week that she was working on a story about torture.

However, it could equally well be connected to other stories by her, for example about the abuse of civilians in Chechnya at the hands of security services, the 2002 Moscow theatre siege or the 2004 Beslan school hostage-taking.

Editors at the newspaper said they believed the pro-Moscow Chechen prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov, whom Politkovskaya called a state bandit, could be responsible for her murder. Mr Kadyrov vehemently denied the accusation.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006


Addiction and Redemption

William Cope Moyers on Addiction and Redemption

Fresh Air from WHYY, October 12, 2006 · William Cope Moyers is the son of journalist Bill Moyers. He's written a new memoir about his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine and his recovery. He's been sober for twelve years and is the vice president for external affairs at the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota.
His new memoir is Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption


by William Cope Moyers and Katherine Ketcham
From the Prologue:

October 1994

There was a sharp rap on the door, followed by a muffled but unmistakable command from a voice outside in the hallway.

"We want the white guy, just the white guy. We know he's in there. He comes out now and there's no trouble for anyone later."

I was the "white guy." I knew in that instant that my family's desperate search to track me down had ended at this decayed two-story apartment in a violent pocket of Atlanta's inner city. Terrified, I rushed around the room, trying to warn the other crack heads to sit still and keep quiet.

"Don't panic," I whispered. "They'll go away." But nobody was listening because everybody was as high and as scared as I was. We bumped into one another as we tried to find a way out, but there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. We were like wild animals trapped by a wind-whipped forest fire.

Who was out there banging on the door? Was it my father? My mother? My wife? My mind flashed back to the morning four days earlier when I left my house in suburban Atlanta. I remembered kissing four-month-old Thomas and two-year-old Henry good-bye. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I told Allison I needed to run some errands before dinner. I drove to the parking lot on the corner of Boulevard and Ponce de Leon, approached a drug dealer with a thick scar running from his left ear to the corner of his mouth, and paid him one hundred dollars for six marble-sized rocks of crack cocaine. I held them in my hand and thought, "These will keep me going for a day or two." They were gone in four hours.

The knocking became a relentless pounding that shook the door frame. I thought about escaping out the back porch door to the vacant lot and just running, running, running. But where could I go? They would find me, just like they had in Harlem and St. Paul. I'd been running for five years. Now I had run out of options.

I sat down at the old wood table in the kitchen, the place where the deals were made, the pipe was fired up, and the crack was consumed. I couldn't run anymore -- my legs felt weak and shaky. I couldn't hide -- there was no place left. I couldn't think, but I could still react, and with the instincts of the addict I did the only thing that was left to do. I reached into my sock and pulled out the cellophane cigarette wrapper with the rocks carefully stored inside like precious stones. My hands were shaking and I noticed for the first time that the tips of my fingers were scorched and blistered from lighter burns. I loaded the pipe, flicked the lighter, and inhaled deeply.

The sizzle of the crack and the euphoric rush exploding inside my head were suddenly all that mattered to me. The banging on the door was like thunder on the horizon. I heard the warning, but I didn't feel threatened anymore because I was back in my element, that faraway place where nothing on this earth could touch me. The rush hijacked my brain, and the knocking, scurrying, and fear disappeared. The memories of my wife and children were gone. I was gone.

I tried to grab on and hold tight to the high, and for a few moments time stood still. I was a Roman candle on the Fourth of July, bright colors and showers of sparks. This, I thought, is what it's all about -- stopping time, going higher and higher, explosions of light and heat, one after another after another. The rapture filled me for a minute or two, and then it began to fade, the sparks died down, the flame became a dying star far, far away.

I folded my arms over my chest, longing for comfort, for peace. I was so sick. So sick and tired of it all. In that moment I realized the hopelessness of my situation, and in a sudden, brief flash of clarity, I asked myself: Now what? I stared at the filthy wood floor littered with half-empty beer cans, cigarette butts, and used syringes. The answer wasn't here in this room anymore. It was all over. I was done.

I stood up and made my way past BJ, the Old Man, and the other addicts with whom I was living and slowly dying for the last four days. My steps were deliberate but out of my control as I walked into the hallway and out the front door, flanked by the two armed off-duty policemen who were part of the intervention team hired to get me out of the crack house and back into treatment.

A hard, steady rain was falling as we approached the gray van parked at the curb. The sliding door opened, and I collapsed into the backseat.

My father was sitting in the front passenger seat. Turning around to look at me, he saw a thirty-five-year-old crack addict who hadn't shaved, showered, or eaten in four days. A man who walked out on his wife and two young children and ditched his promising career at CNN. A broken shell of a man, a pale shadow of the human being he had raised to be honest, loving, responsible. His firstborn son.


"You're angry," I said. I didn't know what else to say.

"That's hardly the word for it." His voice was harsh and cold, like the rain outside.

More silence.

"There's nothing more I can do," he said. "I'm finished."

All these years later, he tells me that's where the conversation ended. But whether I imagined it or not, I heard him say something else.

"I hate you."

And I remember looking in his eyes and speaking my deepest truth.

"I hate me, too."

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption by William Cope Moyers with Katherine Ketcham / Copyright © 2006 by William Cope Moyers and Katherine Ketcham


The all-time worst president

We should change Columbus Day to Bush Day, a cautionary holiday encouraging Americans to meditate on the hazards of ambition.

By Garrison Keillor

Oct. 11, 2006 | Oct. 12, the traditional Columbus Day, is a day to reflect on the nature of celebrity. Columbus was a pirate and tyrant who sailed off and bumped into the Bahamas, had no idea where he was, and to his dying day believed he had reached the Indies. By the time he arrived in the New World, America was old news to the Vikings. They already had that T-shirt.

Five hundred years before, the Vikings had been sailing the Atlantic with confidence, making new friends and influencing people. Thorvald Asvaldsson sailed to Iceland in the 10th century with his son Erik the Red, after they'd been banished from Norway for manslaughter -- if you've ever been in an argument with Norwegians, you probably considered manslaughter too -- and from Iceland, Erik explored the icebound continent to the west, which he named Greenland, for promotional purposes.

In 986, Bjarni Herjulfsson and his men sailed along the coast of New England. Around the same time, Leif Eriksson, the son of Erik the Red, sailed over and may have landed on the island of Manhattan. Did he come ashore and try to buy it for $24 worth of junk jewelry? No. And do we celebrate Bjarni Herjulfsson Day? No, we do not. The Vikings weren't into self-promotion, and Reykjavik was not a world media center at the time.

The Vikings were not out to lord it over the Indians or bring democracy here or teach folks about Nordic gods. They were free spirits, sailors, explorers, so they left some carved stones here and there, relished the exhilaration of the voyage and the sight of new lands, and went home and composed sagas for the amusement of their friends and families. That arrogant fool Columbus, who demanded 10 percent of all the gold the Spanish stole in the New World, got the holiday, a town in Ohio and another in Georgia, a major river in the Northwest and a university in New York. But who cares? Scandinavians don't. They celebrate Columbus Day as we all do, by going to the sale and saving 30 percent on towels and bed linens. And by covering the roses and putting the lawn furniture away.

Their history after Leif and Erik and Bjarni has been tangled, of course. The Norwegians suffered under the Danes and then the Swedes. The Danes suffered under the delusion that they were French. The Swedes suffered under Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman, neither of whom was the life of the party. All of them suffered from the long gray winters with twilight at noon and the lunches of fried herring and potatoes and aquavit and the general prohibition against raising your voice or driving pink Cadillacs. But Lutheranism urged them toward kindness, industriousness and self-effacement, and this is not a bad strategy for contentment.

Look around today and you will find the Viking descendants, a calm and stoical and somewhat formal people, by and large, not given to extremes of fashion or chanting "We're Number One" or writing memoirs that hang out the family underwear. Walter Mondale is pretty much the prototype. He lost the presidency by one of the biggest landslides in history to an aging actor whose grip on reality, never firm to begin with, was becoming hallucinatory. Mr. Reagan was sort of the Columbus of our time, a better P.R. man than sailor, but so be it. Mr. Mondale is a buoyant man with a sense of humor who enjoys his life in Minnesota, where people are happy to see him, and when you do, you see that losing is far from the worst thing that can happen to a man. Far from it.

What's worse is the likely fate of the Current Occupant, who is contending with Pierce, Buchanan and Warren G. Harding for the title of All-Time Worst President. He's got a good shot at the title if only because he's had so much more to be worst with. (Any young persons who have been inspired by Mr. Bush to take up public service should be watched very closely.)

I propose that we change Columbus Day to Bush Day, a cautionary holiday, like Halloween, a day to meditate on the hazards of ambition. We could observe it by going through the basement and garage and throwing out stuff we don't want or need. Also by not mortgaging the house to pay for a vacation, and not yelling at the neighbors, and not assuming that the law is for other people. A day to honor kindness, industriousness and modesty.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

© 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Retro Poll Report Shows Ignorance Linked to Opinion Patterns

For Immediate Release: October 11, 2006
Contact: Marc Sapir, MD, MPH
Executive Director, Retro Poll
Retro Poll Report Shows Ignorance Linked to Opinion Patterns
Innovative Methodology Illuminates Widespread Misinformation
Berkeley, CA —Americans who scored poorly on factual questions about major news events tended to display markedly different opinions from the better-informed on opinion questions ranging from the Iraq war to the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the death penalty, results from a recently completed Retro Poll indicate.
Retro Poll’s method of asking both factual and opinion questions – and comparing the opinion responses of those demonstrating accurate and inaccurate comprehension – points to the grave danger such widespread ignorance poses for a powerful nation that may easily be led astray by false claims, said Dr. Marc Sapir, executive director of Retro Poll.
“What people think they know—if it is consistently wrong--can endanger our nation in a world environment of war, crisis and US dominance,” said Sapir, whose group surveys national random samples by phone. Because Retro Poll compares responses within the survey, it doesn’t require the large samples commonly used by major polls.
“We don’t claim that the opinion proportions we find tightly reflect the general public’s,” said Mickey Huff, another Retro Poll director. “In looking at comparisons within the group surveyed, we believe Retro Poll can provide more useful information about public opinion than the media-promoted groups like Gallup and Harris do by mirroring peoples’ misinformed opinions back to them.”
In a phone survey that ended October 5, fifty Bay Area college students contacted 151 Americans in 40 states, finding that, for example, only 53 of 151 (35%) knew there were no Iraqis among the 19 Al Qaeda members implicated in the 9/11 attack on the U.S. They also found that only half knew that Saddam Hussein had no ties to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (23% said he had ties, 28% didn’t know). Only 44% knew the International Red Cross has accused the US of systematic torture at Guantanamo. Just 40% knew that the US has been engaging in “extraordinary rendition” of prisoners to countries that torture, and less than 15% knew that over 120 people on death row in the US have been released due to evidence they were innocent.
Retro Poll’s Sapir acknowledges he does not know how close the poll’s percentages are to the general public’s – a problem he says even larger sample sizes face, given the removal from consideration of the large majority of people who typically refuse to participate in any kind of poll -- but that is not the data Retro Poll seeks. Its focus instead addresses how opinions on war, torture, the death penalty, and other important issues vary in relation to the knowledge that poll respondents demonstrate on factual questions.
For instance, 86% of people who think Saddam and Al Qaeda worked together agreed that prisoners held at Guantanamo without trials must all be guilty simply for being picked up, while two thirds (67%) of those who knew the truth about Saddam and Al Qaeda reject blanket assumptions about prisoners’ guilt. Three quarters (75%) of those who have not heard about the “renditions” in which prisoners have been secretly transferred between nations say they think that all the prisoners at Guantanamo are guilty, compared to just 39% of those who did answer the rendition question accurately. Statistically such differences were highly unlikely to occur by chance (far less than 1%).
Moreover, 77.4% of those polled who were under the misperception that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden worked together oppose US military withdrawal from Iraq contrasted with 55.4% favoring immediate withdrawal among those who knew there is not evidence of such a relationship.
The skew is not only related to foreign policy. Although 76% of those who knew the facts about the nonexistent Iraq-Al Qaeda ties found the government’s handling of the Hurricane Katrina situation in New Orleans to be negligent, 58% of those misinformed on those links thought the government’s response to Katrina was reasonable. Likewise, 72% of those who knew about the Iraq-Al Qaeda deception favored a national health insurance program, compared with 43% of the misinformed.
“Some pundits will argue that these differences simply reflect core differences in ideology and allegiance. That may be somewhat true,” Sapir asserted. “But the important point is how strongly these opinion differences are linked to bad information in our surveys.” In the current survey 64% gave tv as their main source of news. Of these almost half mentioned Fox or CNN. 13% mentioned NBC or MSNBC.

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The Price of Truth: Anna Politkovskaya

Death of a Courageous Journalist

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Russia and the world have lost a great and courageous journalist. The killing of Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 is horrifying and shocking, but not unexpected. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of her murder, "There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya."

It was "a savage crime," said former Russian President --and the father of glasnost--Mikhail Gorbachev. "It is a blow to the entire democratic, independent press. It is a grave crime against the country, against all of us."

Politkovskaya was just 48 years old when she was found in her apartment building, shot in the head with a pistol. In the last decade, her unflinching reporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechen war made her one of the bravest of Russia's journalists.

The numerous death threats she had received in these last few years never slowed her. In fact, when she was killed Politkovskaya was at work finishing an article--to have been published Monday--about torturers in the government of the pro-Kremlin Premier of Chechnya.

Politkavskaya was a fearless chronicler of the mass executions, the torture, the rape and kidnappings of Chechen civilians at the hands of Russian troops and security forces. She understood the cancer that was the war--and wrote and spoke of how the "Bush-Blair war on terror" had given Putin allowance to say he was fighting international terrorism. In fact, the Kremlin's policies and the brutal Russian occupation of Chechnya, she wrote in many dispatches, were instead engendering the terrorists they were supposed to eliminate.

Her raw and searing reports on the human catastrophe of the Chechen war appeared primarily in Novaya Gazeta, which has become in these last five years the main opposition newspaper in Russia. It is to Novaya's credit that her crusading investigative articles were published inside Russia. In the wake of her death, there is concern that the next victim may be her newspaper. That's why it's important that the international journalistic community defend the weekly newspaper's independent, dissenting voice. (In a little-noted development, last june Gorbachev became a minority partner/shareholder in Novaya. His role may provide some protection from any kremlin attempts to curb the paper's voice.)

I met Politkovskaya a few times--in Moscow and in New York, including at a Committee to Protect Journalist's dinner in New York where she received one of the many honors that came her way in these last years.. she spoke with fierce intensity about the horror of the war--and the injustice and corruption she believed was strangling Russia. There was a bluntness to her personal style--as there was to her investigative reporting. A mother of two, Politkovskaya spoke of her fear, and the risks she knew she faced in taking on the most powerful forces in Russia. But she never let that interfere with what she believed passionately was her duty as a journalist. In an interview two years ago with the BBC, Politkovskaya said "I am absolutely sure that risk is [a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannot stop because it's my duty. I think the duty of doctors is to give health to their patients, the duty of the singer is to sing. The duty of [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees is the reality. It's my one duty."

Her latest book, Putin's Russia--an uncompromising indictment of her beloved country's corrupt politics--has just been published in the US. Read it. But it is her reporting on Russia's long-running brutal war --collected in a previous book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya,-- which best explains what her friend Panfilov said on Saturday: "Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya." And may it be remembered that this brave and honest journalist never compromised on the fundamental ideals of free speech and a free press in the long battle for human rights in Russia.

Since 1992, forty-two journalists in Russia have been killed--most in unsolved contract executions. Journalists--and citizens of all countries who value the importance of a free press--should join in calling on the Russian government to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation in order to find, prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for Anna Politkovskaya's murder--and those of her colleagues.

Poison in the air

When a sinister illness hit schoolchildren and their teachers in war-torn Chechnya in December, doctors were convinced it was a case of poisoning. Then the government came up with its own diagnosis - mass hysteria. Is there an official cover-up going on? Anna Politkovskaya reports

Anna Politkovskaya
Wednesday March 1, 2006

Awar has been raging in the north Caucasian Republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation since November 1994. Over the years, officials in Moscow have given the war various names. Sometimes it is called "putting the region in order"; since the beginning of the international "anti-terrorist" era, it has become a "counter-terrorist operation". But it is never called a war, despite the fact that an estimated 70,000-200,000 Russian military personnel are conducting operations as if on enemy territory. The civilian population has taken the brunt of the military impact. For the past 12 years, those living and working in Chechnya have been aware that federal forces were testing new types of weapons. The story of what happened in the Shelkovsk district is simply the biggest such case.

In December last year, there were reports of mass poisonings at schools in the Shelkovsk region. Just before new year, a government commission published its official verdict: there was no need to worry - there were no poisonings, it was mass psychosis due to stress. But did anyone in Chechnya believe these explanations?

On a bed by a wall in room one of Shelkovsk regional hospital a young woman called Sina is having a seizure. Her face is white, then yellow, then bright red; her brother unclenches her teeth with a spoon in order to pull out her tongue while her mother lies on top of her to control the spasms. The girl is now bent in an impossible arch, her heels touching the back of her head.

It is January 6, a third week has gone by, and there is no improvement in her condition. Aset (Sina) Magamshapieva is not a pupil at the school where most of the victims came from. A 20-year-old student teacher, she had gone there for some teaching practice. An elderly nurse arrives with a syringe. The fit has lasted 15 minutes already. The nurse is alone, taking care of 40 patients, and has just been dealing with Marina Tereshchenko in a neighbouring room. Marina has been suffering from similar seizures.

What is in the syringe? "Analgin [an analgesic] and dimedrol [a sedative]," she sighs. But that can't really help, can it? "We don't have anything else," she says. "What can we treat them with? Analgin will at least take the pain away from the spasms, and dimedrol will quieten them down, let them sleep after the fits ..."

Rabadan Ahmethanovich Rabadanov, deputy chief of therapeutics, arrives. He looks at Aset sadly. A sedative is introduced into a vein, and soon tears start to flow down her cheeks. It is the 47th minute of the seizure. Though the girl sees and hears no one, she noticeably starts breathing again. "Tears mean that the seizure is passing," says her mother.

How often do such fits occur? "Three to four times a day. We almost broke her teeth to keep her from swallowing her tongue," her mother says. "I'm in such torment, and she's exhausted by all the fits ... If they could just find out what they were poisoned with, even if they don't tell anyone, just tell us how to treat it ... How long are they going to keep this up?"

Vaha Dardayevich Ehselayev, chief physician at the hospital, is sitting in his office. "We are the doctors who were with these victims from the start," he says, "and we will not change our diagnosis - an intoxication of unknown aetiology. How could it be hysterics or mass psychosis?" A tired Rabadanov enters. Together with Dr Jamilya Halilovna Aliyeva, he was the first to be called to the school in the village of Starogladovsk on December 16 after reports of children collapsing unconscious. "Every child had psycho-motor excitation, hallucinations and some kind of strange laughter," Rabadanov recalls. "Severe spasms. Nothing seemed to help. We gave sedatives and anti-convulsives. But the spasms just kept repeating. I am certain that such a number of children could never enter a state of psycho-motor excitation simply from hysterics. It was some kind of agent. If these were merely hysterical fits, as the commission says, then they would be easy to isolate."

Ehselayev interrupts: "I think that if this was a mass psychosis spread by rumours and the media, then the first to react would have been the 80-plus schizophrenics and as many epileptics we have in the region. But they had no such reaction. We checked. I believe that there is a poisonous agent in the victims' schools. But the political situation is such that it has to be denied. We don't know what the agent was. We don't have the resources to find out." At the hospital there is not a single computer and no internet access; none of the doctors who encountered this unprecedented phenomenon could put out an SOS on the web.

So what next? "We don't know. A dead end." What are they treating? "Only the symptoms. If there are spasms we give an anti-convulsive. If there is pain we give an analgesic. But the fits continue. We have requested, and continue to request, some kind of a treatment plan. But no one is rushing to bring us one. The commissions from Moscow and Grozny were here and told the patients, 'Don't fake.' But how could they? We were alone with them. The agent acting on them is some kind of toxic substance which makes the nervous system hypersensitive. The fits can be summoned by the creak of a door or the rustle of a packet. This doesn't fit any known disease picture."

The relatives of the victims, just like the majority of the local inhabitants, are sure that the source of the infection was the women's toilet in the Starogladovsk school. All the victims at one time or another were there. It was clear that whoever went to the toilet had the most serious symptoms, while those who were nearby had fewer. The doctors insist it is a toxic substance, most likely a solid, but capable of propagation in a gas wave, one that loses its potency in direct proportion to the distance from the source. The same picture is repeated in the Shelkovsk and Shelkozavodsk schools.

The strict localisation of the sick people by school, time and place is the determining detail in this picture of a massive disease outbreak. At Shelkozavodsk, for example, only those who were on the school building's first floor became ill. Those who did not come to school that day are still healthy.

It all began on December 7, when 13-year-old Taisa Minkailova, a pupil at the Starogladovsk school, started suffering attacks of asphyxia, spasms, a severe headache and numbness in her extremities. Her parents took her to the hospital in Kizlyar, in Dagestan, but the treatments there had no effect and her condition deteriorated. On December 9, two high-school seniors from the same school were taken to hospital in Grozny suffering from the same symptoms.

The peak of hospitalisations occurred on December 16, when 19 children and three adults from Starogladovsk were taken to the Shelkovsk hospital. The doctors observed multiple cases of unconsciousness, comatose states, seizures, weakness, amnesia and asphyxia of increasing severity, as well as numbness of the extremities and chills. The children complained of sharp pains in their eyes and dry mucous membranes. It was clear this was a poisoning, and the source was the school. On December 16, a government commission was set up, with V Boriskina, the Chechen president's deputy chief of staff, as its chairman. Military specialists and chemical defence officers were called in. Medicines were offered by the International Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières.

And then came the turning point. A memorandum from a military specialist with the results from the trips to Starogladovsk and Shelkovsk landed on the commission chairman's table. Within two days investigators would remove it from circulation, although we obtained a copy. It reports, "The source of the poisoning was located in the main school building, presumably on the second floor [where the ill teachers were working]. The primary route of intoxication could be the respiratory tract, though direct contact is not ruled out. The aggregate state of the toxic substance was probably a liquid or solid, which, under the effects of the environment, could separate into poisonous vapours. It is not possible to determine accurately the form of the toxic substance from only one clinical picture [the victims' symptomology]. Recommended: in order to clarify what the toxic substance was, conduct toxicological testing of the victims and have this examined by toxicology specialists with the necessary equipment and reagents."

After December 17, the commission took an abrupt change of direction, to a psychological-psychiatric diagnosis, disregarding the fact that cases of poisoning continued to appear. On December 19, pupils were brought in from the middle schools of the villages of Kobi, Shelkozavodsk and Shelkovsk. Up to 17 cases of asphyxia were observed. Several were extreme, and comatose. On December 20, all the schools in the Shelkovsk region were closed and the republic's attorney general initiated a criminal investigation.

Then, on December 21, official reports suddenly appeared that "the mass media are totally to blame": the seizures had allegedly increased and new cases showed up in proportion to the number of subjects shown on television. On December 22, the chief narcologist of the Chechen Republic, psychiatrist Musa Dalsayev, gave his diagnosis: there was no poisoning, it was a "pseudo-asthmatic syndrome of a psychogenic nature". Or a "psychological self-infection". Dalsayev assembled the parents and accused the sick children of faking, and their mothers of indulging them. He claimed that the fits were just for show and that if there were no spectators, then the seizures ceased. He called the victims' mothers "renters" - mercenaries who try to prolong their children's diseases to get compensation. (There has been no request from the victims' families for any material assistance.)

On December 23, a further 81 cases were recorded, provoking panic in the Shelkovsk district. No one believed Dalsayev or the commission, which had delivered its conclusions: "i) No evidence of chemical poisoning; ii) No potentially dangerous objects were revealed on the school premises; iii) Final diagnosis: dissociative (conversional) disorders - dissociative disorders of movement and sensation, dissociative disorders of motor activity, dissociative spasms; iv) The commission has come to the conclusion that there was an outbreak of mass hysteria in the Shelkovsk region related to the prolonged emergency situation in the Chechen Republic."

On December 25, the hospitals started to discharge the first victims. On December 26, the country's chief public health officer, Gennady Onishchenko, visited Chechnya and declared that there were no alarming or health-threatening phenomena. Two days later, President Alu Alhanov confirmed this success by travelling to Moscow to report to President Putin that it was all a mass psychosis. He then handed him reports on how much money would be needed in the short term for a grandiose building to overcome any new mass psychoses. On December 31, a group of 17 children and three adults - the most seriously ill - were sent out of sight to the Salyut children's sanatorium in Zheleznovodsk.

Others have not been so lucky. There is not enough room for the rest. Those such as Aset Magamshapieva and Marina Tereshchenko are victims of official lies, sidelined, since they are unable to be discharged "correctly". They are ordered to be forgotten as malingerers.

This is not an isolated incident. At Shelkovsk district central hospital, Aliyeva recalls a similar, though less severe, outbreak in the autumn. "On September 23, 19 children and one teacher were brought from Staroshchedrinskaya village with similar symptoms. We saw the same strange laughter, hallucinations - it was a frightening sight."

Ehselayev says: "The results went for analysis at the legal medical expert's office. There, they acknowledged that the children were poisoned by carbon monoxide. How on earth did that happen during a heatwave, when the stoves had not been fired up? We raised a stink, but everything came to a halt."

Ehselayev thinks the results of analysis are "political", just like the conclusion by the commission on the December poisonings. So what happened in Staroshchedrinskaya? "The same as now: poisoning by an unknown chemical substance. It is being tested on our children."

Halid Dudayev, the head of Staroshchedrinskaya middle school, is also convinced of this: "Until September 23 I had been demanding that criminal proceedings and an investigation be undertaken. On October 23, I received a rejection for instituting proceedings, due to the 'absence of a crime being committed'. That day, there was a second mass poisoning. Eight of our children were affected. Since then they have not been seriously examined and they have difficulty studying."

Abzo Shamilov, the father of one of the victims, says, "My daughter, Seda, constantly has high blood pressure. She's always ill. We can't do anything. Before the autumn, she was never ill. She now has nosebleeds, constant headaches, her hands and feet are cold. What are we to do?"

Similar symptoms of poisoning occurred in 2000, when on July 26, in the outskirts of the Stariye Atagi settlement of the Grozny farming region, two faint explosions were heard and a silvery-violet, tulip-shaped column of smoke appeared, rising to 150m. The column formed a cloud which hung over the outskirts of the village.

An epidemiological report concluded: "A day after the explosions, the first cases occurred showing signs of poisoning: powerful tonic spasms, loss of consciousness, aggressive agitation, inhibited movement, uncontrollable vomiting, severe headaches, sensation of fear and, in some, haemoptysis [coughing up blood]."

There are differences, however. The tragedy in Stariye Atagi led to three deaths out of 23 cases, with death occurring within about two days. The investigation concluded that "the poisoning of inhabitants of Stariye Atagi was caused by a chemical compound of obscure aetiology, excluding any infectious cause for the outbreak".

It is now 2006. Behind us are 11 years of war with short breaks for clearing mines and unexploded shells. So many war crimes have been committed that the tribunals are scared of setting about analysing these atrocities. But the ideology remains: as before, people who have the misfortune to live in Chechnya are seen as biomaterial for experiments.

The authorities have tried to distance themselves by taking a group of the most seriously ill for a month to a medical academy clinic in Stavropol, the largest city in southern Russia. What happened there has been kept secret. During treatment, none of the patients was told which medicines were being injected into them or what the results of the analysis were. On discharge, the case notes contained not a single record of the nature of the treatments administered.

In the Shelkovsk district, the schools where people were poisoned are closed; the parents refuse to allow healthy children to go back there and insist that the premises are detoxified and that the victims' diagnoses be made public. The authorities maintain that nothing unusual has happening.

· This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper
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