By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 29, 2007
President Bush met at the White House this week with a Russian general who has been accused of overseeing some of the most notorious atrocities against civilians during the brutal second war in Chechnya.
Bush welcomed Gen. Vladimir Shamanov to the Oval Office Monday in Shamanov's capacity as co-chairman of a U.S.-Russian commission on missing soldiers. Bush posed for pictures with Shamanov and the American co-chairman, retired Air Force Gen. Robert Foglesong, president of Mississippi State University.
Human rights advocates expressed outrage. "This isn't someone the U.S. president should be meeting with. This is someone the president should be calling for an investigation of," said Carroll Bogert of Human Rights Watch. "What message does it send to [President Vladimir] Putin? It sends the message that whatever happened in Chechnya we don't care about."
Russian troops under Shamanov rampaged through the village of Alkhan-Yurt in December 1999, killing 17 civilians, according to human rights investigations. The soldiers looted homes and shot those who got in the way, including a woman over 100 years old. Shamanov threatened to shoot villagers who pleaded with him to halt the "cleansing operation," investigators found. Rather than prosecute, the Kremlin gave Shamanov a medal -- a medal he appeared to wear to the Oval Office.
The European Court of Human Rights also has found Shamanov's troops responsible for the "massive use of indiscriminate weapons" that killed civilians in another village, and human rights investigators concluded that detainees at a base under his command were beaten, subjected to electric shocks and held in pits.
Shamanov has scoffed at the allegations. "Fairy tales," he told a Washington Post reporter in 2004. He suggested human rights groups planted the bodies in Alkhan-Yurt and fabricated a slaughter to impugn Russian troops. "When people try to raise funds and to draw attention to their groups, they use anything."
It was not clear whether Bush, who spoke with Putin by telephone yesterday, knew about Shamanov's background, but at least some Russia experts in the government who were not consulted on the visit did. The White House had no comment.