On 8th January 2014 the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia finally brought criminal charges against the former Deputy Head of the Corrections Department, Gaga Mkurnalidze, and the former Deputy Head of the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Regional Main Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Megis Kardava. They are accused of torturing a prisoner in order to extract a confession that he had plotted a terrorist act.
The former Head of the notorious Prison No. 8, in Tbilisi Georgia, Alexandre Mukhadze, has been charged alongside them, accused of abuse of power. According to the Georgian Ministry, the two last named public officials are now on the run, wanted by Intepol. Kardava is a man with an outstanding track record – he was one of the main enforcers of the former Mikheil Saakashvili regime.
Much of my initial information came from Giorgi Keburia, a businessman who had locked horns with the former Minister of Defense, who was sitting in prison on various faked charges. The businessman ended up in pretrial detention without charge for six months, at least until the government changed. I was able to cite inside information about the so-called “conspirators” convicted for plotting acts of terrorism against national and foreign targets in Georgia during what appears to have been a black PR campaign against the Georgian breakaway Abkhazia orchestrated by the Potomac Institute, a Washington DC-based think tank with cozy links to the CIA and Israeli intelligence.
Those in Georgian and US intelligence thought to be responsible for plotting these “acts of terrorism”, planned and executed by the Georgian state against its own citizens, were of course acting on instructions from the top. Specially, based on sources in Georgian and Abkhazian intelligence, the mastermind of the reign of terror in West Georgia, including the Khurcha bombing in 2008, AKA, the Khurcha Incident, was no other than Ambassador David Smith, who worked with the Georgian government as a spin doctor and dirty tricks expert. He also served as an advisor on NATO integration issues and how to fast track Georgia’s membership aspirations.
Backstopping him was Professor Yonah Alexander, currently a Senior Fellow at – you’ve guessed it – the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Director of its International Center for Terrorism Studies in Washington DC.
Professor Alexander’s background is impressive. He directed the Terrorism Studies program at George Washington University and the Studies in International Terrorism program at the State University of New York, and was himself educated at Columbia University, where he obtained a Ph.D.
Prof. Alexander is the founder and editor-in-chief of no less than three international journals: “Minorities and Group Rights”, “Terrorism” and “Political Communication and Persuasion”. He has published over 95 books on international affairs and terrorism. After all, it takes one to know one. Who better to coordinate terrorist acts than the academic who knows all there is to know about them?
Others involved include prestigious academic think tanks, such as the Central Asian Institute & Silk Road Studies Program supported by Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. These organizations and the Institute for Security and Development, Sweden have all carefully attempted to paint the bombings in Georgia as a Russian terror campaign. This attempt is presented in their publication, 2009-11 Bombing Campaign in Georgia: Who Did It, and Why?
This document is held to be the definitive account of these bombings. However, it is now obvious that the “facts” they present in this study are flimsy assertions at best, and quoted with a political agenda in mind, an American agenda, based on pseudo academic research. All it demonstrates is that the publishers know a lot about these bombings, and not from the carefully staged interviews cited as incriminating evidence.
The report’s authors, Svante Cornell, one of the main media spinners of the 2008 Georgian Russian war, and Johanna Popjanevski describe how the bomb attacks against various targets in Georgia, including the perimeter of the U.S. Embassy building in Tbilisi, were serious crimes with far reaching implications. However their so-called study deliberately fails to address the central questions: Who did it; why did they; and what, if anything, should Western governments do about it?
Georgian investigators, as the scholars claimed, implicated Russian intelligence in the bombings, albeit without citing any creditable evidence that would withstand closer scrutiny. The study tacitly acknowledges this but then proceeds with the legally unsound practice of trying to prove “guilt by association”
“As it emerged that American investigators agreed with the conclusions of the Georgian investigation, skeptics have argued that if Russian intelligence services were involved, this was likely ‘rogue units’ acting on their own initiative, not on orders from Moscow.”
It then claims that these notions “lack credibility” by quoting, not direct evidence of organized Russian involvement in the bombings but the allegedly self-incriminating behavior of Russian officials in Abkhazia. It supports this with seemingly creditable accounts from five detainees interviewed by the authors. It fails to mention however that these same detainees had been repeatedly tortured, threatened with death on more than one occasion and in some cases raped before given testimony.
Further details can be found here. The question is – why bother to write such a report about a faraway country, about bombings few of your own citizens have ever heard about, unless you feel yourself implicated in the matters being discussed?
Pseudo research and IntelNews
What is true is that Georgia experienced a spree of bombings, and the authorities conveniently uncovered various bomb plots, including the attempted bombing of the Khobi-Ingiri Railway Bridge, the TV transmission tower and the aforesaid US Embassy attack, and it was even claimed that there had been a plot to bomb the NATO Liaison Office in Tbilisi, which of course the Georgian government foiled.
The Georgian government was quick to lay the blame for each of these incidents on foreign intelligence services, naturally those of the Russian Federation. An American-based for-hire forum for intelligence news, IntelNews, which is notorious for planting false intelligence, reported that a classified US intelligence report had indicated that these bombings had been coordinated by the Russians.
In the run up to the Sochi Olympics, Georgia naturally wants to show that it is really serious about cracking down on terrorism, even that sanctioned by external powers, such as the United States. However the only evidence which can be corroborated points the finger at individuals who have links with Mikheil Saakashvili, the Potomac Institute and Georgian, Turkish, American and Israeli intelligence, not Russian.
Megis Kardava is known to be under the protection of Turkish intelligence, thanks to his use of terror and trafficking of foreign fighters and weapons to further Turkey’s geopolitical interests in Syria and Iraq. A number of economic and territorial concessions unusual in another sovereign state have been handed to Turkey to sweeten this US-Georgian-Turkish collaboration, including continuity of oil supplies at preferred rates from Northern Iraq, which is essential for the maintenance of trafficking networks and payoff to political networks of patronage.
A Case Study
Koba Matkava is one of Georgia’s alleged bomb-wielding terrorists. A Georgian national, he was arrested on April 3, 2011 for attempting to plant a bomb on a central boulevard in the western Georgian town of Zugdidi. Matkava confessed to police that he had been offered 3,000 USD to carry out this attack by Yevgeni Borisov. There has never been any proof offered –confessions obtained under brutal torture provide the only evidence.
According to Giorgi Keburia, who shared a cell with him, Matkava had been tricked into coming to Tbilisi from Georgia’s Gali region, which is part of the breakaway region of Abkhazia, and then detained and charged with terrorism. The so-called terrorist was then subjected to rushed and less than transparent court proceedings and sentenced to 30 years (later reduced to 10 under a plea bargain extracted under brutal torture and the threat of being raped or killed).
Matkava told Keburia that his uncle, Eldar Kobalia, a poor villager who had not been outside Gali and Zugdidi in his life, had good contacts with the Russian joint staff representatives in Abkhazia. This contact was only on a friendly level, and there was no reason to believe he could be an agent. Despite this, Kobalia was detained by the Georgian Special Forces after they had failed to arrest Matkava himself.
“I suspect that the Georgian side thought that after some time my uncle would appear and start negotiating with the investigation service representatives,” Matkava told Keburia. “But there was no sense in doing that; I even passed a message to my mother asking her not to let my uncle accept any offers for my release. I knew the Georgian side would trick him and both of us would end up in Gldani prison”.
Matkava’s suspicions were proved correct. Both men were detained, along with a third person, and tortured for many hours by the public servants criminal charges have now been brought against. Eldar Kobalia died of his injuries.
As Matkava described, “I was taken to the Zugdidi police department, where Georgian police officers started beating and torturing me… and their torture methods were just awful! They beat my heels with baseball bats until I had the feeling that my head and brains were glued to the ceiling. Then they continued with electric shock treatment… they kept cussing me all the time with incredible words… all their acts were means of trying to get me to confess to organizing the explosions at the Police and Fire Service buildings in Zugdidi, a town in West Georgia, and sign documents they had given to me admitting to these acts of terrorism. At the same time they were torturing Eldar Kobalia. He later died as a result of the torture. One police officer made several phone calls to someone during the torture, saying: “He does not wish to either confess or to sign anything”. Then he asked: “What do we have to do”? I heard the person at the other end saying: “Wait, I have to think more, I`ll call you back and make a decision in this regard.”
The charges now being brought against Megis Kardava, Gaga Mkurnalidze and Alexandre Mukhadze, after a long investigation, such crimes are the sort the new Georgian government is attacked in international forums for bringing, as if the motivation is political. They are a remarkably mild response to the evidence uncovered by the official investigation however.
The government’s case, as expressed in the official investigation, is as follows. On the 2nd April, 2011 Eldar Kobalia, uncle of Koba Matkava, was detained by the officers of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Regional Main Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on suspicion of purchasing and possessing drugs. He was taken to Zugdidi Police Station, where he was tortured and subjected to sexual abuse. Following this, Megiz Kardava, together with other unidentified persons, demanded that he confess to plotting a terrorist act.
This matter was considered so serious that Georgia’s then Minister of Internal Affairs, Ivane Merabishvili, Director of the Constitutional Security Department Davit Akhalaia, his deputy Ioseb Topuridze and some Ministry of Internal Affairs officials arrived in Zugdidi that night and went to the Regional Main Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs building. Eldar Kobalia was removed to the Temporary Detention Isolator in Zugdidi, where his condition became quite serious. On 4th April, 2011 Eldar Kobalia and Koba Matkava were detained by the Constitutional Security Department on charges of preparing to conduct a terrorist act. On 5th April, at dawn, the beaten and tortured Eldar Kobalia was transferred from Zugdidi to Temporary Detention Isolator No. 1 of the “Moduli” building in Tbilisi. On 6th April, 2011 Kobalia and Matkava were sentenced to imprisonment, as a measure of restriction, by Tbilisi City Court and were housed in Prison No. 8 of the Department of Corrections.
Whilst there, in accordance with illegal verbal orders given by the director of Prison No. 8, Alexandre Mukhadze,Eldar Kobalia was placed in the so-called “Puqsebi”, a room with bars designed to hold prisoners for only a few hours, since it was not equipped with even the most minimal facilities. Kobalia was kept in these unbearable conditions for 6 days, in an attempt to break him.
On April 11, 2011, Gaga Mkurnalidze and Megis Kardava entered the prison and instructed its staff to take Eldar Kobalia, Koba Matkava and another prisoner, Merab Kolbaia, to the office of the Deputy Director. There Kardava and Mkurnalidze tortured Eldar Kobalia, Koba Matkava and Merab Kolbaia, demanding that they confess to plotting various terrorist acts and that they name other persons, suggested to them by their torturers, as accomplices. The prisoners were beaten mercilessly with batons for several hours and subjected to electric shock. Megis Kardava and Gaga Mkurnalidze used electric shock on the prisoners so often that they had to recharge the device they used twice.
Eldar Kobalia could not withstand the physical violence being used against him and lost consciousness. After several hours, Megis Kardava and Gaga Mkurnalidze dragged the unconscious Eldar Kobalia to the door of the room and left him there. Later, prison staff took the above-mentioned prisoners to their cells. Eldar Kobalia’s health condition markedly deteriorated, and on April 11, 2011, at noon, Alexandre Mukhadze ordered that he be removed from the “Puqsebi” to his cell, into which another prisoner was moved to visually monitor his condition, Kobalia being practically unconscious. His condition became even worse and he died on the same day, without being provided with even the most basic medical assistance.
The particular case which has led to these charges being brought is not an isolated one. Now under investigation is that of Jimi Migrelidaze, 24 at the time of his death in 2009, who was tortured and shot three times on the orders of Megis Kardava – leaving behind a pregnant 19 year old wife and a another young son. He survived the shooting and torture, against all odds, but doctors were threatened that if he survived they themselves would die, so turned their backs while he was knifed a few more times in his hospital bed and his police killers repeatedly asked him “are you still alive?”
According to police Jimi Megrelidze and two other individuals had been charged with the murder of a local fellow. They maintained that he was armed, like his partners in crime, and he had been killed during a “special operation”.
Journalists heard about the Megrelidze case and went to the hospital. They were met at the perimeter fence by up to 50 police officers and same number of the victim’s relatives. Law enforcement officers forbade them to enter the hospital reception, then physically and verbally abused in order prevent them from covering the case.
Ilia Chachibaia, editor of the Ghia Boqlomi newspaper, recalls that “Irakli Akhalaia, Temur Toria, Irakli Jobava, Lasha Ekonia and other policemen started beating them when he and other journalist attempted to enter the hospital and interview doctors.” He himself was forcefully tossed from the hospital. Green Wave radio correspondent Soso Khoperi’s cell camera phone was seized because he had managed to capture the incident and was planning to report it live on air. “I couldn’t approach the hospital reception, so I stayed outside and recording everything through the window. A ranking officer of local police department, Lasha Ekonia, spotted me and demanded my camera phone. I refused to give it to him. He seized it immediately. Later they gave it back, but it was damaged and all the footage had been deleted”.
Nana Pazhava, from the internet publication PRESA.GE, managed to enter the reception with Chachibaia but police forbade her to make any recordings and almost destroyed her camcorder. “They smacked my camcorder, but I managed to capture several frames while other journalists and I were protesting against the police actions”, she says.
So Who Should Be Arrested?
All those who defend the record of Mikheil Saakashvili and the US government in Georgia know very well what that record actually is. But when they are no longer able to ignore the avalanche of evidence of the true nature of the Saakashvili regime, his sponsors will have one more card up their sleeve.
There will be official condemnation of human rights abuses committed in Georgia – without going into details, without saying who committed them. It has worked in Equatorial Guinea, after all. Condemn something in the abstract and you obscure the real, human victims.
There’s just one problem. The final victim is always the one who knows too much – think, for example, the “tangentopoli” scandal in Italy, in which large cities saw every single one of their elected representatives put in jail. The ones trying hardest to point fingers in the 2009-11 bombing campaign know more than anyone. When the house of cards come crashing down, no one will think it is worth their while to protect them anymore.
People have been killed in the name of fabricating evidence about these bombings. The charges brought against Kardava, Mkurnalidze and Mukhadze indicate that the present Georgian government is not going to sit and take it anymore. The “War on Terror” is perceived as an aspect of US foreign policy, conducted against enemies of the US. It has to be. America has had one civil war, it doesn’t want another one.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.