Miscarriages of justice occur everywhere. They are not the preserve of dictatorships or other forms of repressive regime. But the mark of a civilized society is what you do about them. If you actually want to protect and serve your citizens, you try and put some mechanism in place to prevent them happening again.
This is very much borne out in the case of Georgian former NATO diplomat Vakhtang Maisaia, who was arrested by the Counterintelligence Department of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs on May 5th 2009. He was charged with espionage, and sentenced to 20 years, by a secret court, for allegedly passing sensitive information to Russian agents in 2008.
When a new government took over, one of the first things it did was release him, declaring him to be a political prisoner. Yet no investigation was held into why he had been arrested, charged, imprisoned, tortured and subjected to mock executions for no reason. The Georgian government which took power in 2012 was elected on a platform of ending state tyranny and bringing the perpetrators of it to justice. But what has it done to prevent such a thing happening again?
One of the reasons no investigation was held after his release is that everyone already knew the real reason for his initial arrest. Maisaia had been taken off the streets because he knew too much. He had worked for the Georgian Foreign and Defence Ministries and was briefly Georgia’s representative to NATO. He knew too many people in the diplomatic community and too much about the illegal operations leading up to the 2008 Georgia-Russian war over South Ossetia, such as the transit of weapons and money laundering taking place in Georgia.
Another reason however is that any investigation would mean the state having to reveal, in public, exactly what he did know. If a Georgian government document was forced to admit the role the CIA and US State Department played in Georgia then, and still do play, the same government would have to reconfigure its relations with these bodies.
But the government which wanted to arrest the CIA-sponsored criminals it replaced has continued with the same “foreign policy vector”. One wrongly convicted person may have been released, but every Georgian remains at risk of being treated the same way. The US has many allies. Yesterday it was Dr. Vakhtang Maisaia, tomorrow it could easily be you.
The case as presented
When Maisaia was arrested the state controlled media generally repeated the Interior Ministry’s official line. “During the Russia-Georgia war he passed information about Georgian military units, the hardware they used, their numbers and where they were located. In exchange, money was transferred to his bank account,” it was said.
At his trial however he was accused of doing exactly the opposite. He was charged with spying for NATO, specifically for the secret service of Slovakia, which does not in fact exist. This is probably why the trial was held in secret, and this accusation not made public. The verdict of the trial was also not published, although this is a violation of the Georgian Constitution.
To try and cover these obvious anomalies, the state-run media broadcast copies of these alleged messages to the Russians. Dr. Maisaia has written for a number of newspapers, in Georgian, Russian and English, and there are plenty of people around who have edited his writing. Any one of these would confirm that the broadcast messages were so far from his idiolect that if forensic linguists had been involved the case against him would have collapsed in five minutes.
Of course, the new government has stopped the state terror, so we are supposed to take it on trust that things have changed. Perhaps we might, if many of the abusers of power from the previous regime were not still working in senior positions in the Interior Ministry and intelligence services.
These people were obliged to work under transparent and democratic laws before, and blatantly violated them. The only way the public can be certain that such things will not happen again is if previous failures are identified and mechanisms put in place to stop people behaving the same way again if they want to.
This has not been done because preserving the relationship which created the problem is considered more important. Far from removing criminality, as it promised its electors, the new Georgian government is doing nothing to root out its cause, even when cases like Maisaia’s have been broadcast round the world.
From the horse’s mouth
In a recent interview Maisaia himself, who has every reason to be grateful to the present government for releasing him, laid bare the remaining problem. He confirmed that an official investigation into his case has now begun, but explains that it is pointless, as it will never address the reason any of the abuses occurred.
“The investigation into my conviction and the torture was opened on October 28, 2013 by the Tbilisi branch of the Main Prosecutor’s Office. Zurab Samkharadze was the officer in charge. His team interrogated more than 20 people and collected various documents, including medical reports confirming the physical injuries all over my face and body, bruises and hematomas.
“I was subjected to torture, nearly beaten to death, and subjected a mock execution. It is only luck that I was not killed in the prison. I understood from my guards that their orders had been given by former Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili, who is now in prison himself on various criminal charges not related to my case. The guards felt sorry for me, and some have since testified on my behalf.
“I will never forget the names of those that tortured me: Valeri Zumbadze, who was previously with Georgian Counterintelligence and is who is now Deputy Head of the General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Defence, Otar Ordzhonikidze, Lado Datashvili, who is now working with counterintelligence, Zviad Goniashvili, who is on the Tbilisi Mayor’s security staff, Amiran Meskheli, who has alleged links with the Russian Federation intelligence service, and finally the former Head of Counterintelligence, Police Major-General George Mazmishvili, who was convicted back in 2013 for brutally murdering three innocent young people.
“I was forced me to provide false testimony against more than thirty high-ranking government and opposition figures, for example, Salome Zourabichvili, Nino Burdjanadze, Irakli Alasania, and Irakli Okruashvili, who were labelled my “allies in espionage”. They tortured me in order to obtain information on foreign diplomats and overseas citizens residing in Georgia, including an American citizen, Mr. Jeffrey Silverman.
“They specifically asked me about this man’s personality, military background and education. They brutally tortured me in order to obtain his contact information; I was able to hold out for a few days but eventually could not take it anymore. They wanted to know his whereabouts so that they could abduct him. It has since been confirmed to me that the political police intended to execute Jeffrey Silverman in some unknown place because of his foreign citizenship and his popularity abroad, and he would just disappear.”
“I want to help rid this government of those leftover, in the intelligence agencies and various governmental structures, those same persons who have somehow managed to hang on and find keys positions through the various connections and knowledge they have. The top level of government created a terrorist and totalitarian state, and its members continue to be involved in illegal activities, weapons, drugs and money laundering, the opposite to all Georgia claimed to be doing. But these people are still there, because they have friends in high places, and not only in Georgia.
“It was former president Mikheil Saakashvili who wanted me arrested. He is now on the run from various criminal indictments, and is being protected by the new government in Kiev. If the current government can show that I was “scapegoated” and prove who was responsible Georgia will be more able to distance itself from what is going on in Ukraine, the virtual proxy war between the West and Russia over the East of the Country. But it isn’t doing it, thinking preserving its special relationship more important.”
The choice is clear
The long absence of any official investigation of Maisaia’s case, the stalling of the investigation which now exists and the continued presence in the government system of those responsible for it demonstrate that the promised eradication of criminality is unlikely to ever happen. Uncle Sam knows too many people know too much. No lessons will be learned, no checks put in place, and the risk of other such cases occurring, in every country the US is allied with, will remain.
Maisaia’s only hope is that, somehow, international justice will work. As he says, “Seeing my case through to the end not only benefits Georgians but serves the real interests of the United States and other democratic countries by showing that for democracy to work there must be rule of law, and that law must be applied equally to all. It also might help defuse the situation in Ukraine, by exposing the links between members of the old government and Kiev, and how Georgia and its Black sea location have been, and continue to be, used by the same elements of the former Saakashvili government for a wide range of illegal activities.”
What Maisaia does not choose to say is that we got to this point because the US did not like the president elected by 87% of Georgians in a popular vote. He was replaced by the old Communist leader Shevardnadze, who they thought they could control, only to discover he was a bigger bastard than any of them. Then Saakashvili was brought in to add a youthful face to the same methods, then the present government as outsiders and nonentities because none of the installed political class could any longer be trusted.
The whole Georgian state is built on, and owes its continuing existence to, pursuing US policy interests rather than its own. It is these interests which created political persecution such as that suffered by Dr. Maisaia. The US doesn’t want its unsavoury acts broadcast. Even if a whole population is seen as a threat, it has to go, regardless of rule of law, territorial sovereignty or anything else.
Neither Georgia nor any other US ally will uproot institutional criminality from its midst until it either persuades the US to behave differently or chooses new friends. The present Georgian government has no real intention of doing so, or it would introduce procedures which would prevent recurrences of Dr. Maisaia’s case.
Georgia is a tiny speck on the map. If we adapt Senator Joseph McCarthy’s practice and colour in all the US allies rather than the Soviet ones, we see how big a problem this one man’s case, and the reason for it, represents.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.