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Feature Story July 22, 2004
 
Double Punk'd! Meta-Prank Goes Mega-Bad
Texas Republican Asks Russia to Torture & Kill eXile Editors By Mark Ames Browse author Email
 
 

We interrupt this feature story to give you a special bulletin: You know that whole "prank" we supposedly played on Kremlin envoy Sergei Kiriyenko? Um, so like, I don't know how to tell you this, so I'll just give it to you straight: WE DIDN'T DO IT. There was no eXile prank. So put the Makarovs and TTs away, and return the planted evidence to the unmarked Lada. Stand down, boys ‘n girls. There’s no need to whack us yet. Because, I repeat, we were joking about arranging the forged letter. The prank was that we never did a prank.

But no one will believe us. I have spoken off the record to an aide to one US Congressman close to this scandal, and this aide told me, “It’s already out of our hands. You have to speak to the state department about this.” The aide would not believe me that the whole joke was that we didn’t forge the letter, we simply took responsibility for it, the aide replied, “I saw the forged letter on your web site.”

“We just snapped those pictures on production day. They’re ridiculous, as is the article!”

“That’s not our problem anymore,” I was told. “If it was a joke, it was a very stupid joke and now you’re going to pay the consequences for it.”

* * *

I can’t believe that of all the stories we’ve done, all of the real pranks we’ve pulled, this prank – the prank we falsely took responsibility for to fill up some last-minute space – has not only gotten us by far the most attention we’ve ever had (most of it unwanted), but it has also flushed out some of rankest examples of both the Russian and American media, and more disturbingly, the petty-evil workings of serving member of the United States Congress. What follows is a story about a non-prank so un-funny that from a distance – say, from your distance, not mine – it has to be one the most ridiculously funny things you’ll ever read. In a not-funny sort of way. How did we get into this mess? If you thought we had some clever, elaborate plan for a prank, with a leftie-like point to make at the end of it all, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The truth is that we had a blank half page to fill last issue, and I thought it would be, er, *funny* if we pretended that we forged the famous Kiriyenko letter. As they say, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Just to recap, our “prank” claimed that we had forged a letter, signed by five Republican congressmen and sent to Secretary of State Colin Powell, which accused former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko of using stolen IMF funds to buy property in Illinois, and with it, an American green card. Someone – and I don’t really want to know who – really did forge that letter, and a group of right-wing knuckleheads who run a “think-tank” called the “American Defense Council” actually posted the fake letter on their site. That gave the forged letter the necessary legitimacy to then get picked up by Novaya Gazeta, which then went to the Russian and American media, and finally, eventually, last but not least, bringing up the rear, into the eXile. The five Republican congressmen quickly repudiated the letter as a forgery, and Kiriyenko sued Novaya Gazeta for libel. Clearly, someone was out to smear Kiriyenko’s reputation – we’re talking very powerful and very scary people who felt threatened by his moves to rein in local elites in the Volga region on Putin’s behalf. The attack on Kiriyenko is so clearly dangerous and involves such high stakes that, if you were me, you would think it seemed ripe for a silly joke. But since most of you aren’t me, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Uh, no, it wasn’t a good idea at all.” Gee thanks, now you tell me!

With perfect 20-20 hindsight, we doctors of humor can now officially declare that taking responsibility for the forged Kiriyenko letter was not a good idea. In fact, it’s about the un-funniest non-prank ever not-committed. Not-funny for me and Rudnitsky, that is. Last Friday night, while drinking with friends at Scandinavia, an advertising exec told me that his Russian partner warned him “don’t sit too close to Ames” because “it isn’t safe.” Everyone laughed uneasily, yet their chairs managed to inch further and further away from mine, leaving me all kinds of surplus lebensraum. Black humor lost its cocky appeal among Moscow’s expats ever since Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov was murdered a couple of Fridays ago. That sense of consequence-free unreality you get from being an expat in Moscow is now gone. We all feel the vulnerability that locals have been coping with ever since Prince Dolgoruky brought his land development schemes to the banks of the Mosvka.

Judging from the reaction we’ve gotten, a lot of very serious people found our non-prank to be seriously devoid of humor. Indeed, I have no idea what’s going to happen to us personally or to this newspaper in the coming weeks. Our “meta-prank,” as Rudnitsky called it, has sparked the hugest – and most dangerous – eXile exposure in our seven year history. The Russian media – television, print and radio – has been hounding me (one guy claiming to be a journalist from Gazeta even threatened to come after me “face-to-face” in a chat-exchange with our designer last week); lawyers, including Kiriyenko’s, have been calling our offices; and, in the most shocking twist of all, a right-wing Republican congressman from Texas, Henry Bonillo (R-San Antonio), told his district’s leading newspaper that he wants to team up with the Russian authorities to have us “prosecuted” and “punished.”

* * *

The issue claiming responsibility for the letter came out on Friday, July 9th. That same night, Klebnikov was gunned down outside of his office. Friends of mine congratulated me on pulling off the prank, but in a tone that said, “Are you trying to commit suicide?” I told the first couple of friends that the joke was that we didn’t do the prank, but after another friend congratulated me, I realized it was best just to shuttup and see where this led. Rudnitsky experienced the exact same trajectory. As the days rolled by, the news of the prank spread far and wide.

Then on Tuesday, July 13th the story of our fake-prank became nation-wide headline news. Everyone from lenta.ru and Russian Business Consulting to Novaya Izvestia and Gazeta as well as radio station Ekho Moskvy reported that the eXile “took responsibility for the prank”…and accepted our version as fact. By Wednesday, July 14th, the story was everywhere. The eXile phone was ringing off the hook with requests for interviews from national and local newspapers and television media. Nizhny Novgorod’s television stations and local newspapers were particularly aggressive in calling our offices – that’s the city where Kiriyenko hails from, and the heart of the region he now oversees on behalf of President Putin.

I called our lawyer, Maxim Trofimov, to ask him if we could get sued for claiming we libeled someone but in fact didn’t. That is, can you get sued for lying about libel? Maxim laughed, told me he’d look into it, called back and said that it would be next-to-impossible to get sued for lying about libeling someone, although in an extreme case, depending on “circumstances,” it was “theoretically possible.” However, he didn’t seem too worried just yet. Speaking of libel, of all of the bizarre and falsehood-packed stories to appear in the Russian press, none comes close to Gazeta’s for sheer brazen lying. Gazeta is a slick autumn-toned newspaper funded by jailed Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky. I always assumed it was a fairly solid newspaper, but now I know better. In their account of how we “punk’d” Kiriyenko, they concocted a fake – and sloppy at that – interview with Rudnitsky and published it as fact. Here I’ll translate this amazing window into the world of Russian journalism brought to you by reporter Veniamin Ginodman, in his July 13th article, “Sergeya Kiriyenko Proslavili Shutki Radi…Shutka Udalas” or “Thanks To The Jokes Sergei Kiriyenko Became Famous…and the Joke Succeeded”:

“‘We started off as a big joke,’ said an employee of The Exile, introducing himself as Jake Rudnitsky. ‘On April 1st, 1998, just a month after Sergei Kiriyenko was named interim prime minister, we put out an openly rude issue in which we copied the Moscow Times’ look. On the first page there was an article about how Kiriyenko was fired for getting into a fight at the gay club ‘Khameleon’ because he didn’t win a prize in a club contest. Overall, it came out pretty funny. We placed the newspaper in the mailbox of the American embassy, and everyone there went nuts, the ambassador rushed to call Washington and ask for clarification…Mark and I were so proud of this. So just this past June one of our buddies said, ‘Why are we letting things get so boring? Let’s think up something really funny…and we thought something up. We chose Kiriyenko because we already nailed him once – if people bought it one time, it means they’ll buy it again. We chose the congressmen by opening up the yellow pages of the State Department and choosing at random with our fingers. Then Mark went and sent a letter to the American security council – we just worship such organizations in which retired colonels meet up. So how did it end up? We nailed ‘em!’”

It’s a great quote that fits perfectly in Ginodman’s story. If you were a Russian reader, you’d probably want to go out and find Rudnitsky and Ames and hang them from the nearest lamppost for behaving like such cocky pricks. Hell, even I wanted to hang us from a lamppost after reading that. But there’s only one problem. Rudnitsky never talked to anyone from Gazeta. They simply lied. And they didn’t even bother lying well.

In the first place, in 1998, Jake Rudnitsky was not in Moscow playing pranks with the eXile. In 1998, Jake was a junior at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, working on his Russian Studies degree. Oddly enough, Rudnitsky first saw the eXile while on an exchange program in Moscow in the fall semester, 1997. “Someone gave me a copy of the bar-dak section and the first thing I said was, ‘What the fuck is this? Who reads this garbage?’” He didn’t come to Moscow to work for the eXile until September, 2000.

The second problem with Ginodman’s sloppy fake-quote is that this account clearly demonstrates Ginodman’s poor understanding of the American aspect of the “prank.” First of all, you wouldn’t find congressmen’s names listed in the State Department yellow pages, assuming that such a thing even exists.

Secondly, since all the congressmen who “signed” the forged letter were Republicans, and since this newspaper decidedly anti-Republican, logically, if Ginodman wanted to make the interview look real, he should have had Jake bragging about nailing the Repubs, not saying we chose them at random. That defeats the whole purpose of a prank – what fun is it setting up someone chosen at random? In the article in which we “claimed responsibility,” we gloated exactly the idea that we made the Republicans look like idiots.

Ginodman missed this completely, proving himself to be not just a liar but an incredibly sloppy, half-assed liar at that. That leads to the third flaw – that we would choose Kiriyenko as our target simply because we allegedly nailed him once before. No one EVER punks the same person twice. It just isn’t fun – it defeats the whole purpose of playing a prank. If we were really so bored, as Ginodman has Jake saying, we’d have gone after someone whom no one would expect. And someone much safer, given the current climate. Like a Westerner, for example. But really, who the hell can possibly complain about being bored in Moscow – with banking crises, terrorism, jailed oligarchs and bloodied journalists? It’s such a lame excuse – he has us sounding like alienated New Wave kids from The Breakfast Club, which is about as far into our culture as Ginodman can travel before his wires short… Ginodman, buddy, if you’re reading this, do your poor editor a favor and take two minutes out try to make your fake quotes look at least half-way real, will ya? You’re making your boss look bad!

The funniest thing about this fake interview is that Ginodman left one cheap little escape hatch – if you notice carefully, he claims he conducted the interview with “an employee of the Exile introducing himself as Jake Rudnitsky.” So in theory he can say that it may not have been Jake, but one of the many other Americans on the eXile staff in Moscow who could have lied and claimed he was Jake. Except for one problem: we don’t have any other Americans in the Moscow office.

Are you still wondering why most Russians distrust their press and favor censorship?

* * *

This isn’t to say that the Western press sets any kind of example. In fact, given our case, the Western press and the Russian press seem to have both studied at the same Bonghit Boris’s School of Fact-Checking and Reading Comprehension. Bonghit Boris’ journalism motto: “Du-hu-hude, deal with it later man, I’m waaaaay too fuckin’ high to deal.”

This first became evident when we made page two of the Moscow Times: “Exile Claims Responsibility for Prank.”

I have to say, for all the shit we talk about the Times, as straight expatriate newspapers go, they’re pretty good. Or at least, they seem to be. The first odd thing about the page 2 story is that it wasn’t bylined. That way, no one would have to take responsibility for it. The second odd thing is that, well, they didn’t call me to check it out. They simply called up our site and reported the joke as fact, a blunder so massive that it simply boggles the mind. I don’t think even my high school newspaper would be allowed to take a fact-risk like that.

Worst of all, they couldn’t even get their false-facts straight within the story. In the second to the last paragraph, the Times claimed that I had personally faxed the forged letter to Novaya Gazeta – which we never said anywhere, in fact it contradicts our stated admiration for Novaya Gazeta – implying that we specifically targeted them for a setup.

Here is how I wrote it in the original: “Ames ‘leaked’ the fax from DC just before his return to the Motherland.” Our article implied that I had faxed the forged letter to the American Defense Council – but we left that intentionally vague just in case the ADC had received that letter through some other channel (we still don’t know how they got suckered into posting it).

Now, here’s how the Moscow Times reported the same incident: “Ames says he then ‘leaked’ the letter via a fax from Washington to Novaya Gazeta, which ran the story on June 28.”

This isn’t a minor flub. It was big enough to prompt a call from Novaya Gazeta to the Moscow Times telling them that their version was a mistake, which they acknowledged. And it provided the basis for our own phone call, under the guise of a lenta.ru reporter trying to find out why they wrote that (see box page 2). As it turns out, the journalist, Caroline MacGregor, could only speak one Russian phrase: “In eight hours…in eight hours…” I have no idea what in God’s name she was talking about – perhaps her wires short-circuited. In any event, she was saved by her editor, Simon Saradzhyon, who admitted to the error.

Oddly enough, the Moscow Times never issued a correction.

* * *

I’m amazed that everyone fell for it. And I mean everyone. Even though we intentionally made the article and the “evidence” describing how we allegedly pulled it off so sloppy that we couldn’t imagine it would have elicited more than a few sneering chuckles. The “photographic evidence” of me sending off a fax from an “undisclosed location in Washington DC” was actually shot in our Moscow office (see photo). I claimed that “my water broke” on the flight to Moscow, yet even this was later reported in Moskovskii Novosti’s English-language edition. Just in case someone took the joke seriously, I added a kind of “this joke will self-destruct” punchline at the end of our prank-article to make sure it was clear: “Stay tuned for another prank. Did someone say ‘banking crisis’?”

Incredibly enough, some media outlets, including the San Antonio Express-News, took even that part seriously, ending its July 15th article about the scandal thus:

“The alternative weekly chastised the ‘cicada-brained right wingers’ at the American Defense Council for falling for such a prank.

“It also warns of another prank involving a ‘banking crisis.’”

Right, I forgot to mention this but… you know that “chyorny spisok” that the Central Bank has? The one that caused the mini-banking crisis? Guess where that came from…

The problem with the Kiriyenko “prank” is that we would never have chosen such an obscure and dangerous target. Why would Kiriyenko even matter to us, particularly as he hasn’t been a major figure since his firing in 1998? Why would we go after someone who works discreetly and reports directly to Putin? What do you think we are, total fucking idiots? Apparently so. But if we were that idiotic, I assure you, we wouldn’t have made it a small page 4 story. We would have turned it into a 16-page feature gloating over our victory, as a kind of farewell to the world…

While it took literally no effort to convince the entire country that we pulled the prank, the funny thing is I’m not sure anyone will believe that we actually didn’t do it. How do you convince people – particularly the scary people lining up against us – that you didn’t do a prank? Should this ever get to a courtroom – a courtroom that isn’t rigged, that is – it will be easy to disprove.

In fact, I suspect that the Russian authorities already know who was behind it, which is why we’re still here and able to write about it. At least, that’s my comforting theory. Another theory could be that they’re sharpening their knives and preparing to strike.

Am I scared? Am I britting shicks? Oh, you betcha! Put it this way: I took four dumps just this morning, and baby, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

For the last few days, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking out-loud about this. If you were to stand outside my apartment – please don’t, but I’m just saying, hypothetically, if you were stand there – you’d hear muffled cries of “Zoinks!” and “Yikes!” and “Aaaiiieee!!!” Over and over and over. But you wouldn’t see me. No way, Sergei. Because I ain’t a-leavin’ this apartment, folks. Not after what happened to Klebnikov. I’m staying right here, with all my canned foods, my water filter, and an endless supply of raw fear. Welcome back to Mother Russia.

* * *

MAYBE YOU’RE THINKING I CAN COUNT ON THE USA, THE BEACON OF FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY, TO HELP ME. IF SO, THINK AGAIN.

I know what most of you are thinking: Ames and the eXile are getting what they deserve. The pranksters are getting punk’d Big Time. It’s hard to argue with that sentiment – I’d feel that way if my ass wasn’t on the line.

The craziest thing about the prank furor isn’t that everyone believes it. What’s crazy, and I mean psychotic-insane crazy, is what has been revealed in the reaction.

While I have no idea what the Kremlin, Kiriyenko or others have in store for us, one man – an American congressman to be exact – has already made it clear that he wants to see me subjected to human rights abuses over this prank. Last week, United States Congressman Henry Bonilla (R-San Antonio, TX) told the San Antonio Express-News that he wants the United States government to join forces with Russian authorities in order to destroy me. This is not a hoax – you can check for yourself in the Express-News’ on-line archives. In fact, you should check – the whole reason this story got blown out of proportion is because no one in the English-language press ever bothered to contact me.

According to a July 15th article written by Express-News Washington bureau reporter Gary Martin, titled “Bonilla Forgery Was Work of Tabloid,” the five-term Republican congressman wants to put me at the mercy of a corrupt and arbitrary justice system – as spelled out in a human rights report issued by his own party’s administration – subjectinJKIUg me to possible torture and death, all because of a hoax that my newspaper took credit for in the previous issue. “By taking tough action against the culprits we can prompt future pranksters to think twice,” Bonilla told the newspaper.

Take tough action to make pranksters think twice. Ship off terror suspects to Syria and Egypt for some good ol’ testicle bruisin’; throw an American prankster suspect to the mercy of the Russian “justice” system, and let the chips – the bone chips, that is – fall where they may.

Of all the you’ve-got-to-be-shitting-me stories I’ve ever been involved in – and one of the great things about Russia is that there’s never a dull, predictable moment – the revelation that a US Congressman wants to subject an innocent American citizen to human rights abuses takes the cake for the most grotesque, insane, and evil little plots I’ve seen. It’s so insane that I could never have imagined such a twist – and if I had, no one would have believed me.

First, here is a larger quote from the aforementioned article, including the url address for all you Doubting Thomases out there:

Web Posted: 07/15/2004 12:00 AM CDT

Bonilla Forgery Was Work of Tabloid

Gary Martin

Express-News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — A Moscow alternative weekly has claimed responsibility for a phony letter with forged signatures of five congressmen that implicated former Russian Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko in the disappearance of a $4.8 billion loan.

The letter was sent to Russian newspapers, where it appeared as a news story that quoted the document and named the alleged signatories, including Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.

…The forged letter, dated June 4, was written to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and signed by "five bland Republican congressmen," the Russian alternative weekly admitted.

U.S. lawmakers weren't amused.

"Forgery is a crime regardless of your nationality," Bonilla said.

The U.S. and Russian governments should work together to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators, he said.

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/nation/stories/MYSA071504.12A.ForgedLetter.b72c660.html

Two things stand out as particularly funny about Bonilla’s stated desire to team up with the Russian government in order to take “tough action” against me. The first thing that’s funny is that Bonilla called for the Russian government to “punish” me just five days after American citizen Paul Klebnikov was murdered in Moscow. Since Rep. Bonilla is a Republican, he must read his party’s organ, the Wall Street Journal. That means that he must have read the WSJ editorial, “Lawless Russia,” published on July 12th, two days after Klebnikov’s murder:

“The Committee to Protect Journalists, which records attacks on journalists throughout the world, cites Russia as a special problem… The murder of Paul Klebnikov demonstrates that Russia is not a normal country. Perhaps it's time for the leaders of free democracies to ask Mr. Putin whether the rule of law exists in Russia.”

Two days after that editorial was published, Rep. Bonilla, rather than asking President Putin if there is “rule of law” in Russia as suggested by the WSJ, instead publicly called for an alliance with these same Russian authorities in order to “prosecute” and “punish” me, a citizen he should be protecting, so that “pranksters will think twice.” Or not think at all, ever again.

Here is what the US State Department’s Human Rights 2004 report on Russia said about the kind of “tough action” I might expect if the congressmen gets his way with me: “[Russia’s] human rights record worsened… There were credible reports that law enforcement personnel frequently engaged in torture, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment and often did so with impunity…Prison conditions continued to be extremely harsh and frequently life-threatening.”

That’s right: “life-threatening.” Leaving aside the beatings, violence and torture, it has been estimated that up to 20% of Russia’s inmates have an incurable form of tuberculosis.

This sleazy Texas goon is the very sort of “leader of the free world” who should, according to the WSJ, be asking Putin if rule of law exists. Instead, Bonilla, heir to Thomas Jefferson and upholder of the Bill of Rights, wants to team up with a country whose treatment of journalists is described in these horrific terms in the most recent State Department report:

“The [Russian]Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, government pressure on the media persisted, resulting in numerous infringements of these rights.

“…A number of journalists were beaten, killed, or reported missing for reasons that may have been associated with their journalistic activities. The journalists had published critical information about local governments and influential businesses or reported on crime and other sensitive issues. According to the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation, 10 journalists were killed during the year under mysterious circumstances, and 96 were physically attacked. … As in 2002, independent media NGOs characterized beatings by unknown assailants of journalists as ‘routine’…

“…High profile cases of murdered or kidnapped journalists from earlier years remained unsolved.

“…Authorities on the federal and local levels continued to bring lawsuits and other legal actions against journalists and journalistic organizations during the year, the majority of them in response to unfavorable coverage of government policy or operations… Some regional and local authorities took advantage of the judicial system's procedural weaknesses to arrest persons on false pretexts for expressing views critical of the Government.”

Bonilla sits on the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, headed by Tom Lantos (D) and Frank Wolf (R) so he should be aware of the human rights problems here. But let’s be honest, Bonilla, a Bush-Republican, could give an armadillo’s ass about human rights, journalist murders or the safety of American citizens overseas. The reason is that representative Henry Bonilla is a Texas-sized asshole. In his ten years of Congress, he has somehow managed to avoid taking too many stances on issues. He refused to link trade issues with China’s appalling human rights record, and he has one of the worst voting records in Congress when it comes to environmental issues, getting a “0” from the Sierra Club. Bonilla reportedly even complained that “weeds and bugs” have more rights than land developers. And he’s shamefully equivocal on the whole Mexican issue – except when Bush’s courtiers need to show off an Uncle Juan to court the credulous Hispanic vote. Otherwise, Bonilla’s only concern is money, strippable land, and defending the rights of landowners.

When I called the five Republican congressmen “bland” in last issue’s fake-prank article, I was wrong. The Republicans aren’t bland at all. For 25 years now, they’ve been looting everything with impunity, and now, this year, they face their first serious social-political revolt. It has made them mean, sleazy, crazy and paranoid, to such an extreme that they don’t even bother hiding it.

* * *

I only learned of Rep. Bonilla’s blood libel against me while searching on-line during deadline for this article. It was late Tuesday night. I called his office and left messages on both the voice mail and mobile phone of his press secretary, Taryn Fritz. I wanted to ask her if her boss really wanted me thrown into a Russian prison, and to ask why they never simply asked me if I really had pulled the prank. She never called me back.

So I phoned Gary Martin, the Express-News Washington bureau reporter who wrote the article about me and Bonilla.

“Why didn’t you contact me before you published the article?” I asked him. “I tried,” Martin told me. “I tried but I couldn’t get through.” He read me the phone number to our office.

“You mean it was busy or no one was in, or you just couldn’t get through?” I asked.

“No, I couldn’t get through. Maybe I was dialing it wrong or something.”

“So why didn’t you send me an email?” I asked. “My email is listed on the same site.”

“Because…” he paused. Then, in a kind of wry, jocular Texas accent, he answered, “I was leery of sending you an email.”

I told Martin about Russia’s disturbing human rights record as according to Washington, particularly its treatment of journalists, and about its jails.

“I was not aware of that,” he said.

“Well don’t you think that Rep. Bonilla should have thought of that before publicly calling for America to team up with Russia to ‘take strong action’ and ‘punish’ me?”

“That’s a good point,” Martin said, implying that he’d learned his lesson and it would never happen again.

I couldn’t believe my ears. It reminded me of a scene in Casino – in fact, a lot of things are reminding me of Casino these days – when Sam “Ace” Rothstein chews out the dumb hick slots machine manager who doesn’t know how to do his own job:

ACE: You're the Slots Manager. I shouldn't have to tell you this.

WARD: Dang, you are right, Mr. Rothstein, I am so sorry.

I asked Martin if he had heard about Paul Klebnikov’s murder.

“Yeah, I heard about that,” Martin answered.

“It was big news over there,” I said. “Don’t you think that Rep. Bonilla should have thought about that when he threatened to get the Russians to ‘punish’ me? This is a serious threat.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think of that,” he said, very Ward-Casino-like.

I had no luck getting through to either Bonilla’s office or to Tom Lantos’ office at the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, though I did manage to get one congressional assistant who asked not to be named all worried over my safety. He sounded like he thought he might be the last person who ever heard my living voice…he didn’t want to be that person – imagine all the uncomfortable situations he’d have to deal with! – so he made sure he passed me to some European guy’s voice mail.

In the meantime, I’m left wondering how far Rep. Bonilla has gone to recruit the Russian authorities to “punish” me. As far as I can tell, he’s either given them the green light to get Abu Ghraib on my ass, or worse, he’s actively pushing for it.

I asked Martin how far he thought Bonilla planned to take his blood libel against me.

“Did he really say to you ‘The U.S. and Russian governments should work together to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators’?”

“Yes, that’s what he said,” Martin said.

“So how actively is he using his status to push the Russians to prosecute and punish me? I’m asking because this is essentially a threat to my life.”

“I didn’t get the idea that they’re actively pursuing them,” Martin answered, in a tone that was more wary than worried.

I called the American embassy here in Moscow. A Russian employee in Citizen Services told me that he hadn’t heard anything about a joint Russian-US move to punish me. “But we aren’t told of every investigation in our department, and it is possible that the Russian authorities are pursuing an investigation without notifying us in Citizen Services.”

* * *

There is a kind of heart-warming ending to this article – even though the story itself is still developing. As this story was going to bed, I got a call from an aide to another congressman offering to look into my situation. The woman was helpful, warm and sympathetic. And yes, she was Russian. The person who was concerned enough about my situation to have her call me, is also foreign-born, a Western European judging by the name. If all goes well, they will bring the matter to Rep. Bonilla’s attention, and have him call off the dogs.

It doesn’t surprise me that I was saved by a Russian. Americans have become very strange and very un-nice lately. People ask me why I don’t live there – why I live in Russia, with all of its human rights problems, with all of its killings and media crackdowns.

The reason is simple. America – a good part of it anyway – has gone completely insane over the last few years. Russians are just about the only human beings left on earth, as far as I can tell. I say this knowing that they may be about to stomp hard on me – but somehow that’s at least “fair.” I’m in their country – I violated their “rules,” and as the energy rep told Assistant U.S. Commerce Secretary William Lash last week, “People who don’t understand the rules get killed.”

Everyone was shocked at the Russian official’s open thug-like language. But somehow, no matter how vile, Americans can do far worse things and get away with it, so long as they hide it all under a layer of smiles.

We are taking the next issue off, returning to print August 19th. Those will be four very long weeks of waiting to see what comes next. Hopefully, you haven’t seen the last of us. But if you have, it will be all too fitting – the eXile, after 7 years, shut down and destroyed over a prank it never committed.

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Ames
Browse author
Email Mark Ames at editor@exile.ru.
 
 
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