In a historic move, the Justice Department on Wednesday announced that it would unseal the charges of war crimes against four Russian-affiliated military personnel about the treatment of a U.S. national in Ukraine, the department had details of their alleged torture and inhumane behaviour towards the Americans in question.
This is the department’s first initiated criminal proceedings under the U.S. war crime statute.
The indictment states that Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii (last name unknown) and Naza Nazar (last name unknown) detained, beat and tortured an American citizen they allegedly abducted from his home in the United States after Russia invaded Russia. He was kidnapped in early 2022 from the Ukrainian village of Mylove.
“As the world watched the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Department of Justice saw it firsthand,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference Wednesday announcing the indictments. “That’s why Justice For the first time, the Department has brought charges under U.S. war crimes laws against four service members with ties to Russia, accusing them of committing heinous crimes against American citizens.”
In interviews with U.S. officials last year, the U.S. citizen described how Russian soldiers stripped him naked, threw him to the ground and tied his hands behind his back before beating him severely, including with the butts of their rifles. Soldiers then allegedly took the man to a Russian military camp, where he was held for ten days.
The U.S. citizen said he was subjected to two brutal interrogations while in captivity, in which he was tortured by the four defendants named in the indictment. He said he was stripped naked and photographed, and one of the defendants even staged a mock execution. One of the soldiers reportedly asked the U.S. citizen what his last words were, prompting him to point the gun at the back of his head before pulling the trigger and firing a bullet that missed him just inches.
“He always thought he was going to die,” Garland said.
The defendants were charged with three counts of war crimes, including unlawful imprisonment, torture and inhuman treatment, and conspiracy to commit war crimes. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, but it is unclear whether the defendant will eventually stand trial.
“The Department of Justice will work as necessary to ensure accountability and justice for Russia’s war of aggression,” Garland said.
“Our work is far from done,” Garland added.
While Garland said this is the first time charges have been brought under war crimes laws, he expects more will come.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI will continue to work with international law enforcement agencies to hold criminals accountable for their actions.
“We will work tirelessly to bring criminals to justice,” Wray said.