Top US commander denied visa in rights row: Russia

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Russia denied entry to a former commander of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in retaliation against US moves to punish Russian human rights violators, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said on Friday.

The United States finalized the Magnitsky Act, named after an anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Moscow prison in 2009, in December to bar entry for alleged Russian rights violators and freeze any assets they hold in the United States.

Russia denied a visa to Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, former commander at the Guantanamo US Naval Base in Cuba who now oversees Europe, NATO and Russia affairs at the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, a state-linked newspaper said in December.

Izvestia said Harbeson was denied a visa at the end of 2011, when Washington had already denied visas to some Russians believed to be linked to Sergei Magnitsky's death.

"We have already denied entry to some American general, who was commander at the Guantanamo base," Denisov said in response to a question about blacklisted Americans, Interfax news agency said. He did not specify the timing or give the general's name.

In response to the Magnitsky Act, Russia rushed through a law introducing similar measures against Americans it accuses of violating the rights of Russians abroad.

It also imposed a ban on US adoptions of Russian orphans, citing cases of mistreatment by adoptive parents there.

Some 60 US citizens are now barred from entering, Alexei Pushkov, head of the lower chamber of parliament's foreign affairs committee and a member of President Vladimir Putin's ruling party, was quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency.

"It includes judges, agents, representatives of security services, prosecutors ... as well as congressmen who were the authors of the Magnitsky Act and Americans who have violated the rights of children adopted from Russia," he said on Friday.

Pushkov said the first such list had appeared in October 2012 and included 11 Americans linked to the Guantanamo US Naval Base in Cuba and alleged secret CIA prisons in Europe.

Campaigners say the indefinite detentions of inmates at the US base, including alleged September 11 conspirators, are illegal. US President Barack Obama vowed on taking office in 2009 to close the prison and bring inmates to trial in civilian courts but has faced opposition from Congress.

Putin, a former KGB spy, has repeatedly criticized Washington for its treatment of Guantanamo inmates, suggesting the United States had no moral right to lecture Russia on human rights.

Asked for comment, the Russian Foreign Ministry said its policy was not to name those barred from entering Russia.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Moscow declined to comment.

Moscow and Washington attempted to mend relations when Obama first entered the White House, but ties have cooled since Putin, an ardent critic of the West, returned to the Kremlin last year.

The adoptions ban upset Russian rights campaigners who accuse the government of politicizing the issue. Putin's adviser on child rights said this week the ban will not be overturned.

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