News (USA)

US police officers competed alongside Chechen officers who tortured LGBTQ+ people

US police officers competed alongside Chechen officers who tortured LGBTQ+ people
Ramzan Kadyrov, left, with Magomed Daudov Photo: Radio Free Europe via social media

Experts are criticizing the New York and San Antonio police departments (NYPD and SAPD) for having their officers compete at the recent international police training event alongside special forces officers from Chechnya who helped carry out a years-long campaign of kidnapping and torturing LGBTQ+ people.

The U.S. and Chechen officers were among the 87 Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams from 48 countries who competed in the United Arab Emirates’ (U.A.E.) SWAT Challenge in early February. During the games, SWAT teams compete in mock tactical challenges — including assaults, rescues, and shooting drills — for cash prizes. The U.A.E. lures participants by covering all travel, lodging, meals, and other expenses, The Guardian reported. The event aims to foster global cooperation and tactics-sharing between teams, according to its website.

The Chechen Akhmat Kadyrov special police regiment — named after the father of Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic — has long been accused of “committing widespread human rights abuses including kidnapping, forced disappearances, torture, and murder as well as pogroms against the LGBTQ+ community,” according to Russian affairs reporter Pjotr Sauer. The regiment has also been accused of committing war atrocities during Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.

“Obviously, it is bad for U.S. law enforcement to be at the same events,” an unnamed expert on U.S. security services told The Guardian. “This is embarrassing optics-wise given accusations about what [Chechen] units did.”

Mark Galeotti, a specialist on Russian security affairs, added, “I would have expected U.S. pressure on the police forces to voluntarily pull out. U.S. participation legitimized the event but, far more importantly, was a gift to Grozny [Chechnya’s capital] and Moscow. The U.S.A. ends up looking incompetent at best, downright eager to flout its own rules at worst.”

While the U.S. government has previously aided Ukraine’s military defense against Russia’s invasion, some U.S. conservatives have supported Russia and its laws criminalizing LGBTQ+ people. Generally, U.S. citizens are discouraged from doing anything to legitimize countries that stand in opposition to U.S. global interests and human rights commitments.

The NYPD didn’t respond to a media request asking if it was aware of the Chechen force’s background. However, the SAPD wrote in a statement, “Each participating country has their own geopolitical history and are not taken into consideration by participating teams. The purpose of events like this are for the best in the world to showcase their skills in the spirit of competition, much like the Olympics.”

Chechnya’s forces won $5,000 in a tower-climbing competition during the games. Sauer said it’s likely that Kadyrov himself will personally benefit from the award since he “runs Chechnya as his personal fiefdom.” Chechnya is a semi-autonomous state within the Russian Federation, and its leader was installed by rabidly anti-LGBTQ+ Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kadyrov has overseen the special police regiment’s continued crackdown against queer individuals. The crackdown, which began in December 2016, involved police and military officials arresting suspected queer people under claims of drug dealing or terrorism.

A 31-page report released in August 2017 by the Russian LGBT Network said torturers use “electrocution, beatings, starvation, dehydration, isolation, forced nudity, homophobic insults and misgendering” to punish detainees, confiscating their personal belongings and only allowing them to sleep three hours a day on cold concrete floors. The men are not allowed to bathe or use toilets and they receive no medical care.

Families can also be imprisoned, harassed, jailed, blackmailed, or killed if their suspected LGBTQ+ family members flee the region.

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