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Throwing down the gauntlet on Bucha
Scott Ritter challenges Andriy Shapovalov to debate war crimes allegations
The Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation (CCD) has labeled me an “information terrorist” for my stance on Bucha (I claim Ukraine is responsible for the atrocities that took place on April 1-2 of this year.) Elon Musk and Twitter have banned me for posts where I make this claim. It’s time to bring this issue to a head: I am challenging the acting director of the CCD to debate this issue of Bucha in a public forum sponsored by Twitter and moderated by Twitter’s content moderation team.
Diane Sare, the LaRouche independent candidate for Senate in New York State, sent me an interesting email the other day. In it she attached screen shots taken from the Telegram page of the Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation. (Diane, like me, has been included on the CCD “Blacklist” of accused Russian propogandists.)
“Former US military man Scott Ritter,” the Telegram post read, “loyal to Putin’s regime, tried to ‘test’ Twitter algorithms in a peculiar way after Elon Musk bought the social network. It is noted,” the CCD continued, “that the purpose of posting the said tweet was to ‘check’ the platform’s response to the ‘wrong’ question.”
There was more. “In fact,” the CCD opined, “such a tweet is another manipulative ‘throw-in’ and a deliberate provocation to determine possible changes in the reaction of Western society on the topic of Russian genocide in Ukraine. We warn you! All information, even published by well-known Western experts, needs careful verification.”
The CCD post concluded with the following: “As previously reported by the Center, Scott Ritter is actively used by Russia as an ‘expert’ to promote narratives necessary for the Kremlin among foreign audiences.”
Upon learning of the CCD’s angst over my tweet, I considered what could be an appropriate response.
“Why not challenge the CCD to a debate on the issue of Bucha as a war crime,?” I thought.
Scott Ritter will discuss this article and answer audience questions Friday night on Ask the Inspector.
I took to my Telegram channel’s accompanying chat room, and sent out the following message:
“I’m preparing to formally challenge the Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation to a moderated debate on Bucha.”
While most of the responses were supportive, one linked to a news story about an investigation conducted by journalists from the Associated Press and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) “Frontline” on allegations of Russian war crimes carried out in Bucha and other Ukrainian villages and towns north of Kiev during the period of Russian occupation.
“Hi Scott,” the response began. “Have you seen this article? What do you think about the claims made in it? It’s a bit different from originally made claims about pre-planned ‘genocide,’ but still not looking good for Russians if true.”
I take comments made by people responding to things I say and write seriously, so I read the article in question, and then dug deeper, watching the PBS Frontline show referenced in the article (the show aired on October 25, 2022, and was entitled “Putin’s attack on Ukraine: Documenting War Crimes.”)
The reporting is sloppy, conflating incidents without any effort to separate causal factors—the tragic death of five civilians in Chernigov from a missile strike is reported in the same breath as the deaths of civilians discovered along Yablunska Street in Bucha and more bodies discovered in the vicinity of Zdvyzhivka.
All are presented by the reporters as de facto war crimes.
The Chernigov incident, while heart-wrenching, is the most easily dismissed of the three. An apartment was struck during a time of war. Five innocent civilians died.
Who is to blame? Russia? Or Ukraine?
The Washington Post—an unlikely source, given its track record of Russophobic reporting, provides us with the likely answer. “Increasingly,” the paper reported, “Ukrainians are confronting an uncomfortable truth: The military’s understandable impulse to defend against Russian attacks could be putting civilians in the crosshairs. Virtually every neighborhood in most cities has become militarized, some more than others, making them potential targets for Russian forces trying to take out Ukrainian defenses.”
Moreover, “Ukraine’s strategy of placing heavy military equipment and other fortifications in civilian zones could weaken Western and Ukrainian efforts to hold Russia legally culpable for possible war crimes.”
As for Bucha and Zdvyzhivka, the AP/Frontline reporting underscores another uncomfortable truth—the Ukrainians identified as being killed in both locations were either spies or what is known as francs-tireurs—illegal combatants, and as such subject to summary trial and execution.
Oleksiy Danilov, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, inadvertently provides the most direct evidence that the persons highlighted in the AP/Frontline reporting as having been killed by Russian forces in the vicinity of 144 Yablunska street in Bucha—the presumed headquarters of the Russian forces operating in Bucha—and in the vicinity of Zdvyzhivka, were either unlawful combatants or spies, and as such subject upon capture to summary judgement by a military tribunal.
Danilov discussed the accuracy of Ukrainian artillery in striking Russian troops and material that had been dispersed in the woods surrounding Zdvyzhivka. “Our intelligence is working tirelessly,” Danilov told the PBS reporters. “We received a lot of information from people who were communicating directly with the military. The engagement of the locals was very important. They were feeling involved. If the citizens are taking an active part in this, it’s a very important force. They risked their lives. They were helping their country.”
They were spies, who used a Telegram app to photograph Russian troop locations before sending the images to the Ukrainian military intelligence, which forwarded the data to Ukrainian artillery.
“The app’s geolocation feature immediately identifies troop locations,” Danilov acknowledged. “It’s very simple, actually.”
According to the AP/Frontline reporting, the persons that were detained and subsequently executed by Russian troops were either fighting as unlawful combatants (so-called civilian “volunteers”, or francs-tireurs), or serving in the role of “spotter,” using their cell phones to collect intelligence before transmitting that data to the Ukrainian military.
Of the two, the issue of francs-tireurs is perhaps the most sensitive. As recently as the Second World War, the status of partisans was such that the Nuremberg trials, when trying Germans for the crime of taking and executing hostages, proved unable to convict Germans accused of killing partisans. “We are obliged,” the tribunal decided, “to hold that such guerrillas were francs tireurs who, upon capture, could be subjected to the death penalty. Consequently, no criminal responsibility attaches to the defendant…because of the execution of captured partisans.”
After the war, the Geneva Conventions established new protocols, under Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, which declared that francs-tireurs are entitled to prisoner of war status under the following conditions: they are commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates, they have a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance, they carry arms openly, and they conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
All the listed conditions must be met for Ukrainian civilian “volunteers” to be entitled to protected status.
According to the AP/Frontline reporting, the captured Ukrainian “volunteers” fail on at least two of these conditions—they were not commanded by a responsible authority, and they were not wearing a fixed distinctive sign recognized at a distance.
As such, they were not subjected to be treated as protected persons under the law of war. They were, however, subjected to being executed by Russian troops once a hearing conducted by a responsible authority found them guilty.
As for Danilov’s “spies,” the case is much clearer. By way of example, one need only turn to the US Manual for Military Commissions (2007), Part IV, Crimes and Elements, for guidance (for illustrative purposes, the term “United States” is replaced with “Russia”):
“Any person subject to this chapter who with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of [Russia] or to the advantage of a foreign power, collects or attempts to collect information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of [Russia], or one of the co-belligerents of the enemy, shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a military commission under this chapter may direct.”
The elements associated with the crime of “spying” are as follows:
(1) The accused collected or attempted to collect certain information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses;
(2) The accused intended or had reason to believe the information collected would be used to injure [Russia] or to provide an advantage to a foreign power;
(3) The accused intended to convey such information to an enemy of [Russia] or one of the co-belligerents of the enemy; and
(4) The conduct took place in the context of and was associated with armed conflict.
The manual notes that the maximum punishment for the crime of spying is death.
One cannot minimize the human tragedy that attaches to the deaths of everyone named or referenced in the AP/Frontline story. The circumstances described are harrowing—bound, blindfolded, cold, and scared, their final moments spent standing alone in a courtyard or garden, waiting for the sound of the gunshot that would end their lives.
Nor should one seek to minimize the impact on those called upon to carry out these sentences. The taking of a human life is life-altering, and the psychological wounds inflicted on the involved Russian soldiers will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
But as horrible as the act of killing under these circumstances is, it is not a war crime.
One cannot say the same about the events of April 1-2, when Ukrainian security forces swept into Bucha and conducted their own systemic “cleansing” operation. The deliberate murder of civilians, without benefit of anything remotely resembling a tribunal, is a war crime.
This is the case I have made from the very beginning.
This is the case that got me banned from Twitter.
This is the case that got me included on the so-called blacklist published by the Center for Countering Disinformation, where I was labelled a Russian propogandist, information terrorist and war criminal.
This is the case that got me listed on the so-called Myrotvorets “hit list,” literally marked for death by the Ukrainian security services because of my views.
“The purpose of the [CCD] is to emphasize the importance of protecting the information sphere for Ukraine’s national security, counteracting propaganda, destructive disinformation and campaigns, as well as preventing manipulation of public opinion,” Polina Lysenko, the initial head of the CCD announced when the center was created.
Mrs. Lysenko has since gone on maternity leave. She has been replaced by Andriy Shapovalov, her deputy, who today serves as the acting director.
On July 14, 2022, Andriy Shapovalov convened an international roundtable on countering disinformation, during which time he released the CCD “blacklist” containing my name.
There, Shapovalov claimed the people on that list—myself included—were guilty of deliberately spreading disinformation, and as such should be labeled as “information terrorists,” subject to be tried as “war criminals.”
“Information terrorists,” Shapovalov declared, “should know that they will have to answer to the law as war criminals.”
Debunking Russian propaganda is Shapovalov’s erstwhile job description. On October 19, the acting director of the CCD appeared as a guest on an online program called “Blitz-Coffee” run by the Twitter channel “@Flash_news_ua,” whose self-proclaimed purpose is to provide “[p]rompt information about #War_in_Ukraine without fake news 24/7.”
The topic of the program: “Debunking Kremlin myths.”
Shortly after Shapovalov did his “Blitz-Coffee” program, on November 4, the Associated Press tweeted out a link to its most recent reporting on Bucha with the following commentary: “The Russians ‘shoot everyone,’ a Russian soldier in Bucha told his mother in an intercepted phone call. The @AP obtained CCTV footage showing for the first time what a ‘cleansing’ operation looked like.”
Twitter has not suspended the @AP account.
I’m throwing down the gauntlet to both Elon Musk and Andriy Shapovalov: Let’s debate.
Elon, your platform has provided a safe haven for pro-Ukrainian propaganda, and is actively supporting an institution, the Center for Countering Disinformation, which has targeted US citizens—myself included—for arrest, imprisonment, and assassination for the “crime” of exercising their constitutionally-protected right of free speech.
Your content moderators have no problem promulgating the pro-Ukrainian narrative about war crime allegations against Russia, but are quick on the draw to ban me for daring to challenge that narrative in a fact-based manner.
Absolute free speech requires that all sides of a narrative be heard.
I challenge Andriy Shapovalov to a debate about Bucha and the underlying allegations of war crimes.
The proposed issue to be debated: “Bucha and the issue of war crimes: Who is to blame?”
I challenge the man whose self-proclaimed mission is to debunk “Kremlin myths” to debate me, whom he calls an “information terrorist,” in a public forum.
What better way to defeat an “information terrorist” than to debunk the very information he is accused of terrorizing Ukraine with?
This is Shapovalov’s patriotic duty. Don’t shirk from your calling, Andriy; be a man.
I also challenge Elon Musk and Twitter to put their money where their mouths are and sponsor this debate.
I welcome the Twitter content moderation team to moderate this debate.
It’s time to bring this issue to a head.
If Twitter is going to live up to its claim of being one of the foremost public platforms for free speech, why not host a debate that will tackle this issue directly?
Let the public bear witness to a debate, dialogue, and discussion about one of the most controversial topics of the day—war crimes committed in Ukraine.
Knowledge is power.
I challenge Twitter to empower its membership, the American people, and the world at large, with the kind of insights such a debate would produce, to discern what is fact-based information, and what is state-sponsored propaganda.
If Andriy Shapovalov is unable to attend such a debate, for whatever reason, then I throw the gauntlet down to the @AP reporters who authored the article on Bucha. Let them defend their reporting, while holding me accountable for my own.
While Twitter has already weighed in on this issue (banning me, while publishing the @AP article without question), I would view such a debate as the perfect training opportunity for Twitter’s new content moderators. What better way to learn about content moderation than to moderate a debate between two competing sources of content?
And if Shapovalov is nervous about debating a notorious “information terrorist” by himself, I invite him to team up with the @AP reporters. After all, they are already a team of sorts—Shapovalov works for Oleksiy Danilov, the Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council who served as one of the major sources of the @AP/Frontline reporting, and without whose assistance the reporting on Bucha could not have taken shape in its current form.
Let’s breathe life into the words of John 8:32, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Let’s find the truth about Bucha.
Let’s free the world from propaganda.
Feel free to tweet this article to @CforCD, @elonmusk, @AP, and @frontlinepbs.
If you are on Telegram, feel free to send this article to t.me/CenterCounteringDisinformation.
Let’s get this done.
Let free speech be free.