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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Convictions, But Few Conclusions

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Convicting a criminal in a court of law doesn't make the crime go away or erase the victims' suffering. But it should bring some sense of satisfaction and closure to a painful episode, all the more so when the crime is a case of wanton terrorism against innocent civilians. Indeed, closure is one of the essential purposes of holding public trials at all. Measured by this standard, the trial of the six Buinaksk apartment bombers, who were convicted and sentenced Monday, was an abject failure.

The convictions capped an investigation and trial that raised more questions than they answered, compounding the horror of the original crime — in which 58 people were killed — with a sense that the whole truth will never be known and at least some of those responsible will never be brought to justice.

All six of the defendants withdrew confessions they said had been extracted under pain of torture and threats. Zainutdin Zainutdinov claimed he had been held illegally and tortured "to get at my father." His father, Isa Zainutdinov, was one of two defendants sentenced to life terms.

During the trial, numerous lapses in the prosecution's case emerged and nearly half of the original charges were dismissed. The judge even remonstrated prosecutors from the bench.

And then there are the unanswered questions. Where did the explosives come from? How was a truck loaded with 5 tons of explosives able to pass from Chechnya into Dagestan when security had been tightened after the outbreak of fighting in the region?

"I believe," stated one defendant, "that the Russian secret services were fully informed about the transport of explosives from Chechnya to Dagestan." He claimed that a mysterious man named Zagid accompanied the truck and negotiated its passage through several checkpoints.

Investigators, however, did not follow up on these charges, which could possibly shed considerable light on many anomalous aspects of the whole Chechen campaign. As a result, the trial has left the impression more of coverup than of justice.

Ironically, the fact that two of the convicted were immediately released under the terms of last year's blanket amnesty only added to the sense that the whole system — from arrest to investigation to trial to sentencing to imprisonment to release — is dangerously, even disastrously, broken down.

The Kremlin-connected web site reported Tuesday that legal reform will be one of the priorities discussed in President Vladimir Putin's upcoming state-of-the-nation address. After the Buinaksk trial, the entire nation is waiting to hear what he'll say.