In an historic move, the Justice Department on Wednesday announced it is unsealing war crimes charges against four Russia-affiliated military personnel with disturbing details of their alleged torture and inhumane treatment of a U.S. national in Ukraine following Russia's invasion of the country last year.
This is the first time ever that the department has filed charges under the U.S. war crimes statute.
The charges allege that Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii (last name unknown) and Nazar (last name unknown) detained, severely beat and tortured an American citizen they had allegedly abducted from his home in the village of Mylove after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.
"As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice," Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a news conference announcing the charges Wednesday. "That is why the Justice Department has filed the first ever charges under the U.S. war crimes statute against four Russia-affiliated military personnel for heinous crimes against an American citizen."
In an interview with U.S. officials last year, the U.S. national detailed how the Russian soldiers stripped him naked, threw him on the ground and tied his hands behind his back before they severely beat him -- including with the stocks of their guns. The soldiers then allegedly took the man to a Russian military compound and held him for 10 days.
While in captivity, the U.S. national said he was subjected to two brutal interrogation sessions in which he was tortured by the four defendants named in the charges. He said he was stripped naked, photographed and one of the defendants even staged a mock execution. One of the soldiers reportedly asked the U.S. national for his last words, after which he put a gun near the back of his head before pulling the trigger and shooting a bullet that missed him by inches.
"Again and again, he believed he was about to die," Garland said.
The defendants are charged with three war crimes including unlawful confinement, torture and inhumane treatment, as well as one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes. The charges have a max sentences of life in prison, but it's unclear whether any of the defendants will ultimately see the inside of a U.S. courtroom.
"The Justice Department will work for as long as it takes to pursue 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 the war crimes statute, he said he expects more to come.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI will continue to work with international law enforcement to hold criminals accountable for their actions.
"We will work relentlessly to bring criminals to justice," Wray said.