Compromised Democracy in an Age of Terror

04/26/2013 05:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2013

The deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon underscore that terrorism transcends boundaries. While sovereign countries have the right to employ counterterrorism methods, they must not trample the inherent basic rights of an open and fair press.

The unsolved murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, which tarnished Russia's reputation as an open press society, also exposed President Vladimir Putin's draconian counterterrorism measures as a leader. While Putin put into place various laws to broaden the powers of law enforcement officials to combat terrorism, he simultaneously diminished the rights of the press and Politkovskaya's murder remains a powerful blight on Russia's democracy.

Russian authorities contacted the CIA in the fall of 2011 and raised concerns that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed last week after the bombings, was seen as an increasingly radical Islamist who could be planning to travel overseas. Last year, Tsarnaev reportedly visited Dagestan where his parents and aunt live. Investigators are looking into whether he also received terrorist training there.

The Russian Caucasus has strong links with Al Qaeda: 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui trained in Chechnya. Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri was arrested by the Russians when he was discovered trying to enter Dagestan in 1997. Dagestan is seen as new territory for the FBI as a terrorist haven.

As Ambassador Marc Ginsberg recently wrote, "Terror financing has poured into the Caucasus, as well. The Russian FSB identified several charities, including Al-Haramain (a Saudi-based charity) with a former branch in Ashland, Oregon as having operated for years in Chechnya and Dagestan -- which financed Wahhabi based training for emigrant would be-Jihadists."

On Wednesday, Putin said in a call-in show that he hoped the bombings would enable American and Russian security agencies to work more closely together. He expressed disgust that Americans have oft-times described militants from the Caucasus as "rebels," rather than as "terrorists."

"This is a common threat -- terrorism," Putin argued. "And we need to cooperate more closely with each other. These two criminals - (the Tsarnaevs) - in the clearest way have confirmed the validity of our thesis."

Shortly after assuming power in 2000, Putin set in motion a counterterrorism initiative against Islamists. Once Russia established direct rule of Chechnya in May 2000, Chechen resistance throughout the North Caucasus region continued to inflict heavy Russian casualties.

In A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya highlighted the brutality of the Russian invasion in the Second Chechen War. Politkovskaya, who was on the ground in Grozy, gave voice to the disenfranchised and victims of the war. Politkovskaya blamed Putin for allowing these atrocities to occur:

"Life in Grozny (Chechnya) falls into two categories: 'free and 'blockaded,"' she wrote. "The purges continue, the commerce in living and dead bodies by soldiers as the principal military operation in Chechnya hasn't ended, and thousands of people search for their kidnapped relatives and, in the best case, ransom, their corpses from those who defend the Motherland from terrorism."

Politkovskaya depicted Putin as manipulating his role as leader in his effort to consolidate power since being elected as president in 2000. He previously served as a vital officer in the Committee for State Security or the KGB. He rested his candidacy on security, more specifically to eradicating terrorist attacks by radical Islamists from Chechnya.

Politkovskaya's career as a war correspondent in Chechnya, and her critical coverage of Putin's rule did not win her any government friends. After she was murdered, Putin was quoted as saying she "brought more damage to Russia by her death than by her work," an ambiguous statement that lends the question evermore as to who may have killed her. (Politkovskaya was found shot dead in the elevator of her block of flats in central Moscow on October 7, 2006).

"There is a lot of evidence that Russia has moved toward autocracy and few signs of real democracy survive," Oksana Chelysheva, a journalist and human rights activist said. "Anna Politkovskaya was one of the toughest critics of the current state of things here in Russia and the situation in the North Caucuses. She revealed a lot of crimes, in which both pro-Moscow Chechen armed forces and federal agents were involved."

The case for coordinated efforts to eradicate terrorism is a duty of all sovereign countries under Article 51 of the UN Charter. That line is oft-times blurred when countries -like Russia, the U.S. and Israel- are fighting asymmetrical enemies.

Countries like the U.S. and Russia must work in tandem to combat the scourge of terrorism. As Ambassador Ginsberg rightly points out "whether Tsarnaev was acting as a lone wolf or at the instigation of a Caucasus-based jihadi terror network, Dagestan warrants greater focus by U.S. authorities as another spawning ground for global terror and an Al Qaeda safe haven."

Counterterrorism strategies employed by democratic countries are tantamount, but just as important are the inherent civil tenets of the free press, or else Anna Politkovskaya's shameful murder will remain just a footnote to history.

Jared Feldschreiber is a writer and journalist based in New York.