The Ghosts of Putin’s Bloody Past Are Back With a Vengeance


Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The video shows Russian mercenaries laughing and shouting as they pound a sledgehammer into the bloody hands and feet of a Syrian man, kicking him as he writhes on the ground, screaming in pain. In another clip, the commandos take the torture of their prey to its grisly conclusion: They cut off his head with knives and a trowel and set his body on fire.

The mercenaries from Wagner, a Russian private military contractor linked to the Russian Defense Ministry and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), are accused of murdering Muhammad Taha Ismail Al-Abdullah, also known as “Hamdi Bouta,” in 2017, leaving his family to tread a long and difficult legal path in hopes that someday, someone would be held responsible for the unspeakable violence inflicted on the man they loved.

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) announcement last week that it would open an investigation into possible war crimes during Moscow’s most recent invasion of Ukraine has many hoping that Russian military, government officials, and Vladimir Putin himself will be held accountable for the death and destruction now raining down from Russian planes and artillery pieces on Ukrainian cities.

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