Guest View: Don't punish Russian orphans
Remember the old National Lampoon cover that had a picture of a nervous-looking dog with a gun pointed at his head? "If you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog," was the caption. That was meant as satire.
But the Russian parliament has done its own version of the joke, which it is not playing for laughs.
Last week, the Duma overwhelmingly approved a bill banning adoption of Russian children by American citizens. The measure would be retaliation for a new US law called the Magnitsky Act.
Named for a Russian attorney who died in prison after being tortured and deprived of medical treatment, the new statute allows Washington to refuse visas to Russian officials who commit human rights abuses, while freezing their financial assets.
There is not much doubt that the lawyer in question had his rights violated, possibly for airing claims of official corruption.
A Russian government investigation blamed his death on "shortcomings in the provision of medical assistance" while he was behind bars. Two doctors were charged, though one prosecution was later dropped.
The Russians, it turns out, have their own complaints with our system of justice.
They accuse it of unconscionable leniency in dealing with cases of Russian children who have died due to abuse or neglect by their adoptive American parents.
One case well-known to Russians, though not Americans, involved a 21-month-old boy who died of heatstroke after being left in a parked car for nine hours.
The father was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
You can understand that Russian lawmakers could erroneously blame the US government for that.
You can even understand why Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to respond to the Magnitsky Act by imposing similar sanctions against US judges involved in such alleged miscarriages of justice. However mistaken, reactions like these are not obviously irrational.
The same can't be said for the measure barring US adoptions.
Russia has 100,000 children in orphanages and other facilities awaiting adoption. The US has been by far the biggest source of adoptive parents, taking more than 11,000 kids in the last six years.
Who will pay the price if the bill becomes law?
Would-be parents in America would certainly suffer under the bill, but the greater injury would be to thousands of blameless children deprived of permanent, loving families.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov understands as much, calling the idea "wrong."
A Russian newspaper got 86,000 signatures on a letter urging the government "to protect Russian children from the meanness of Russian lawmakers." Putin, however, has declined to take a position on a bill so popular among members of his party, while insisting that Russia must retaliate for the US law.
If Putin wants to take action to register his disagreement with the US government, he's entitled to do that. But it's no reason to injure innocent Russian orphans.