Rickert told the DOJ he also had a video of Lang beating and drowning a woman who Fischer injected with adrenaline to keep her from losing consciousness. According to Rickert, another foreign fighter filmed the incident on video. Fischer’s whereabouts are unknown and he could not be reached for comment.
Pirtle told investigators, according to the DOJ document, that Rickert filmed several of the interrogations and uploaded the videos to his Google accounts, including one in which a man was detained, thrown into a shower stall, and beaten with a sock filled with stones. According to Pirtle, the man was thought to have fought with Russia-backed forces. Pirtle told investigators he saw Lang punch and push the man, demanding his password to a Facebook account because Lang thought that it was holding information on pro-Russian fighters.
Pirtle’s family member said he returned to the US in spring 2016 because he had grown tired of the poor living conditions in eastern Ukraine and was worried about “somebody who did terrible things.” That person, the family member said, was Lang. Pirtle, according to the family member, emailed them explaining that “things are going downhill and he didn’t want any part in it.”
Morhun, Lang’s lawyer, did not directly respond to these or any specific allegations, saying “in order to deny or confirm any accusations, they must be brought,” and since the DOJ has not presented he or Lang with evidence, “we are talking about assumptions, and that makes no sense to comment on.”
The DOJ appears to have obtained and viewed that video and others, writing in the appeal that investigators got a warrant authorizing them to search the Google account and emails apparently belonging to Rickert.
“In the first video, LANG’s voice is heard demanding that the man give his password from a social network account,” the DOJ writes. “After the man refuses to give LANG his password, behind the scenes someone says, ‘You need to beat him.’ LANG hits the man several times with his knee in the abdomen and head, throwing him on the floor, where he writhes in pain.”
A second video, according to the DOJ, “shows a Ukrainian man repeatedly hitting a man with something hard in a sock in his cell. After this beating, a person similar to RICKERT enters the shower and demands the man’s password. After that, you can see how RICKERT punches the man in the back of the head.”
Rickert’s and Pirtle’s accounts to the DOJ, and the agency’s descriptions of the videos, closely align with what BuzzFeed News was told by an American fighter in Ukraine who knew the Task Force Pluto members and described them as having a “fetish for death and torture.” It also aligns with a screenshot of a video viewed by this reporter that shows a man who appeared to be Lang standing over a man seated and bound in a small room. That scene also closely resembles one described by a Vice News journalist who interviewed Lang, Rickert, and Pirtle at the Novohrodivka base in 2016. In that story, a man was detained by Right Sector fighters, held in “a standing-room-only shower stall” with the lights on for a week, and beaten with a sock “stuffed with sharpened rocks.”
The Google account data, the DOJ writes, also uncovered numerous images of Rickert, Lang, Pirtle, and other people handling weapons and explosives in eastern Ukraine, including in “a trench dug for combat.”
The DOJ document doesn’t describe any instances in which Kennedy, Kleman, Boyenger, and Plaster took an active part in the abuse of civilians. Plaster, who now runs an NGO in Kyiv that helps Ukrainian veterans, said he “kept a distance from anyone with radical ideologies” and provided “medical aid and training” to the country’s soldiers during his time on the front line. Boyenger said, “I have always conducted myself with honor and fidelity, as a taxpayer I do expect the government to investigate to the fullest extent any and all allegations of wrongdoing and I look forward to seeing the results of their investigation as much as anyone.”
The DOJ document also says that US authorities believe that Lang and Kennedy, after spending time back in the US, “returned to Ukraine with the intention of planning and participating in an armed attack on the Ukrainian [parliament]” in 2017.
The DOJ says in the document that US authorities in Kyiv received reports around March 14, 2017, that Lang was detained upon his arrival at a Ukrainian airport because authorities “found something similar to a rifle with a silencer and a full box of ammunition” on him.
Kennedy told BuzzFeed News that he never planned any such attack on Ukraine’s parliament building, calling the accusation “bullshit.” He showed BuzzFeed News his passport, which indicated that he wasn’t in Ukraine at the time the DOJ claimed he was there. But Kennedy did say that Lang had told him about being detained at a Ukrainian airport and found to have gun parts in his luggage. Lang didn’t respond to questions about the alleged incident.
“I do believe the FBI is unfairly demonizing and trying to prosecute us for no real reason other than our involvement in Ukraine,” Kennedy told BuzzFeed News.
Kennedy — who also served for a time as a soldier in the Ukrainian armed forces — said Lang convinced him to join Right Sector in April 2016, and that he stayed only for a couple of months. “When I was there nothing like that happened,” Kennedy said of the alleged war crimes. “We didn’t even take any prisoners the whole time I was there.”
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