Douglas Farah: Bout a “spent force,” take the deal

Merchant of Death co-author Douglas Farah urges the Biden administration in an op-ed today to “take the deal,” and send convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia in return for detained WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner. She pleaded guilty earlier in the week in a Moscow court to drug possession.

Farah said he has not softened his view, made plain in “Merchant of Death,” that Bout “provided tons of guns and ammunition to some of the most vicious warlords in the world and empowered them to carry out unspeakable atrocities. He is responsible for enabling murderous groups to kidnap and train thousands of child soldiers; use rape as a systematic method of terror and control; torture through the mass amputations of arms, legs, ears and lips; slaughter civilians, and help the Taliban take power in Afghanistan.”

But Biden, Farah writes in the Politico news site, should free Bout after a decade in an Illinois federal prison and send him back to Moscow because “Bout is a spent force who will be out of jail in a few years anyway.” Bout has been out of the arms business since 2008 and there are “new actors, markets and gatekeepers. Bout has no currency in that world now” and “is burned beyond the ability to be useful in any significant capacity” in the global weapons trade, Farah writes.

Many of Griner’s supporters have openly urged the US to consider freeing Bout to bring her home, as have those close to Paul Whelan, an American businessman who has been imprisoned in Russia. Biden administration diplomats say they are working to bring home both Americans but have not publicly discussed the details of any negotiations.

Bout was arrested by US and Thai authorities in Bangkok in 2008 as part of a sting operation. Extradited to New York, he was convicted by a federal jury in 2011 of conspiracy to harm Americans and several other counts. He was sentenced to a 25-year prison term in 2012 and has been held since then in a medium-security prison in Marion, Ill.

Farah concludes: “It may not be perfect justice, but it’s a closer version of it than having an innocent person wrongfully imprisoned simply to confine a guilty person who can no longer inflict much more damage.”