Reactions mixed to the conviction of notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout

Zach Gorelick Contributor
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The conviction of notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, known in some corners as the “Merchant of Death,” sparked responses from a variety of communities Wednesday morning.

The former Soviet officer was found guilty on the charges of conspiracy to kill American citizens and officials, the delivery of anti-aircraft missiles and providing aid to terrorist organizations.

Bout was extradited from Thailand following a sting operation in which the United States claims he attempted to sell heavy arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), a military faction that the United States recognizes as a terrorist organization.

His attorney, Albert Dayan, was “disappointed” about the legal outcome, though he vowed that “this is definitely not the end of the process for us.” The defense has stated that it will appeal any sentence handed down, which could amount to life in prison. Calls to Dayan for further comment were not immediately returned.

Russian authorities have cast aspersions on the validity of the trial, accusing the U.S. of “purposefully creating a negative environment that prevented the objective consideration of facts.” The Russian foreign ministry has stated that Russia’s goal is to “achieve [Bout’s] return to the motherland.”

While his nation expressed disappointment, the international community displayed appreciation for the efforts to capture a man who is seen by his critics as an arbiter of evil.

“His arrest is a tribute to a small group of men and women who kept the effort to bring Bout to justice alive across three administrations: the second Clinton administration, Bush and Obama,” said Douglas Farah, who co-authored “Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes and the Man Who Makes War Possible.”

Farah last year credited “a bipartisan cast of Congressmen who never relented” with his capture.

Legend surrounds Bout, who many believe eluded international authorities for decades in the black market sale of heavy weapons and small arms. The 2005 major motion picture “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage, was loosely based on Bout’s life story.

Despite the definitive courtroom conclusion, Jeff Abramson, coordinator of the Control Arms Secretariat, said the saga highlights lapses in international law.

“The fact that the United States needed to mount an international sting operation in order to bring one of the world’s most notorious suspected arms brokers to trial,” Abramson said, “vividly demonstrates that the current international system is broken.”

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Zach Gorelick