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Sentencing of Arms Dealer Viktor Bout Avoids His Connections to U.S., Dick Cheney

U.S. had previously seen "the merchant of death" as "very valuable for national security operations."

Common Dreams staff

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was been called "the merchant of death," was sentenced today at a U.S. court in Manhattan to 25 years in prison for conspiracy and terrorism charges. But an arms trafficking expert today states that the way the case has been framed allows American officials, including Dick Cheney, and American private security firms that have used Viktor Bout's services to avoid exposure.

Federal prosecutors stated that Bout "constituted a threat to the United States and to the international community based on his reported history of arming some of the world's most violent and destabilizing dictators and regimes".  And "transnational criminals like Bout who are ready, willing and able to arm terrorists transform their customers from intolerant ideologues into lethal criminals who pose the gravest risk to civilized societies."

This morning on Democracy Now!, United Nations arms trafficking investigator Kathi Lynn Austin stated that the U.S. government had previously ignored evidence against Viktor Bout "because the U.S. government saw that his services were very valuable for national security operations."

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Democracy Now!: "Merchant of Death" Viktor Bout Sentenced to 25 Years; Trial Ignored His Ties to U.S., Dick Cheney

AMY GOODMAN: What was Viktor Bout’s relationship with the U.S. government and with U.S. companies?

KATHI LYNN AUSTIN: Well, Viktor Bout has served many governments in the past in their national security operations. So even when I was bringing forward compelling evidence—I collected forensic evidence, I collected documentary evidence in the field. And even as I was bringing forward that information, I was testifying before the U.S. Congress, I was talking to U.S. State Department intelligence officials—this is from the mid-1990s—still there was no action taken against Viktor Bout. And that was because the U.S. government saw that his services were very valuable for national security operations.

The most recent case where American officials and American private security firms were colluding with Viktor Bout was during the Iraq war. And that is one of the startling reveals during the trial and the sentencing. Viktor Bout wrote to the judge, basically saying, "Look, I’ve also worked for the U.S. companies. I’ve flown 140 flights. They’ve paid me $6 million." That’s probably, by the way, just the tip of the iceberg. "And so, why would you be convicting me, when, in fact, at the time that I was providing these services for the U.S. government, it was in violation of a U.S. law, an executive order signed by President Bush at the time, and it was in violation of U.N. sanctions?" [...]

AMY GOODMAN: ... You’re talking about calling for an investigation, further investigation, into U.S. relationship with Viktor Bout. Who would you be calling up for this investigation, if it ever took place?

KATHI LYNN AUSTIN: Well, we know President Bush in 2004 signed an executive order making it illegal for any U.S. entity to do business with Viktor Bout. We had a number of private security firms. We had Brown & Root, we had Halliburton, that were linked to former Vice President Cheney, who were involved at the time with Viktor Bout. Even as we investigators confronted the U.S. government about these illicit activities, these private security firms continued to use Viktor Bout in violation of U.S law, in violation of U.N. sanctions, even American agencies. On one hand, you had the Department of Justice issuing a list of all companies and entities that the U.S. government and U.S. private firms were prohibited from doing business with. Viktor Bout’s companies were on that list. So you had the Department of Justice, on one hand, and yet you had the Department of Defense that continued to see—to seek out Viktor Bout’s services. [...]


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JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about Bout’s claim that if you were to use the same standards on him as you would—you’d be arresting most of the—most of the arms merchants here in the United States? Because, obviously, the United States sells half or so of all the weapons in the world.

KATHI LYNN AUSTIN: Well, I think you’ve touched upon the problem. The problem is that there’s two sides of the equation. There is what is the illegal trade, and then there is the illicit black market trade. What is going to happen in July of this year at United Nations headquarters is that, for the first time, there is going to be negotiations for a conventional arms trade treaty. Now that treaty will address the very question of what can be considered legitimate government-to-government arms sales. But what I have been calling for, and a number of other organizations in a broader umbrella campaigning network, is that unless the arms trade treaty includes these types of intermediaries, the arms traffickers, the brokers, the transport agents, the financial agents, then—unless that treaty includes their activities, then we will continue to see the black market thrive.

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The Guardian: Russia condemns US sentence for arms dealer Viktor Bout

Russia has lashed out at a US court decision to sentence arms dealer Viktor Bout to 25 years in prison, calling the move groundless and politically motivated.

Bout, known as the Merchant of Death, was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison on Thursday after his conviction on conspiracy and terrorism charges. Prosecutors had asked for life in prison, arguing that Bout's weapons trafficking had fuelled conflicts around the world. [...]

Federal prosecutors said Bout "constituted a threat to the United States and to the international community based on his reported history of arming some of the world's most violent and destabilising dictators and regimes".

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