The Merchant of Death Sentenced to 25 Years

Viktor Bout sentenced to 25 years in prison. Photo: AP, The Guardian

Major news in arms trafficking came the first week in April when Viktor Bout, the nicknamed Merchant of Death, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conviction of conspiring to sell anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons to men he believed were members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). The four year legal case which began in March 2008 leading to conviction in November 2011 finally came to a close on April 5, 2012. He was first arrested in March 2008 in a sting operation where US officials posed as members of FARC looking to buy arms. During this operation Bout agreed to sell them 100 advanced portable surface-to-air missiles and approximately 5,000 AK-47 assault rifles in Bangkok, Thailand (New York Times, 2008).

Bout has been on the United States’ radar for arms trafficking for years. Bout is known as an equal opportunity seller when it comes to the illegal arms trade. He has been known to sell weapons to both sides in the same conflict. He considers himself a businessman, therefore not taking stock in where the weapons are being distributed.

Bout’s set up was so large he became the inspiration for the movie “Lord of War” starring Nicholas Cage (New York Times, 2008).

Photo: IMDB

Though Bout stated he “never intended to kill anyone [and he] never intended to sell any arms to anyone,” few are ready to believe this claim (Guardian, 2012). His accusers claim that his weapons trafficking fueled conflicts around the world. Prosecutors stated that Bout helped arm some of the most violent regimes including those in Rwanda, Angola, Congo, Liberia, Sudan, and Sierra Leone. Bout has also been accused of furnishing Al Qaeda and the Taliban with weapons.

The fact that he has the audacity to claim that he never intended to sell arms or kill anyone with the business he did truly shocks me. If you are selling arms to a regime in a conflict area, how can you claim to have no idea where those weapons are going? This is simple common sense. Arming known violent regimes is what leads to the human rights abuses and deaths we see in the news every day. Assuming he sold weapons to these regimes, could he really be so blind? Did he think they were going to use those AK-47s in friendly target shooting or for hunting some deer? Sounds like a good ol’ lawyer’s trick to me… Playing dumb is the best way to get out of taking responsibility for your actions, isn’t it?

Every year, anywhere from $40 to $60 billion worth of arms sales occur.

Unfortunately without a worldwide arms treaty and rules governing the distribution and sale of weapons, other kingpins like Bout will continue to illegally trade arms to conflict zones subsequently causing human rights violations and death. It is the ready availability of weapons and ammunition which needs to be regulated to prevent irresponsible transfers of weapons which can destabilize security and disrupt development in countries experiencing conflict. Currently there are negotiations for a global arms trade treaty as requested by the UN General Assembly. I am sincerely hoping the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty this summer will end in a finalized treaty.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists,, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” –Former US President, Dwight D Eisenhower, in a speech on 4/16/1953

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