U.S. Finally Swaps Viktor Bout for Brittany Griner

Brittany Griner is back in the U.S. and Viktor Bout is back home in Russia, 14 years after the U.S. engineered his arrest in Thailand and extradition to the U.S. as part of a sting operation in which DEA informants posed as FARC rebels.

Mr. Bout was sentenced to 25 years in jail in a federal court in Manhattan in 2012, protesting his innocence to the end. Prior to that he spent around two years in detention in Bangkok pending extradition to the U.S., and then a further two years in detention in America before he was convicted.

Even former Judge Shira Scheindlin, who sentenced
Bout, said last year Bout's sentence was excessive:

Ms. Scheindlin, who is now retired and works as a mediator and arbitrator, said in an interview earlier this year that she had long considered 25 years imprisonment to be excessive for a sting operation, and had regretted that it was the mandatory minimum she had to impose.

He was convicted of: Conspiracy to kill United States nationals, Conspiracy to kill officers and employees of the United States, conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, and harboring/concealing terrorists. The charges carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years. The government had asked for life.

I covered Viktor Bout's criminal case, the sting and the backstory pretty aggressively back in 2011 and 2012, relying on the documents filed in the court cases, here and in Thailand. Some of the posts are extremely detailed. Like this one I wrote on the day of sentencing, and this one on the day the jury began deliberations.

As to reporting on the swap from Russia, here is an interview with Viktor's wife Alla on Viktor's condition and his appreciation for the way he was treated on the trip from the U.S. to Abu Dhabi.

The swap saved Viktor less than 5 years, as that's all he had left to do on his sentence. I don't know how much time it saved Brittany. Bout spent all of his U.S. sentence as USP Marion in Illinois, the closest thing to a Supermax outside of Florence. I suspect the conditions weren't any better at the penal colony Brittany was sent to.

The USP in Marion, Ill, was for decades the country's first Supermax Prison housing "the worst of the worst". In 2006, it was re-designated medium security after its most violent offenders were sent to Admax at Florence, CO, but it still has one of the country's two Communications Management Units, and that's of course where Bout was placed.

Guards and cameras watch the CMU inmates' every move. Every word they speak is picked up by a counterterrorism team that eavesdrops from West Virginia. Prison officials budgeted more than $14 million for the snooping operation last year, according to appropriations documents and congressional testimony.

Here is a post with an interview of him talking about conditions at Marion. And another from 2015 when he lost 90 days of good time for making Kombucha in his cell.

I'm of course glad for Griner that she is coming home. Both were political pawns whose convictions and sentences were a travesty. Kudos to attorney Steve Zissou who represents Viktor Bout and worked for his release. He says:

“No money was ever exchanged. No weapons were ever exchanged. He was retired, living in Moscow, and targeted specifically with a made-up crime simply so that he could be charged in the U.S. The U.S. is the only country that prosecutes cases like that. And they asked that Viktor be sentenced to life without parole. Life without parole! For a talk crime!”
Viktor Bout was another case of manufactured jurisdiction and a sting operation on foreign soil orchestrated by the global holy warriors known as the DEA.
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    I've been using my renewed FB presence (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by CaptHowdy on Fri Dec 09, 2022 at 09:35:55 AM EST
    to watch the haters from a safe distance

    The chatter about this is so sad and ugly.  I think only a few years ago any right wing complaints would have mostly been about not getting Weyland or giving up the "terrorist".

    Those were the good ole days.

    I don't think I've ever seen more gleefully open racism and misogyny and homophobia in one place.

    A black lesbian who won't even stand for the national anthem.  Russian prison was the best place for her.

    The right does seem like some weird reduction sauce.  The fewer of them there are the crazier they get.

    Hatred (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by FlJoe on Fri Dec 09, 2022 at 01:11:05 PM EST
    is all they have left as an animating force, and they need it in higher and higher doses.

    Some have suggested (none / 0) (#4)
    by CaptHowdy on Fri Dec 09, 2022 at 03:39:15 PM EST
    that Musk should just kick out the jams at Twitter.

    No rules

    Maybe that would be informative.  If nothing else.
    It could hardly make it worse.  


    please stay on topic (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Dec 09, 2022 at 08:53:22 PM EST

    Oops (none / 0) (#7)
    by CaptHowdy on Sat Dec 10, 2022 at 11:53:24 AM EST

    PWire (none / 0) (#8)
    by CaptHowdy on Sat Dec 10, 2022 at 06:38:15 PM EST

    Blowback Over Griner's Release Shows America's Divisions
    December 10, 2022 at 5:58 pm EST By Taegan Goddard 139 Comments

    New York Times: "Within hours of Ms. Griner's release, much of the right wing was in full outrage mode, seizing upon both the man Ms. Griner had been exchanged for -- Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms merchant serving time, in part, for endangering American lives -- and the Biden administration's failure to secure the release as well, or instead, of a former Marine, Paul Whelan, who has languished in a Russian prison since his 2018 arrest on espionage charges."

    "A considerable amount of attention was also paid to who Ms. Griner is: a Black woman, a celebrity, a married lesbian and, though it had gone largely unnoticed until now, an assertive liberal -- one who, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, called to stop playing the national anthem at her team's basketball games."

    Meanwhile, Axios reports David Whelan, brother of detained American Paul Whelan, said that President Biden "made the right choice" in choosing to bring Griner home from Russia.

    Does the (none / 0) (#9)
    by Zorba on Sun Dec 11, 2022 at 01:02:08 PM EST
    Right wing realize that Whelan received a Bad-Conduct discharge from the Marines, after a court martial?

    He was convicted of attempted larceny, three specifications of dereliction of duty, making a false official statement, wrongfully using another's social security number, and ten specifications of making and uttering checks without having sufficient funds in his account for payment.

    (From Snopes)


    No (none / 0) (#10)
    by Ga6thDem on Sun Dec 11, 2022 at 01:08:38 PM EST
    they don't know that because the conservative Politburo sure isn't gonna tell them. They only know Whelan was a Marine.

    he sounds like (none / 0) (#11)
    by leap2 on Sun Dec 11, 2022 at 01:12:18 PM EST
    a good Republican.

    The Biden Administration (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by KeysDan on Fri Dec 09, 2022 at 03:06:00 PM EST
    succeeded in getting an American citizen released from horrible conditions in a Russian prison and returned home safely.  A happy story and one to celebrate.

    Of course, this American citizen is a woman of color and gay so the fascists (aka Republican Party) find fault.  That should be heard for what it is and ignored.

    It's all they have (5.00 / 8) (#5)
    by Repack Rider on Fri Dec 09, 2022 at 06:40:31 PM EST
    From the conservative response to her release, you would think that Ms. Griner attacked the Capitol, injured 140 police officers, stole government property, did millions of dollars in damage, obstructed Congress, tried to overturn an election and wanted to hang the Vice President.

    No doubt, Viktor Bout was a bad actor. (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Sun Dec 11, 2022 at 02:18:23 PM EST
    He first rose to rather infamous prominence as an arms trafficker in the pre-Putin Russia of President Boris Yeltsin, when the central government in Moscow was weaker and relatively ineffectual in policing its own military inventory. Later on, Bout was less of an independent contractor and likely operated with the apparent blessing of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative who had his own reasons to engage the services of someone with Bout's skills and experience for use as a destabilizing element on the world stage.

    From a civil libertarian standpoint, there was no excuse to conduct the sort of extra-constitutional sting operation which snagged Viktor Bout overseas in Thailand. But from a geopolitical POV, the prevailing security doctrine in a post-9/11 environment has been that the U.S. is no longer going to wait until existential threats from non-state actors overseas materialize on American soil before taking action.

    Not without reason, Bout was deemed an existential threat. For ostensibly similar concerns, our military invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein and our security agencies hunted down Osama bin Laden, eventually cornering and killing him in Pakistan. It's the often-ugly realpolitik of a turbulent world populated with state-sponsored and nonstate actors alike, who don't necessarily respect and abide by our country's stated constitutional principles.

    Now, whether we consistently adhere to those principles ourselves is another discussion for another time. Suffice to stipulate at present that what we've done in the shadows overseas in the name of homeland security - or in an earlier era, Pax Americana - has never been for the ethically faint of heart. It's made for some very uncomfortable and occasionally dubious situational policy calls by government officials, in which advocates have convinced themselves that we're acting for the greater good.

    But with that acknowledgement, any decision to "frame a guilty party" - to use a rhetorical vernacular - and act extra-constitutionally is never going to be a good look from the perspective of ethical principles and civil liberties, and it will always be difficult if not impossible to justify. One doesn't have to romanticize the notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, to still be appalled by their summary execution-by-ambush in May 1934 on a rural Louisiana road at the hands of Frank Hamner and the Texas Rangers.

    If you've ever set aside those principles even once, particularly if you've done so in the name of vengeance, more likely than not you'll then use that precedent to subsequently rationalize any future decision to engage in a similar course of action. That's the slippery slope which civil libertarians have long rightly feared, and the rest of us should take those fears far more seriously than we do.

    Stare decisis may be a legal construct, but establishment of precedent likewise looms large in public policy development. And in that regard, we best always heed the admonition of the late humanitarian and Nobel peace laureate Jane Addams: "The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself."