Last November a federal jury in New York convicted Russian citizen Viktor Bout of conspiring to kill Americans, attempting to buy and sell missiles, and supporting terrorism through cooperation with a terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The judge has sentenced Bout to 25 years, although prosecutors had requested life in prison.
They find it normal
Let’s recall how Bout was arrested. In the United States he is a kind of a national anti-hero dubbed the Merchant of Death. Sometimes, he is described as second only to bin Laden, even though he is an arms merchant rather than a terrorist.
Bout was not accused of arms trafficking. There are only assumptions about his intentions when he was entrapped by U.S. agents. And this is an interesting point. Maybe they could not collect any facts because Bout shut his air freight company in 2001 or because there were no facts.
Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison for callous talk. He was arrested in a police sting – disguised U.S. agents asked him in Bangkok to sell them 800 anti-aircraft missiles for FARC with a view to killing Americans.
Bout should have stood up and left but he did not. Instead he nodded sympathetically and said that Americans were his enemies as well (his words were taped). He claims that he simply wanted to sell these people what remained of his air freight fleet. Anyway, he did not sell or buy anything but simply talked.
Americans rushed in, handed him over to the Thai authorities and gave them a record of his conversation with agents. This was followed by his long and disgraceful extradition saga to the United States. His extradition probably violated Thai law.
The majority of people in Russia will never believe that a person can be sentenced to 25 years in prison just for a conversation. This is too reminiscent of Stalinist terror – 10 years without the right to correspond (a euphemism for shooting) for a joke about the leader. This is why this case will always look repulsive to our people and no Russian government can afford to ignore it.
But in America tough prison terms are routinely given for what we consider petty offenses. In July 2007, Natalia Narochnitskaya’s Historical Perspective Foundation in Moscow prepared a report on human rights in the United States and the European Union. It was compiled in the same way as similar reports of the U.S. State Department. In other words it was based on facts from open sources, that is, reports of the media and human rights organizations.
This report mentions, among other things, life sentences for minors and legal mistakes (it was the Americans who concluded that there are hundreds of thousands of innocent people in U.S. prisons). The report mentions how death sentences are carried out in the United States – on January 17, 2006 Clarence Ray Allen was executed at age 76 in California. He spent 23 years in prison, was almost blind and was confined to a wheel chair.
Few people in Russia know that after his election in January 2009 President Barack Obama undertook to “relieve prisons” because by that time the United States had a record number of inmates – 2.2 million. There was a plan to help former inmates start a new life and other programs but the main problem was that prisons were overcrowded.
What has he done?
There are many people in Russia who still believe that democracies do not allow arbitrary rule in justice and prisons. For this reason they have their own, specific view of the Bout case. There are plenty of people who are eager to learn what Bout has done after all.
The most extreme and exotic version is that Bout was involved in stealing a nuclear-tipped Granite missile from the sunken submarine Kursk that crashed into the Pentagon building on 9/11 but did not explode. The Internet has plenty of photos depicting the ruins of the pentagonal building.
Well, in this case, everything is clear – he must be the second bin Laden. Other versions are milder – Bout is said to have access to the information of Russian secret services, or, the other way round, that he did something against their wishes and so they turned on him.
Conspiracy theories are a bit obsolete. But the current age is much more horrifying – this is the age of Internet-phantoms, when there is a real person and a media myth but it is the real person who is thrown behind bars.
Not so long ago I wrote about a similar myth around former IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Who will prove now that this talented politician and financier (who was admittedly crazy about women) is not this sexually obsessed gorilla that the fighters for female dignity are battering in the media?
Likewise, a media myth has been created around Bout. It is now difficult to believe that he did not trade in arms and that there is no incriminating evidence against him. How can he be allowed to stay out of prison when the myth about this Merchant of Death already exists and “all of America” knows it by heart?
Yet, Bout is not a myth but a real person with a mailing address: Viktor Bout R/N 91641-054.
It is clear that his case will not end with the recent verdict. It will now divide not just two countries but also two societies, which is even worse, in much the same manner as the deaths of adopted Russian children in American families.
This is why our two governments should find a way out of this predicament, even if they have to create another myth for this purpose, say, declare Bout a superspy and swap him for an American counterpart. One more myth won’t hurt.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.