10-14-2011By Crimes Against Humanity Program
Human Rights First
On Wednesday, with Human Rights First observing from the courtroom, parties made opening statements in the Viktor Bout trial in Manhattan. While the trial has received much media attention, it sheds light on only a sliver of the larger global networks in which third-party enablers such as Bout operate.
Viktor Bout faces four charges: conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill officers and employees of the United States, conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization. He has been in custody since his arrest in Thailand in March 2008, and after a lengthy court battle was extradited to the United States in 2010. The 44-year-old Russian national faces possible life in U.S. prison.
Prosecutors say Drug Enforcement Administration agents posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, met with Bout and his associate Andrew Smulian in Bangkok in 2008 to negotiate arms purchases, including the purchase of anti-aircraft missiles to use against U.S. pilots. Bout allegedly agreed to provide 100 missiles, 20,000 AK-47s, and millions of dollars more worth of arms to the FARC. Defense attorney Albert Dayan argued that his client did not believe the agents were FARC members and that he only wished to sell two cargo planes.
The trial is limited in scope to Bout’s alleged dealings in 2008. However, Bout has been a person of interest for nearly two decades for a list of activities that have concerned the United States, including violating U.N. sanctions, trafficking arms, and enabling atrocities across Africa. In 2004, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Bout for his association with former Liberian President Charles Taylor, currently facing charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The following year, Treasury designated a number of associates and companies in Bout’s illicit network, citing his connections to arms trafficking and assisting U.N.-sanctioned regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the DRC, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. The U.N. also has sanctioned Bout for dealing and transporting arms.
But it should be noted that Bout also assisted the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. He often supplied multiple sides of a conflict, and because of the critical airlift capacity he was able to offer, countries were all too happy to enlist his services. In the case of the United States, this led to a divided position, with Treasury, some parts of State, and a part of the Defense Department willing to go after the arms trafficker; while other parts of the U.S. government opposed such action. Ultimately, those seeking to end Bout’s activities won, and he was designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control at Treasury, making his activities illegal.
Extensive activities and supply chains can be traced back to Bout, and making the connections between his activities in different regions throughout the world took substantial time and concerted efforts by the intelligence community and relevant U.S. government agencies. The same level of effort is needed to identify and disrupt other enablers of atrocities. To disrupt supply chains and enablers of atrocities, who often interest the United States for their participation in other transnational networks, such as terrorism, the U.S. government must employ and harmonize a broad range of tools, ranging from financial sanctions to political pressure. Most importantly, the intelligence community must be directed and empowered to systematically collect and analyze information on enablers, making the important connections between enablers and the violence they fuel.
For a full list of policy recommendations, see our briefing paper: Disrupting the Supply Chain for Mass Atrocities. For more background on the Viktor Bout trial, see our post: Viktor Bout: Enabler of Mass Atrocities on Trial.
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