Jim McGeraghty points out in NRO that if any human being deserved to rot in prison for the end of his day, it is the just released Viktor Bout. The price of the swap was high: Biden administration secured the release of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner from Russia by a deal to free world’s most notorious arms dealer.
A Personification of Evil
It is hard to overstate the crimes of Viktor Bout.
Longtime State Department official Witney Schneidman, who tracked Bout delivering arms to both sides of the Angola civil war, called Bout “the personification of evil.” From the end of the Cold War until his arrest in 2008, if there was an arms embargo, Bout flouted it — Liberia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Congo, Libya. Whenever there was a dictator or warlord who needed weapons to mow down his enemies or suppress a suffering population, Bout was there to make a profit off of bloodshed. He earned his nickname, “the Merchant of Death.”
In a biography of Bout, Douglas Farah laid out his lifetime of monstrous crimes:
Bout provided tons of guns and ammunition to some of the most vicious warlords in the world and empowered them to carry out unspeakable atrocities. He is responsible for enabling murderous groups to kidnap and train thousands of child soldiers; use rape as a systematic method of terror and control; torture through the mass amputations of arms, legs, ears and lips; slaughter civilians, and help the Taliban take power in Afghanistan. Griner may have been carrying vape cartridges that were banned in Russia but not in much of the world.
Mr. McGeraghty has questions:
If the U.S. government is willing to release Viktor Bout — at one point, the second-most-wanted man after Osama bin Laden! — under enough pressure, then will the U.S. government release anyone under enough pressure: terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, spies like Robert Hanssen?
If by giving Vladimir Putin what he wants will other Americans in Russia more likely be detained and used as bargaining chips?
What matters most, weighs in the WSJ, is that an American passport should mean something.
The world becomes a much more dangerous place for all Americans when bad foreign actors think they can get away with abusing any U.S. citizen.