Tracking Viktor Bout: The End of the Road

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Viktor Bout, whose arms trafficking trial ended with his conviction this week. /REUTERS

For the past three weeks, Kathi Lynn Austin, arms trafficking investigator and executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project, has watched the trial of Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death.” This week, a jury convicted Bout on all counts of conspiring to sell surface to air missiles and other heavy weapons to agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration posing as Colombian rebel fighters, with the purpose of killing Americans. Bout faces 25 years to life on the charges. This is Austin’s last post on his trial.

That Viktor Bout was one of the most prolific arms traffickers in the post-Cold War area.

That Viktor Bout enabled wars and mass atrocities across the globe.

That Viktor Bout was a pioneering war profiteer who set the bar for his competitors in the illicit arms trafficking world.

That Viktor Bout cold-bloodedly earned billions of dollars off the suffering of millions of innocent victims.

That Viktor Bout enjoyed the protection and privilege of governments, the U.S. and Russian included, seeking, in some cases, his services for national security operations or, in others, a share of his profits.

That Viktor Bout is the tipping point, representing a wake up call for governments and concerned citizens around the world to prevent others of his ilk from stepping into the vacuum.

That now is the time to learn from Viktor Bout’s arms trafficking record – by taking the factual details revealed during his trial and putting them into a broader political and law enforcement context.

That national laws are too weak and a robust international regime has been far too long absent to rein in unregulated arms brokers and war enablers.

That this moment of justice has the potential to represent a major shift, a turning of the tide in favor of international peace and security and away from impunity on war’s frontlines.

That arms traffickers and other war profiteers may at last be tried for their most heinous crimes–aiding and abetting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

That for criminal war profiteers, accountability can become a reality.

That is the conclusion a jury reached following two half days of deliberations in a cold Manhattan courtroom building at 500 Pearl Street on the 13th day of the Viktor Bout trial.

And so the jury’s verdict was rendered:

Viktor Bout was guilty on all 4 counts of the U.S. federal indictment – conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to a U.S. designated terrorist group in the form of arms and surface-to-air missiles. Sentencing is set for February 8, 2012, but from here on out, there’s a good chance that Viktor Bout will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

I can’t help feel celebratory, but, at the same time, strangely hollow.

Yes, this trial ends for me a profound fifteen-year personal odyssey attempting to put Viktor Bout’s arms trafficking empire out of commission.

But there is still much work left for many of us, and that feels pretty daunting. Not only to put future Viktor Bouts out of business, but also to somehow honor and support the multitude of victims that must pick up the tragic pieces left in his wake.

The views expressed here are solely those of Kathi Lynn Austin.

Kathi Lynn Austin

Kathi Lynn Austin

Kathi Lynn Austin is an internationally recognized expert on arms trafficking, peace and security, and human rights. She is founder and Executive Director of Conflict Awareness Project and for nearly 20 years has carried out in-depth field investigations into the illegal trade in weapons, illicit trafficking operations, illegal resource exploitation, transnational crime and terrorism. Ms. Austin has served in official capacity for the United Nations as a member of the Group of Experts on the DRC and Liberia. In 2012, Random House will release Kathi’s dramatic investigative field memoir, which focuses in part on her 15-year odyssey tracking Viktor Bout. Follow Kathi Austin on twitter: @kathilynnaustin
Kathi Lynn Austin

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