The Extradition of Viktor Bout: Political or Just Wasteful?

by Thailand Lawyer on November 17, 2010

One of the fundamental tenets of Extradition law is that extradition is not available for political crimes.  This principle is also found in the US Thai extradition treaty as well as the Thailand Extradition Act.  However, according to new reports and commentary there is currently a large contingent of commentators who claim that Viktor Bout’s extradition is politically motivated.

Looking at the case from the outset, in the initial undercover investigation there are anomalies.  The case was handled by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, rather than the CIA, or a branch of military security.   The obvious question that deserves to be repeated is why the Drug Enforcement Agency is hunting Russian arms dealers selling to Columbians in Thailand.   What does this have to do with drug enforcement and why are millions of dollars of US citizen funds being spent to support this operation?

Well the short answer is that the DEA has recently had a broadening of its power to handle cases that are non-drug related.  The long answer is that US federal funds have long been extracted by law enforcement agencies, virtually without question or protests for redundant operations and operations that do not have a public mandate.

In the Bout case, the DEA’s initial operation involved a sting with DEA agents posing as members of FARC, the Columbian Marxist group, labeled as terrorists by the US government.  In an error of research, the DEA neglected to investigate whether the FARC was listed as a terrorist organization in Thailand.  Since FARC was not listed as a terrorist group, the DEA created a built in loop-hole for Bout’s lawyer to argue against the case.  This is because there is a requirement under the Extradition ACT that a crime must be considered a crime under the laws of both the USA and Thailand.

The second major error by the DEA was Thailand filing independent charges against Bout on separate offenses.  This created another loophole for lawyers to argue that Bout cannot be extradited because he has to await the Thai judicial system to work through Bout’s Thai criminal charges.

The Thailand trial court had ruled that Bout was not subject to extradition to the US because FARC was not a terrorist organization.  The Thailand appeals court ultimately reversed a trial court ruling and declared that the proposed sale of arms to FARC met the requirements of criminality of both Thailand and the US even though the FARC was not considered a terrorist organization.  In another reversal the Thai court agreed to allow the extradition despite the filing of other criminal charges in Thai court and under Thai law.

The US government has been ready and eager to take control of Bout for some time.  The first time the US government prepared for a take off, the US Department of Justice and DEA had a plane waiting at the airport.  However legal complications meant that Bout would remain in Thailand for more proceedings. (Apparently the US officials were not prepared for the possibility of an appeal and motion to stay the judgment).

Since then, US planes, pilots and officials have been residing in Thailand monitoring the situation.  Everything reached a climax yesterday when, through secret proceedings, Bout was scuttled off summarily to the US with a bevy of gun toting guards accompanying him.  Official spokespeople from Russia have publicly condemned the extradition of Mr. Bout.

Does this sound political yet?  Many would argue that for the US Department of Justice to go through such extravagant measures to extradite a target like Bout there would necessarily have to be reasons other than standard law enforcement. In other words if the case did not have long range strategic objectives, how’s it possible to justify this expense to US taxpayers? Moreover, in light of the worst economic crisis in recent history,  how much money did US taxpayers spend to have this tropical adventure happen? What exactly has been accomplished? Not many US citizens are in danger of being kidnapped by the FARC on US soil let alone in Thailand.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Reason First November 25, 2010 at 08:26

The FARC is a Marxist Lenninist terrorist group that has been directly implicated in the cold-blooded kidnapping and murders of American citizens as well as other. Mr VBout is accused of having provided lethal weaponry to the FARC terrorist groups and their associates. The actions of the US government in this situation were commendable. The DEA plan involved extensive planning and groundwork and was executed with outstanding precision. It is the men and women in uniform and behind the badge that make the world a safe place for critics as well as admirers. Without these brave men and women free speech and blogs such as this would cease to exist. I believe our world is a safer place with Mr. Bout in custody. However, Mr. Bout deserves the presumnption of innocence and a full trial that the US Constitution provides. This is what sets the USA apart from many of its enemies: the Rule of Law.

Jenny November 30, 2010 at 09:25

The two reversals by the Thailand appeals court are worth a second look. It is interesting that the appeals court would allow Mr. Bout’s extradition even though Thailand wished to bring separate and unrelated charges against him. Perhaps the appeals court’s reversals are where the extradition becomes political. The reversals beg the question of whether the US government used political pressure to influence the Thai court. A more thorough review of the Thai appeals court’s decisions could shed light on whether or not the decision to extradite Mr. Bout was politically motivated by interference in the Thai judiciary system from the US government.

corners February 15, 2012 at 11:36

You would think we could find bigger fish to fry much closer to home, say in our country. Wheres this money coming from?

I also dont think many Americans realize that the DEA deals with operations other than drugs,like its name spells out. Not sure they would agree either.

This isnt about saying Bout is a good guy either just because you disagree with the DEA being overseas tracking down gun sales and not narcotics. The fact that we are wasting man power in other countries when its needed on our own streets is a big problem for me

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