Viktor Bout Wants Better Prison Conditions

The Wall Street Journal on February 9, 2012 released the following:

“By Chad Bray

A suspected Russian arms dealer convicted last year of conspiring to sell surface-to-air missiles and other weapons after getting caught in a sting operation in Thailand wants to be held under less restrictive conditions while he’s awaiting sentencing.

Viktor Bout, a former Soviet air force officer who inspired the character played by Nicolas Cage in the movie “Lord of War,” no longer wants to be held in the special housing unit, or SHU, at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan. He has been held there since he was extradited from Thailand in 2010 after two years of legal wrangling.

His lawyer, Albert Dayan, said in a letter to the court that Mr. Bout, 45 years old, is essentially held in solitary confinement with no human contact, no fresh air and no access to the prison commissary to supplement his diet. Mr. Dayan said the prison diet is inadequate for Mr. Bout’s needs as a vegetarian.

Mr. Bout was arrested by Thai authorities and U.S. narcotics agents in a sting in March 2008. A Thai court initially freed Mr. Bout in August 2009, but the U.S. appealed the ruling and he remained in custody. After diplomatic pressure, an appeals court in the Southeast Asian nation ruled to extradite the suspect to face his charges in the U.S., overturning an earlier ruling.

Mr. Dayan asked that Mr. Bout be moved to the prison’s general population, noting that Monzer al-Kassar, an alleged Syrian arms trafficker, was allowed to be in general population while at the MCC.

Kassar, 66, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2009 after he was convicted of conspiring to sell weapons and murder U.S. citizens following a similar sting operation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“[Bout] doesn’t know when the sun rise or sets,” Mr. Dayan said in the letter, which was read during a court hearing on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin seemed to agree with Mr. Dayan’s arguments.

“It seems harsh. It seems brutal,” she said. “It seems unnecessary. It seems like something should be done about it.”

Still, the judge upheld the November verdict finding him guilty of four conspiracy charges that he sold weapons to South American terrorists with the understanding that they would be used to shoot down U.S. helicopter pilots, the Associated Press reported. The judge said the reasons submitted by the defense were the same ones offered before the trial and the verdict, AP said.

The judge set a hearing for Friday to discuss the issue of his confinement further. Prosecutors on Wednesday said they need time to consult with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons before responding.

Mr. Dayan said that he wants to resolve the issue before Mr. Bout is sentenced, otherwise the special designation may follow him to the prison where he ultimately serves his time.

Mr. Bout faces up to life in prison on the charges. Sentencing is set for March 12.”


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