Victims of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout's war crimes in Africa told the New York Times that the Biden administration's decision to release the "Merchant of Death" for WNBA player Brittney Griner has been "difficult."
"This guy's responsible for the murder, indirectly, of thousands of persons," said Hassan Bility, director of the Global Justice and Research Project, which documents war crimes in Liberia, including Bout's supplying of weapons to the country's civil war in the early 2000s.
One woman who lived through the conflict said it was "just hardship," noting that her family had no food to eat. Joshua Kulah, a 28-year-old lawyer who survived the civil war as a child, recalled "rockets falling everywhere ... falling on houses and killing everyone in the house."
"I remember running home from the field and rockets were dropping," Kulah said. "I saw dead bodies."
The Biden administration released Bout on Dec. 8 to secure the release of Griner, whom Russia arrested earlier this year for bringing vapes with marijuana concentrate hashish oil into the country.
Russian state media have mocked President Joe Biden over the exchange. RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan said she was "very amused but not surprised" that the United States pressed for the release of Griner over former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who remains imprisoned in Russia. Whelan said last week that he was "greatly disappointed" the White House failed to secure his release.
Bout had a network of dozens of planes, which he used to ship weapons, missiles, and helicopters into African war zones. Bout was never charged for his action in the continent. The Bush administration, however, charged Bout with plotting to kill American citizens in 2008 after a sting operation in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Pentagon is reportedly concerned Bout will return to arms trafficking.
Bout’s actions in Liberia helped arm a brutal civil war, the New York Times reported:
One of the war zones where the United Nations flagged arms shipments was Liberia. Mr. Bout supplied weapons to Charles Taylor, a former president of Liberia, said Stephen J. Rapp, who as prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone led the prosecution of Mr. Taylor, which ultimately ended in his war crimes conviction for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Bout’s client list was long, according to Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, who wrote a book about him, Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible. He simultaneously supplied weapons to Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, they wrote, and to Mr. Massoud’s enemies, the Taliban.