Merchant of Death Exchanged

This week’s prisoner exchange with Russia saw notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout swapped to Russia for WNBA star Brittney Griner. Bout was arrested for attempting to supply Colombian FARC terrorists with antiaircraft missiles, millions of rounds of ammunition, and modern military weaponry, and has since served eleven years in a federal prison; Griner was caught with two empty vape canisters which held traces of cannabis oil and was imprisoned in a penal colony for four months of a nine year sentence following her August conviction.

Several media outlets have made much of the difference between the two crimes, but there’s a startling similarity: Each was considered by unbiased observers to have been given an excessive sentence. Bout’s sentencing judge, Shira Schiendlin, commented that the statutory mandatory minimum in his case was far longer than it ought to have been, and was only imposed in the first place due to technicalities. Meanwhile, Griner received a nine year sentence for a quantity that, in other circumstances, would rate a nominal fine or a fifteen-day administrative detention.

Some critics of the deal have suggested that Bout ought never have been released, especially considering his long list of other crimes. At the time of his arrest, he had been under U.N. sanctions for engaging in the illegal weapons trade, and was in fact the deliberate target of a massive sting operation when apprehended by American forces in Thailand. Against, this, however, it must be considered that he has been deprived of inventory, contacts, much of his personal wealth, and above all his credibility following his years in prison. He has in many ways been rendered harmless, and thus is an excellent candidate for exchange.

Many politicians have accused the Biden administration of playing partisan politics in seeking the release of Griner, an openly gay celebrity, over other prisoners. Often mentioned is former Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested for espionage in Russia four years ago and is presently being held in Lefortovo Prison. His champions neglect to mention that Whelan also has citizenship in Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, was given a Bad Conduct Discharge from the Marines, and was at the time of his arrest engaged in activity that appears to support the evidence given to convict him.

In all of this, one of the few things that has become clear is that both Russia and the United States are engaged in politically-motivated detentions and prosecutions of each other’s citizens, and that at least some of these have been legitimate bad actors. Despite years of liberalization of our respective foreign policies, it seems that in some ways a return to the Bad Old Days of the Cold War has begun.

The bottom line, as far as The Not Fake News editorial staff is concerned, is that we would not countenance any of our people traveling to Russia for any reason whatsoever.

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