Thursday, August 13, 2009

The real reason Thailand will not extradite Victor Bout to the US

Jotman readers J-P and RM, noting my apparent indifference to the outcome of the trial of the notorious arms dealer Victor Bout in Thailand, have commented on the need for Victor Bout to be brought to justice, expressing dismay at the outcome of the trial (described in the previous post).

The statement that "Bout should face justice" is something that I completely agree with in principle.

Saddam Hussein was another person many of us thought should face justice.

Behind both cases a deeper question loomed: Whose justice? Are we talking about American justice or international justice? The basic question is the same, whether it is Saddam Hussein or Victor Bout we are talking about.

And the matter before the Thai court, of course, was whether or not to extradite Bout to the US -- where he would face American justice.

Should Bout have been extradited to the US, this might have seriously set back US-Russian relations at a time when Obama seems to want to set the relationship on a new course. At the very least, it would have put the new US administration in an awkward position. Therefore, whatever the US government might have being saying out loud (the tough talk), I wouldn't be surprised if, privately, the Obama Administration had not given the nod to the Thais that they need not extradite Bout.

Let's look at it another way: if, as Obama claims, the US government has too many important things on its plate to bother investigating Bush Administration war crimes, then surely the last thing the White House needs is a high-profile trial of a semi-retired Russian merchant: a trial sure to create diplomatic trouble with Moscow, complicating Obama's "fresh start" foreign policy agenda.

Recall that by 2008, the Bush Administration seemed hell-bent on roughing up Russia's feathers: NATO expansion, military advisers in Georgia, independence for Kosovo, missile defense for Eastern Europe, etc. The DEA's capture (the Russians claim "entrapment") of Victor Bout in Bangkok can viewed as part and parcel of a high-handed approach to dealing with Russia. By contrast, the Obama Administration has shown clear signs of wanting to turn over a new leaf. We saw that in early July with the Obama-Medvedev nuclear agreement.

So international justice for Bout, yes. I'm all for that. In fact, according to Oxfam, the UN is negotiating an "Arms Trade Treaty" that would "help regulate arms dealers and make it harder for them to break embargoes." Hopefully in the future, the likes of Victor Bout could be brought before an international court. I agree with the UK-based NGO that the urgent need for a treaty regulating the arms trade should be the enduring lesson of this week's acquittal of Victor Bout in Bangkok.

As they say "justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done." As the case before the Thai court concerned whether Bout should receive American justice, the question too few Americans asked back in 2003 needed to be asked again: justice toward what ends?

If the cost was going to be a setback in Russian-US relations, then I would say "getting Bout" was not worth it. Moreover, I think Obama's new approach deserves a fair go and warrants a clean slate.


  1. You raise some very good points. I cannot seem to find the article now, but one I came across indicated that a previous Thai court ruling indicated that the Bout extradition DID meet Thai extradition requirements. this latest decision reverses that previous decision.

    The second question raised by his capture is - if he did nothing wrong, and did not violate Thai laws, or threaten Thai citizens or property, why was he arrested in the first place? Or why was there this joint operation to capture him? (or was this operation based on the previous Thai ruling)

    I agree that we cannot simply label "American justice" as the only true justice, and must work within international interests. Part of this dance is for each nation to follow appropriate policy according to their own interests. For Thailand, this might be an aversion to offend Russia, as you indicated. (similar to Iran) We must respect Thai decisions, but can voice our disagreement.

    The hard part for Americans is that while we feel we are well informed, we rarely hear press mention people like Prince, or focus on "keeping our own house in order". Of course our media focus tends to be politically motivated -- and this leaves us in the awkward position of demanding "justice" seemingly hypocritically - unintentionally out of our ignorance - when our government is privately or even publicly sanctioning criminals like Prince.


  2. In the both side America and the international who is perfect justice???
    main point is that.

  3. Good points.

    Who appointed the Duhmerican'ts final arbiters of 'justice' anyway?

    If Duhmerica is so pure why then is Duhmerica the only country to use nuclear weapons on another country? Why is Duhmerica the biggest purveyor of arms on the planet? Why is Duhmerica using DU weapons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?

    When Duhmerica the house of cards collapses later this year under the weight of its debt, nonsense and hatefulness what does one think it will do to deflect attention from its crimes?

  4. I'll comment here on one single point only:

    yes, Obama indeed is in a hot enough water already with his policies (especially health care - which many compare with Hitler's T-4, for which nazis were convicted in Nuremberg and sentenced for execution). not to mention the whole economical mess there in US.

    so, Obama is definitely has his hands full already, being busy to try hard to accomplish as much as possible of the things his puppeteers has tasked him with - WHILE HE STILL CAN. ;) because the talks about impeachment and / or massive civil unrest are in the air.

    and surely Dollar / new alternative global reserve currency issue, in which Russia (along with other 3 BRIC countries) plays important role - this aspect also has made Obomba to pause (although unlike Barak's "carrot", Biden has instead decided to employ 'stick', old good Cheney's tool).

    so, surely Obama has more than enough on his plate already. and main thing - I bet he is counting his days as a president at all.

    let's wait and see till Sep-Oct, end of fiscal year and prognosticated real 'sh1t hits the fan' events (like banking holidays, civil unrest, etc)

    as for the reason for Bout's release - I'll comment that in your previous post, as a reply to both J-P and RM.

  5. Part of my point was that each nation must pursue its own justice. So of course there are many differing views of "justice" -- many political.

    To bosunj, you wrote, "Who appointed the Duhmerican'ts final arbiters of 'justice' anyway?..."

    I can understand your resentment and anger at American policy - I have much myself - but as I touched on above, each nation, or citizens have every reasonable right to pursue their own justice. Russia's support of separatist regions would be a perfect example. You can tell them you don't agree with their policy, but you can't expect them to see or agree with your own personal views of "justice".

    It is the same for every nation - and as we have seen all through history, all nations work within political interests and alliances in pursuit of many different and unique forms of "justice".

    I don't think J-P or myself were expecting anyone to agree with our definition of justice.



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