‘Merchant of Death’ Latest in Wave of International Criminals Freed by Biden

FILE - Suspected Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout, center, is led by armed Thai police co
AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong, File

The release of Viktor Bout, a Russian warlord known as the “Merchant of Death” for his prolific arms dealing, on Thursday is the latest in a string of similar liberations under President Joe Biden that have seen violent criminals freed in exchange for unjustly imprisoned Americans abroad.

Just this year, Bout joins two convicted cocaine traffickers related to Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and a parade of former Guantánamo detainees freed by Biden’s administration.

The Biden administration and the Russian government agreed to trade Bout’s freedom for that of WNBA player Brittney Griner. Bout was serving a 25-year prison sentence at the time of his release for agreeing to sell weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist terrorist organization, that undercover agents claimed would be used to kill Americans.

“We have the same enemy,” Bout reportedly told American DEA sources he believed to be FARC terrorists.

Griner was convicted in Russia this August of possessing cannabis, a crime in the country.

Biden’s prisoner swap did not include Veteran Marine Paul Whelan, whom Russian authorities sentenced to 16 years in prison under “espionage,” charges that Whelan vehemently denies.

The release of Bout echoes a similar situation in South America in October, when the Biden Administration carried out a prisoner swap with the authoritarian socialist regime of Venezuela. Biden released two of socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro’s convicted drug trafficking nephews in exchange for seven unjustly imprisoned American oil workers.

The October prisoner exchange with the Maduro regime saw the Biden Administration grant clemency to Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, more commonly known in their country as the narcosobrinos (“narco-nephews”). The narco-nephews had been arrested in November 2015 by DEA officials in Haiti while attempting to transport 800 kilograms of cocaine belonging to Colombia’s Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorist organization into U.S. soil. Both of Maduro’s nephews had been sentenced to 18 years in prison in December 2017.

The release of the narco-nephews occurred amidst the backdrop of several concessions granted by the Biden Administration to the Maduro regime, despite the latter still maintaining a fierce iron grip on Venezuela and Maduro having illegitimately clung to power since 2019.

Outside of Latin America, the biggest beneficiaries of Biden prisoner liberation orders so far appear to be the Taliban, who returned to power in Afghanistan after Biden broke an agreement that would have ended the 20-year Afghan War sooner, inspiring the Taliban to take over Kabul in August 2021.

Prior to the release of dictator Maduro’s nephews, the Biden Administration held talks with the Taliban that culminated in a prisoner swap with the terrorist organization in September, exchanging convicted heroin kingpin Bashir Noorzai for American engineer Mark Frerichs. Noorzai, who was serving a life sentence for attempting to smuggle upwards of $50 million in heroin to the United States, has been accused of being a critical piece in the Taliban’s funding. 

In June, the Taliban celebrated the release of a suspected terrorist from the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, military facility in exchange for nothing. The Biden administration released Assadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan citizen also known as “Asadullah Haroon al-Afghani,” after being imprisoned for 15 years at Guantámo Bay. According to the Washington Post, Haroon Gul was captured in 2007 and accused of being a commander in Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, a paramilitary group then allied with the terrorist organization al-Qaeda.

In January, the Biden Administration approved the release of three Yemenis citizens from Guantánamo Bay: Moath al-Alwi, Zuhail al-Sharabi and Omar al-Rammah, as well as Kenyan citizen Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu and Somali national Guleed Hassan Ahmed. All five had been imprisoned over alleged ties to al-Qaeda.

Two months later, the Biden administration released Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani, who had at that time served nearly 20 years in prison for his alleged involvement in the September 11 terrorist attack. Al-Qahtani was released from Guantánamo Bay after the Department of Defense determined that al-Qahtani “was no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States,” releasing him to Saudi Arabia, where he is a national.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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