‘Merchant of Death’ Bout Awaits Ruling on Jail Conditions

International arms dealer Viktor Bout, convicted of trying to sell weapons to terrorists, must wait at least another week before learning whether a judge will order a change in his confinement at a federal jail.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin called a hearing today in Manhattan after Bout’s lawyer complained that his client was being held under unduly harsh conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he has been in solitary confinement for 14 months. Scheindlin told prosecutors and defense lawyers to submit their arguments in the next week.

“Do I have the power to order a move if conditions are inappropriate?” Scheindlin asked prosecutors. “That’s the ultimate question.”

Bout, 45, a former Soviet air force officer once called the “merchant of death” by a co-defendant, was convicted of conspiracy last year for attempting to sell arms to two men posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

He faces a minimum of 25 years in prison when he’s sentenced March 12.

Defense attorney Albert Dayan told the judge that Bout has been confined for 14 months in a small cell without fresh air or natural light.

No Threat

“He doesn’t pose a threat to anyone,” Dayan said. “Keeping anyone in such conditions causes irreparable harm.”

At a hearing Feb. 8, Scheindlin said the conditions of Bout’s confinement seemed “harsh,” “brutal,” and “unnecessary.” She echoed those remarks today.

“He’s a businessman, he’s an arms dealer,” Scheindlin said. “I’ve never heard any evidence he was involved in violence.”

Warden Suzanne Hastings told Scheindlin that she “took great offense” at the claim that conditions were inappropriate.

Scheindlin asked for evidence showing that Bout’s confinement in solitary is needed to protect guards, other prisoners and Bout himself.

The case is U.S. v. Bout, 08-cr-0365, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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