Judge finds prolonged solitary confinement for ‘merchant of death’ unconstitutional
NEW YORK — A US judge on Friday ordered Viktor Bout, a Russian convicted of arms trafficking, to be removed from solitary confinement and put into a regular facility, saying that to continue his 15-month ordeal violated the constitution.
Bout was convicted last November in New York federal court, concluding a marathon operation by US authorities to incarcerate the larger-than-life character popularly dubbed “the merchant of death,” in a case that infuriated Russia.
Since his extradition to the United States, Bout has been kept in severely restrictive conditions in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
While there, the former globe-trotting arms dealer has been confined to a tiny cell with just one hour of exercise in another small room, where he is also alone.
Overruling the prison authorities, Judge Shira Scheindlin quoted the US Supreme Court in her ruling, stating that Bout’s rights under the constitution were being violated.
“After fifteen months in solitary confinement with extremely minimal human contact and mobility, Viktor Bout requests that he be transferred to general population,” Scheindlin wrote.
“Because I ‘cannot simply defer to the Warden and abandon my duty to uphold the constitution,’ I must grant Bout’s request.”
Bout will be sentenced on March 12 and faces at least 25 years behind bars for conspiring to sell weapons to Colombia’s FARC, a US-designated terrorist organization that prosecutors said Bout believed to be plotting to kill US service members.
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