Thailand Coughs Up its Most Valuable Prisoner

bout111610.jpgAs Viktor Bout heads from the confines of his Bangkok cell towards the United States in a specially chartered jet, one can only wonder about what kind of improbable backroom deals were put in place to secure his extradition. On an intelligence level, Bout’s extradition is a huge catch for U.S. authorities. Sources familiar with his career have emphasized the extraordinary value of his knowledge of Russia’s participation in arms trafficking over the world. Journalist Douglas Farah has argued that Bout “could likely tell a great deal about the Russian-led networks that continue to arm jihadi movements in Somalia and Yemen. He also likely knows how the Russian military intelligence and arms structure works, including its interests from Iran to Venezuela and elsewhere. His knowledge base, although he is only 43 years old, goes back more than two decades and possibly extends to the heart of the Russian campaigns around the globe.

Most importantly, Bout’s potential plea bargain deal with the United States could provide new knowledge of the activities of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, which is why his extradition comes as such a shock. Of course nothing is guaranteed, and the U.S. might find Bout suddenly silent on all issues of interest as the Russians hold a sword over the heads of his family. We also cannot rule out that in the interest of Obama’s “reset,” that Bout might be sent back home in another “spy swap.”Regardless, it is clear that the government of Thailand negotiated a very high price from the U.S. to perform this extradition, and spurned lucrative offers from Russia to repatriate him. Bangkok has become quite a motivated negotiator, as the government begins to feel the heat internationally as a result of its human rights abuses and increasingly authoritarian conduct. They feel they need to purchase U.S. support at all costs, no matter what the Russians are offering or threatening. The question is what, specifically, did Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva obtain in this deal, and what does such a move say about the new geopolitical realities shaping US involvement in SE Asia?One suggestion could be that the U.S. are re-adopting a stance that they took during the Cold War – that Thailand, if it plays ball with the USA’s overarching interests, gets a pass. Of course, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s this “pass” granted ruthless Thai dictators, such as Sarit Thanarat and Thanom Kittikachorn, the impunity to enact untold atrocities against the Thai people. The massacres of 1973 and 1976, the anti-communist death squads who murdered and tortured at will and the numerous military coups, were all carried out against a backdrop of either support or silence from Washington.Bring this up to the present and the Bangkok Massacre of April/May this year which left 90+ dead, the coup of 2006 and the mass censorship and imprisonment of hundreds of political prisoners by the present Thai regime, has hardly evinced a single negative comment from the US government. Our feelings are that this position is unlikely to change and that the USA, while calling for freedom in Burma, will now be more likely to continue looking the other way on the curtailment of freedom in Thailand.However with so many complex interests at play, this story is far from over.