ANALYSIS – Less than six months after WNBA star Brittney Griner was detained in Russia, President Biden has offered to exchange a notorious Russian arms dealer and terrorist supporter for her and Paul Whelan, both imprisoned in Moscow.
This after tremendous pressure from LGBTQ groups demanding Biden free Griner.
As the Washington Free Beacon notes, this swap offer:
…is sending all the wrong signals, elevating Griner’s case above that of actual political prisoners like Paul Whelan: A senior U.S. diplomat on Thursday hand-delivered a personal note from Biden to Griner, a move that followed a phone call from Biden and Harris to Griner’s partner, Cherelle, in which Biden assured her that he is “working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world.”
That may sound like inoffensive boilerplate, but equating Griner and Whelan is indecent. Whelan has been locked up since 2019 on trumped-up espionage charges. He insists he’s innocent, and he was almost certainly framed by Russia’s spy service.
And then there is the trade. Viktor Bout, 55, a former Russian military officer also known as the “Merchant of Death,” is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to sell weapons to terrorists planning to kill Americans.
Specifically, when arrested back in 2008 Bout was trying to sell $20 million worth of “a breathtaking arsenal of weapons — including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns and sniper rifles — 10 million rounds of ammunition and five tons of plastic explosives” to federal agents posing as members of the Marxist narco-terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
As noted above, there is a big difference between the two Americans held by Russia, and Bout.
But there is also a big difference between Griner and Whelan, even if both were “wrongfully detained” according to the State Department.
Most significantly, unlike the 50-year-old Whelan, Griner has only been in jail less than six months, while Whelan has been locked up over four years.
Whelan, a former U.S. Marine staff sergeant and corporate security executive was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020. He denies espionage and has said he was set up in a sting operation to frame him.
Moscow said that Whelan had been caught red-handed with classified information on a thumb drive in a Moscow hotel room where agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB) detained him on Dec. 28, 2018.
Whelan said he was in Russia for a wedding and on holiday and set up by a Russian man he thought was a friend who planted the evidence.
David Whelan, his father, dismissed the allegations as nonsense, according to the BBC.
“I can’t imagine how someone with a law enforcement background who is also a former US Marine, and who is now working in corporate security and is also aware of the risks of travel, would have broken any law let alone the law related to espionage,” he said.
Griner on the other hand, who was only arrested in February this year, pled guilty to bringing a cannabis-infused vape cartridge into Russia, a crime that could net her 10 years in a Russian prison.
She regularly played basketball in repressive authoritarian Russia during the WNBA off season.
But in the U.S. back in 2020 the now 31-year-old Griner refused to be present during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem before games, and even demanded the Anthem and flag ceremony be avoided in all games.
In 2020 she told the Washington Post: “We can’t wake up and do whatever we want to do. Go for a run, go to the store to buy some candy, drive your car without the fear of being wrongfully pulled over.”
As the Washington Free Beacon recently wrote: “Maybe after her brush with Russian law enforcement, she’ll realize conditions back stateside aren’t as oppressive as she made them out to be.”
Initially Griner claimed she didn’t know how the cannabis got into her bags, later saying it was due to her packing in a hurry. Her lawyer also argued that it was medicinal marijuana for knee injury.
Either way, she appears to have committed the crime, regardless of how improper the arrest, ridiculous the charges and outrageous the sentence.
But Biden responded within months of Griner’s arrest with this inappropriate prisoner swap, while doing nothing concrete for Whelan in the year prior.
And beyond that obscene double standard, there is of course the national security concern.
After news reports of the Biden offer, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the Team Biden offering a terror supporting Russian arms dealer in exchange for two American detainees is a dangerous path for U.S. foreign policy.
“He’s a bad guy. He is a guy who wanted to kill Americans. It presents a real risk to the United States… There’s a real reason the Russians want to get him home. To offer a trade like this is a dangerous precedent,” Pompeo told Fox News.
“This is not a good trade, not the right path forward, and it’ll likely lead to more.” ADN