“U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to a drugs charge in a Russian court [last] Thursday but denied she had intentionally broken the law… Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, was detained in February at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in Russia, and has been kept in custody since.” Reuters
“Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed ‘the Merchant of Death,’ who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.” AP News
The right generally opposes a prisoner swap involving Griner.
“[Trevor Reed, a former US Marine] was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison in 2020 after supposedly attacking a police officer during a drunken night out. The evidence presented against Reed lacked credibility. Indeed, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan went so far as to state that Reed's supposed offense ‘obviously did not occur.’ Reed was released in April but only after the Biden administration agreed to a prisoner swap for a drug trafficker imprisoned in the United States, Konstantin Yaroshenko. That swap, an innocent American for a guilty Russian, speaks to the Kremlin's strategy now…
“The Biden administration's negotiation over Reed has taught the Kremlin that it can play this sick game and win. Moscow likely believes that Griner offers a bargaining chip to secure the freedom of its biggest fish in U.S. prisons. Viktor Bout, an arms dealer sentenced to 25 years in U.S. prison for supplying weapons to Colombian terrorists and conspiring to kill Americans, must not be released for any reason… The U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists — it should not negotiate over Moscow's terrorist-style activity.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner
“It's a sad story, but Griner is hardly the political prisoner that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have made her out to be. And under no circumstances should the Democratic Party's identity politics allow a black lesbian millionaire athlete who broke the law in a foreign country to receive preferential treatment…
“So far, the administration is sending all the wrong signals, elevating Griner's case above that of actual political prisoners like Paul Whelan… 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. Whatever one thinks of Russia's draconian drug laws, Griner has quite plausibly admitted her guilt, so it's unclear why Biden and Harris have made Griner's ordeal a higher priority than Whelan's.”
Editors, Washington Free Beacon
Some argue, “While it is good that Biden is finally taking steps to secure Griner’s release, he should have taken action long ago… Biden’s record of freeing Americans detained abroad falls far short of Trump’s. During his time in office, Trump brought home more than 50 Americans from 22 countries. Today, 55 Americans are being detained abroad… whether it’s Americans stuck in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal or detainees in Russia, it appears President Biden cannot be relied on to perform this most essential mission: bringing Americans home.”
Jack Wolfsohn, National Review
The left generally supports a prisoner swap involving Griner.
The left generally supports a prisoner swap involving Griner.
“It doesn’t take a Brookings Institution political scientist to figure out what has happened. Whether she is guilty or not, and there is plenty of reason for doubt, authorities arrested Griner mere days before Russia invaded Ukraine, sending US-Russia relations into a tailspin. She has become a political prisoner, a bargaining chip for Putin to both taunt the United States and hopefully get a high-valued Russian prisoner in return. Yet Russia overestimated how much the US political and sports establishment would work to free Griner.”
Dave Zirin, The Nation
“[It] took months for the State Department to declare Griner ‘wrongfully detained,’ forwarding her case to the U.S.’ chief hostage negotiator—but the government did not explain why it had finally reached this determination. Until then, Griner’s family and friends had reportedly been ‘instructed to stay quiet about her situation in hopes that it could be resolved quickly behind the scenes,’ an approach that has been criticized by the Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was wrongfully detained in Iran for 544 days…
“[Griner’s] value as a hostage only grows as the Biden administration continues to harden its stance against Russia and boost its military backing of Ukraine in what is now a withering war of attrition… [She may be] one of the only American tokens Russia has left, and we have every reason to fear that Putin’s regime will continue to wield her with malice.”
Suhail Gharaibeh, Slate
“Shira Scheindlin, the former judge who presided over the Bout trial, [says] that a swap might not be a bad idea—as long as Russia freed not only Griner but also Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested on espionage charges in 2018… Scheindlin’s view is notable: If the judge who sentenced Bout now believes that it wouldn’t endanger national security to let him go after 11 years of time served, that could give Biden more political leeway to trade his freedom for Griner’s, whose plight has become a major priority for the administration.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate
“There is no parity in the negotiations or symmetry in the lives or actions of the two potential protagonists. But President Joe Biden should take the deal… Bout is a spent force who will be out of jail in a few years anyway. His business depended on personal relationships and trust among the parties. After being out of the business for more than a decade, Bout has neither of those left… [The deal] may not be perfect justice, but it’s a closer version of it than having an innocent person wrongfully imprisoned simply to confine a guilty person who can no longer inflict much more damage.”
Douglas Farah, Politico