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August 1, 2022

Biden Admin Offers a Bad Prisoner Exchange

Rumors are flying as to a possible swap to bring two U.S. citizens home from their imprisonment in Russia.

WNBA star Brittney Griner and fellow U.S. citizen Paul Whelan are being detained in Russia under varying degrees of culpability. Whelan, a former Marine and security executive, is accused of espionage and has been detained since 2018. Griner was charged in February and pleaded guilty to possessing hashish oil. She has yet to be sentenced.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been making statements to the effect that the U.S. had made overtures toward their counterparts in Moscow. “We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Blinken said. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal, and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, to move us toward a resolution.”

The hopes of Secretary Blinken may be well founded, considering the success in April of negotiating a prisoner swap and securing the return of American and former Marine Trevor Reed. But as much as getting Griner and Whelan home would be desirable, the reality of the situation is that the proposed prisoner whom the U.S. has reportedly offered in the exchange is an arms dealer named Viktor Bout.

Bout is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes ranging from arms trafficking to conspiring to kill Americans. The actions of this man have directly led to the rape and torture of innocents, the empowerment of America’s enemies such as the Taliban, and the arming of dangerous despots.

When you take into consideration the extremity of the crimes, it hardly seems like an equal or even a good trade.

For its part, Russia has stated that no agreement has been finalized. However, should this prisoner swap go through, it would not be the triumph that this administration hopes it will be. If Bout is on the table to trade for Whelan and Griner, it is yet another sign of U.S. weakness.

As the New York Post put it: “The moral horror of such a trade is just the tip of the iceberg. Once Russia sees it can spring any bad Russian actor caught in the United States simply by grabbing an American or two as bargaining chips, it’ll start grabbing more innocent American hostages. Other nations (and terror groups) will join the rush.”

More displays of weakness on the international stage is the last thing the U.S. needs.

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