Bliss or blunder for the release of Brittney Griner?


Whether you are a fan of sports or simply someone who attempts to keep up on world news, it is likely that everyone knows the Brittney Griner story by now. A current WNBA player, Griner was traveling to Russia to play on the Russian circuit when she was detained by the Russian government for possessing “hashish oil” (cannabis) in a personal vape cartridge and attempted to enter the country with it. This news made headlines everywhere. The oil, which is legal in the U.S. now, is illegal in Russia. Because of her offense, she was detained in February 2022. Her trial occurred in July when she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for “attempting to smuggle illegal narcotics into Russia.”

Since her detainment, the issue of whether the U.S. should make attempts to get Griner released in the form of a prisoner swap (a common practice in situations like this) has been very controversial. At the end of the day, it was the American government who chose how to handle the situation. Griner has since returned home, but the question still remains: Should the outcome have been handled better?

On Wednesday, December 8, Brittney Griner was released in a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, an arms dealer dubbed the ‘Merchant of Death’ whom many consider one of the deadliest criminals in history. Was this an advisable trade for the United States to make?

On one hand, she is a U.S. citizen and marijuana is legal in most locations in America. Because the possession of marijuana is no longer illegal in the U.S., many Americans no longer see the issue with having it which is also why many believe she didn’t deserve the nine-year sentence she received. Ultimately, she is responsible for what happened to her. She did bring an illegal substance into a foreign country that disallowed it. When a foreign citizen enters a nation, it is understood that he or she will follow the rules of the host country. Although there are two sides to this situation, the popular sentiment that is causing an outcry from the public is that many think that if she was not a high-profile athlete she would not have been released.

What is done is done and Griner is home. However, in hindsight, did the United States immensely mess up in not only what Russia got in return for Griner but also in what/who we left behind?

“Viktor Bout, in my eyes, is one of the most dangerous men on the face of the Earth,” shared Michael Braun, the former Chief of Operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration shared. Viktor Bout was an international arms dealer fueling civil wars all over the world, and catching him was no easy feat. It took a DEA sting operation that spanned three continents to catch him.

In the operation to take him down, the DEA had Bout on record discussing shipping “an arsenal of military-grade weapons” to attack U.S. military helicopters in Colombia. This individual is dangerous, and he had his sights set on killing Americans. Now he is free in exchange for a professional athlete who was guilty of the charges against her.

So one American was brought home, but what about the other one left behind in a Russian prison where he has been for nearly four years? Paul Whelan was an American Marine who was arrested in 2018 on supposed espionage charges. Both Whelan and the U.S. government have denied these charges and claim he is innocent.  Unlike Brittney Griner, Whelan was never proven guilty.

In the aftermath of Griner’s release, Paul Whelan spoke both on how happy he was for Griner but also on the little effort that was made to get him released. Whelan said that he was “greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred.”

Although it is upsetting that Whelan was not released, it is somewhat easy to understand why. If the Russians truly believe that he was there to spy, it will definitely be more difficult to get him back than Griner was. According to U.S. sources, although the U.S. tried to get Paul Whelan added to the deal, the Russians rejected that immediately and Whelan was never part of the exchange afterward.

John Bolton, former White House National Security Adviser and American Ambassador to the United Nations, blasted the exchange for Bout. “This is not a deal. This is not a swap. This is a surrender.” When a former national security advisor, someone who would know exactly how dangerous Viktor Bout is, does not believe that this exchange should have been made, it makes a person think, maybe this was not the right thing to do. Obviously, no one wants Griner to be in prison, but maybe the U.S. shouldn’t trade one of the most dangerous criminals in history for an athlete that committed a crime. So, what do you think? Please cast your vote below in the anonymous poll.

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Should we have completed the Brittany Griner deal?


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