Political and legal experts have condemned the Biden administration’s willingness to negotiate with Vladimir Putin’s Russia for the release of the WNBA athlete Brittney Griner, who was arrested in early 2022 for possession of cannabis oil, and former Marine Paul Whelen, who is being held for “espionage.” Whatever happened to the U.S. government policy of not negotiating when Americans are held captive?
The women’s basketball star became a cause célèbre for the left after her arrest and imprisonment leading the White House to formally approach the Kremlin to seek a prisoner exchange for her. Of course: Moscow went for the throat, calling for the release of Viktor Bout, a Russian national known as the “merchant of death” and a convicted illegal arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S.
“I’m sure Russian officials had some strategic reasoning behind why they took Brittney hostage,” Amani Wells-Onyioha, a political expert and civil rights advocate, told The Sun.
“Once they revealed they were looking for a trade, the evidence was clear this was something planned preconceived plan in place.”
“We may see more situations from them like this in the future to further other agendas,” Wells-Onyioha continued.
Duncan Levin, defense lawyer and former prosecutor sounded a cautionary note: “A prisoner swap with Russia is like negotiating with a hostage taker.” Levin also characterized Griner as a “hostage” rather than a convicted criminal.
“This is an international relations dance rather than something that is playing out in the court.”
According to The Sun, Levin went on to explain, “Calling it a prisoner ‘swap is misleading. A swap is when you’re trading one equal thing for another equal thing .. But Bout has been convicted in the United States of extremely serious offenses versus Brittney Griner, who allegedly had some marijuana vape cartridges in her bag. She was thrown into a system where she was not apprised of her rights and had no due process.’”
In an interview with PBS‘ Judy Woodruff, author of “We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages and Ransom,” Joel Simon described the genesis of America’s “no negotiation” policy. As he describes it, the policy was “born in blood” during the 1973 Sudanese hostage crisis under President Richard Nixon.
When he was questioned by the press regarding the U.S. response to the hostage takers’ demands, Nixon was blunt: “As far as the United States as a government giving in to blackmail demands, we cannot do so and will not do so,” as recorded in Public Papers of The Presidents.
However, Nixon went on to explain he would be sending Deputy Secretary of State for Management Willam B. Macomber Jr. to negotiate on behalf of the government for the hostages’ release. He concluded, “We will do everything that we can to get them released, but we will not pay blackmail.”
So when did this policy suddenly change?
Trading away a convicted international arms dealer and a convicted spy and murderer for a basketball player and an ex-Marine discharged for bad conduct arrested while working “corporate security,” according to The Sun, doesn’t seem like a “trade” at all, as Levin said.
President Donald Trump certainly doesn’t seem to think so, telling radio hosts Clay Travis & Buck Sexton, “She went in there loaded up with drugs, into a hostile territory where they’re very vigilant about drugs. They don’t like drugs, and she got caught. And now we’re supposed to get her out, and she makes, you know, a lot of money I guess, but we’re supposed to get her out for a absolute killer and one of the biggest arms dealers in the world. Killed many Americans, killed many people, and he’s gonna get a free card, and we’re gonna get her.
“She knew you don’t go in there loaded up with drugs. And she admitted it, I assume she admitted it without too much force, because it is what it is. And it certainly doesn’t seem like a very good trade, does it? He’s an absolute … one of the worst in the world, and he’s gonna be given his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes into Russia loaded up with drugs.”
Trump called WNBA star Brittney Griner, “spoiled,” and implied he wouldn’t have made the deal to get her out of prison in Russia. pic.twitter.com/NYcT5e2Kxd
— PatriotTakes 🇺🇸 (@patriottakes) July 31, 2022
This isn’t a trade at all, it’s blackmail.