I got into trouble with Russia over the prisoner exchange
The Biden administration has offered to release a murderous international arms dealer, Victor Bout, in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner and US Marine veteran Paul Whelan, who are currently being held in Russian jails.
While I like the concept, made famous in the 1997 epic film Air Force One, that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists (even though it did in the film), I am not opposed to this proposed prisoner swap. I’m kind of torn. I know if I were a family member of one of the prisoners held in Russia, I would stand up for it. However, it raises some concerns.
Does this kind of exchange provide an incentive for bad countries to target Americans abroad? Is the release of a man known internationally as the “dealer” worth the release of a woman who has confessed to a drug offense and a man who was court-martialled on multiple larceny charges and “bad conduct”? the Marines, with an enigmatic (at best) history of its activities in Russia?
Yes, I know we shouldn’t mention such omissions. Things like, Griner brought cannabis oil to a country where it’s illegal and carries a 10-year prison sentence; that while I’m pretty much opposed to anything Russia does, they are allowed to have their own laws and visitors must obey those laws while there; that Whelan who was convicted of espionage in Russia was definitely not a spy as even CIA officers have said that the CIA would never recruit anyone with his military/criminal background, however he did some inexplicable things in Russia (look it up , we do it). I don’t see this reality in current reporting). That being said, I’m a fan of bringing Americans home from hostile countries like Russia. I only wish the true narratives were actually discussed. What worries me the most, however, is if Paul Whelan is worth trading for a man convicted of “attempted murder of Americans, conspiracy to supply anti-aircraft weapons and aiding a terrorist group,” then why wasn’t he value? until a famous athlete in Russia was arrested again for committing a crime?
Not only does this send a dangerous message to other countries, it also sends bad news to Americans who are being unjustly detained in unfriendly countries around the world. While the U.S. government does not release information on how many Americans are being detained abroad, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation states on its website: “CURRENT NUMBER OF PUBLICLY DISCLOSED HISTORY AND Wrongful Detention Cases: 67.” The Foundation’s name is New Hampshire’s own James Foley, a journalist kidnapped and subsequently murdered by his captors in Syria in 2014. According to the foundation, these 67 US citizens are being unjustly detained in 18 countries. So why are we only doing a very public prisoner swap when a famous athlete is on the other end of the trade?
The WNBA has done an excellent job with a public relations campaign to pressure the Biden administration to make this happen. Whelan is a secondary beneficiary of her efforts to release Griner. I mean, the US can’t exactly say, “Hey Russia, here’s a guy responsible for the deaths of literally thousands of people, now give us back our basketball player.” That’s why the “naval veteran” portrait needs to be in the mix be included.
The WNBA also did a good job sharing why this proves their players need to make more money. Griner was in Russia because she plays basketball in the off-season of the WNBA in Russia to make extra money. We’ve heard how unfair it is that Griner and her fellow basketball players aren’t making enough; how male basketball players make millions and don’t have to work in the offseason; how that wouldn’t have happened if Griner had been paid enough in the first place so she wouldn’t have to work in Russia. To be clear, her $227,000 salary isn’t exactly pocket change.
Now there are calls to ensure that players in the WNBA are paid better than NBA player salaries. That’s just silly. It’s even sillier than the US women’s soccer team, which demands equal pay for the men’s team. (I’ll save my babble on that, I’ve written about this before.) Let’s just look at the viewership numbers. The average attendance at a WNBA game is 403,000 spectators. The NBA? On average, 15.4 million people tune in per game. That’s not even in the ballpark… er, basketball court. Viewership means advertising money, merchandise sales, sponsorships and a whole host of other ways the team and players make money. If the WNBA wants their players to make the kind of money you get that kind of viewership and you can have that same revenue. I’m not watching. I don’t watch basketball, men or women, it gives me whiplash.
So if Russia agrees to this prisoner swap, sure, go for it. Take the two Americans home. But now it’s time to tell the story of the other 65 being held around the globe, and to recognize that the United States of America just told the hostage holders we’re sharing — make sure You got someone famous when you want us to leave one of your villains with you.
Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos is a former political adviser and media representative. She hails from Hampton Beach where she lives with her family and three poodles. Write to her at PrestonPerspective@gmail.com.