Joe Biden made a bad, deadly deal to free Brittney Griner

Joe Biden made a bad, deadly deal to free Brittney Griner

WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner broke a minor law in Russia. She did not deserve to rot in a penal colony for such a trivial offense.

That said, it is an embarrassment to the United States and a testimony to President Joe Biden’s incompetence that he just released a major international weapons smuggler — “the Merchant of Death” is the man’s nickname — in exchange for Griner’s freedom. But Viktor Bout was not just an arms smuggler, he was serving a federal prison sentence for conspiring to kill Americans. This was a deal that no one would have considered for even one second, but for Griner’s fame and privilege.


Griner, who styles herself a social justice activist, once described being a black person in America as “a world where we just can’t live. We can’t wake up and do whatever we want to do. Go for a run, go to the store to buy some candy, drive your car without the fear of being wrongfully pulled over.”

Admittedly, the law she broke attaches a disproportionate punishment to a trivial crime. But at least she got a chance to see what another country’s justice system is like from the inside. Perhaps she will learn from this experience what generally happens when you violate laws abroad, outside the freest and fairest nation on Earth. She may have also gained some perspective on the fact that there are places where racism is much worse than it is in the U.S.

Outside the U.S. and a handful of other Western countries, criminal defendants have almost no rights. That is a very sharp contrast with the country whose national anthem Griner once demanded not be played at WNBA games.

Everyone could be happy with an ending in which a chastened Griner returns home with that lesson. Unfortunately, this story is a lot bigger than Griner, for it involves bloody conflicts and perhaps millions dead.

First, the idea of paying ransom to Russian President Vladimir Putin is obviously repugnant and counterproductive. Much like Chinese authorities, the Russians will be encouraged by Biden’s weakness to take even more U.S. hostages and hold them on flimsy or false charges in hope of extracting concessions.

Second, and even more importantly, Biden traded for Griner’s freedom by releasing a genuine threat to human freedom and world peace. Bout is a man for whom black lives certainly do not matter — he is legendary for selling weapons into African conflicts and to the worst of the continent’s human rights abusers. He was caught in 2008 in a sting operation in which he was attempting to sell rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles to people he thought were representatives of Colombia’s terrorist Marxist guerrilla fighters.

Thanks to Biden, he will now be back in business. If you tried to think of a more cartoonishly inappropriate deal than the one Biden just made, you would fail.

The trade the president made is inexcusable. But even so, assuming Biden was thinking of making such an awful deal, could he not have also secured the release of Paul Whelan, the former Marine who had been arrested in Russia on completely bogus spying charges? It still wouldn’t have been worth releasing Bout, but at least Biden could then say he didn’t sell his country down the river for quite so little.

His failure to do this raises an important question: Was Griner given preferential treatment over Whelan, who did not actually commit a crime, because he is a straight, white man and she is a black lesbian with a fan base of voters?

“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up,” Whelan said in a phone call with CNN from the penal colony where he lives. “I was arrested for a crime that never occurred. I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

In that, he is not alone.


© 2022 Washington Examiner

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