When considering the countless failures of the Biden presidency, no list could do it justice. However, most conservatives agree that issues such as soaring inflation, his botched exit from Afghanistan, the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, the unconstitutional vaccine mandates and his opening racist hiring policies are among the most grievous consequences of his presidency.
Yet in the Biden administration there is always room for more miscalculation. On Thursday morning, the president revealed that Brittney Griner, the basketball player detained in Russia on drug smuggling charges, was “safe, on a plane and on her way home.”
Given that the safe return of all Americans imprisoned wrongly abroad is ultimately the responsibility of the White House, this announcement appeared to be a victory to the beleaguered 80-year-old president. However, one need only scratch beneath the surface to realize that far from being a victory, it was a self-inflicted political humiliation.
Under the terms of the agreement, Griner was exchanged with the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” for his role in supporting international terrorism. So notorious was Bout’s reputation he has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries and television series. In 2011, he was sentenced to a minimum 25 years in prison for conspiracy to kill U.S. officials and civilians, arms dealing and providing material support for terrorist organizations.
Unlike many Americans imprisoned abroad, Griner had actually committed a crime, albeit not a particularly serious one. In February of this year, she was arrested and imprisoned on charges of smuggling cannabis oil into Russia. After pleading guilty, she was sentenced to a ludicrously harsh nine-year prison sentence. As a celebrated black, gay, female basketball player, the campaign for her release began and attracted global media attention.
Another American imprisoned in Russia was the former marine turned security contractor Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence on charges of espionage. Although the exact circumstances around the charges remain unclear, what is certain is that Whelan is a patriot who risked his life for his country in Iraq. He also happened to be a Trump supporter, posting in Russia after his victory in 2016: “Президент Трамп Вперед!!” (President Trump Onward!!).
What makes this move despicable is the blatantly cynical nature of the Biden administration’s priorities. When given the choice between a former Marine accused of espionage (an activity widely sponsored by the U.S. government) and a renowned female sportswoman who aligned herself with Black Lives Matter, their decision was depressingly predictable. Biden insists he “hasn’t forgotten” about Whelan and will continue to fight for his release, while blaming Russia for allegedly treating the cases differently. In a statement, Whelan’s family said they were “devastated” that he remains in custody.
Both Griner and Whelan, as well as all the other Americans detained abroad on trumped-up charges, deserve a safe passage back home. Yet given the circumstances of her crime and her obvious disdain for her country, Griner deserved no special treatment. To trade her for a man nicknamed “The Merchant of Death” (at a time when the U.S. is in a major proxy war with Russia) is not just an insult to the victims of terrorism and the families of those still seeking the safe return of their loved ones, but to every American who believes everyone in equality before the law.