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Another freed hostage

Melvin B. Miller

Most Americans are unaware that many of their fellow citizens are held as captives by foreign governments on the basis of questionable violations. Such incidents come to light only when a celebrity is taken. The arrest of the American women’s basketball star, Brittney Griner, was such an incident.

As a WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist, Griner’s imprisonment generated sufficient publicity for the Russians to demand the release of Viktor Bout, an arms trafficker who had been jailed since 2008 and was serving a 25-year sentence. The U.S. also wanted the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who had been imprisoned since 2018 after being charged with espionage violations.

The Russians would release only one person if the Americans would release only Bout. It was a one-for-one exchange. Critics of President Biden claimed that Whelan should have been released because he had been held since 2018. On the other hand, Griner’s celebrity created the international attention sought by Putin. Without Griner, there might not have beenan exchange at all.