By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)
After 10 months of imprisonment in Russia after she was arrested at the airport after vape cartridges containing hash oil were found in her luggage, WNBA and 2x Olympic Gold Medalist, Brittney Griner has finally been released.
No more days. She’s coming home 🧡 pic.twitter.com/HsjbdPfdn5
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) December 8, 2022
Her release came as part of a prisoner exchange between the USA and Russia which saw Griner exchanged for convicted arms dealer, Viktor Bout. The negotiations reportedly took months to secure the release and the final exchange took place at an airport in Abu Dhabi. The release drew some criticism toward President Biden as the deal did not include fellow detainee, Paul Whelan who was arrested in 2018. That arrest saw no efforts from the previous presidential administration before Biden, to secure his release despite reportedly having a “good relationship” with Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.
“I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home,” David Whelan, Paul’s twin brother, said in a statement Thursday. “As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays. There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be free and for them to go home. The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”
The Whelan family received advanced notice that Whelan’s release was not part of the deal, allowing the family time to mentally prepare for the announcement about Griner. For their part, both President Biden and Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, also spoke out in support of Whelan,
“We never forgot about Brittney. We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” Biden said. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we will not give up. We will never give up.”
In announcing Brittney Griner’s release, President Biden said the U.S. has “not forgotten about Paul Whelan” and will “never give up” trying to secure his release from Russia. The corporate security executive has been jailed in Russia since December 2018. https://t.co/H0w8BNHNJZ pic.twitter.com/68ReMNconb
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 8, 2022
For Griner, the news of her release comes at the relief of her family, friends, the WNBA community, LGBTQ+ community and others who have been looking forward to this day since the news first broke about Griner’s arrest. As soon as the exchange was completed, officials took action to connect a phone call between Griner and her family who were inside the oval office with President Biden at the time.
Griner has now landed back on US soil for her first stop at the Brooke Army Medical Center for a full health evaluation. She has been reported to be in “good spirits” and “incredibly gracious”, she was able to walk on her own during the exchange and upon arriving in San Antonio.
Brittney’s coming home. pic.twitter.com/Yg4t08Pqgc
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 9, 2022
In a statement, Griner’s family expressed their heartfelt thanks and called for the safe return of Whelan and all other detained Americans.
“We sincerely thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers – including Paul and the Whelan family who have been generous with their support for Brittney and our family during what we know is a heartbreaking time,” the statement said. “We pray for Paul and for the swift and safe return of all wrongfully-detained Americans.”