The WNBA player Brittney Griner received an unjust nine-year sentence in Russia today after admitting to possession of hashish oil in that country. I say “unjust,” not because her guilt is at issue — it is not — but because nobody deserves nine years in a Russian penal colony for a minor drug offense. It is obvious that the Putin government is using Griner to try to get the US to free Viktor Bout, an arms dealer now in prison in the US. Washington is said to be considering it seriously.
What kind of trade would that be, though? A pothead basketball player for an arms dealer, whose acts resulted in lots of people being killed? Griner had to have known that having cannabis in Russia was against the law. Why did she take that risk? Again, I think she was unfairly sentenced here, but are we honestly going to trade a genuinely evil Russian man for Brittney Griner?
Why is this even on the table? Peter Van Buren, a former US diplomat, questions whether Griner is getting special treatment from the Biden administration. He writes, in part:
The rule is simple: abroad, Americans are subject to the host country’s laws and legal system, whether that be Great Britain or Russia. The Bill of Rights does not follow Americans to foreign countries, nor will the US government intervene with the host country on their behalf. Try and bring some weed into Japan, and if you’re caught, you’re looking at years behind bars. No matter if it’s a small amount for personal use back home. In Japan, anything over about an ounce means you intended to sell it, and the punishment is accordingly lengthy.
I should know: I spent seven years in Japan visiting American prisoners as part of my State Department job. The top three reasons for their arrests were drugs, drugs, and drugs. Just like Brittney Griner. The difference between them and Griner was I was not allowed to help them get out, or advocate for a shorter sentence.
The only exception was if you were “wrongly detained,” [sic] a special category that allows the US government to actively help free those designated. It is up to the secretary of state to make the call, as there are no set criteria. Even the total number of Americans so designated is murky.
The State Department has declared Griner to have been “wrongfully detained” — this, even though she admitted to breaking Russian law, and the evidence was found in her bags as she arrived in Moscow. What kind of idiot tries to smuggle drugs into Russia? There is no way in the world that Griner didn’t know that drug possession is illegal in Russia.
In 2020, Griner, an out lesbian and woke political activist, told the media that she would refuse to go onto the court while the National Anthem was being played. Back then, she said:
“I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season, I think we should take that much of a stand. I’m going to protest regardless. I’m not going to be out there for the national anthem. If the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine. It will be all season long, I’ll not be out there. I feel like more are going to probably do the same thing. I can only speak for myself.”
That’s certainly her right to have done that, and it by no means justifies this long prison sentence (nothing does!), but to us in the Unwoke-American community, that makes her a less sympathetic figure than she otherwise might have been. Van Buren writes that there are 4,000 Americans around the world who have, according to the State Department, been “wrongfully detained.” What makes Griner so special as to receive this kind of high-profile treatment by the US Government? He goes on:
During my State Department career, I visited hundreds of American prisoners abroad, from celebrities and white-collar criminals dealing with multi-millions of dollars at issue to near-homeless Americans trying to make a quick drug score. Not a single one of them felt he was “rightfully detained” in every sense; most felt their sentences were too long given the offenses they committed. But I was under strict and standing orders not to advocate for any of them, to allow the host country process to play out as it would.
What makes Brittney Griner more special than Lieutenant Alkonis or Marc Fogel or my hundreds of cases, Mr. Biden? Will they have to wait in a foreign prison for some future election cycle when it is their peer group a future president seeks to impress?
What Van Buren is saying is that Brittney Griner is a black lesbian whose identity and outspoken wokeness make her dear to the hearts of certain Democratic Party constituencies. That is why the US Government is in talks with the Russians to send a convicted arms dealer to Russia in exchanged for a black lesbian pothead athlete who wouldn’t stand for her horribly racist country’s national anthem. This is privilege in Biden’s America.
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Free Brittney Griner? Absolutely. She doesn’t deserve this sentence. But if bringing her home after she knowingly tried to smuggle drugs into Russia means letting Viktor Bout — a would-be murderer of Americans, international arms dealer, a helper of terrorists, and likely a Russian spy — go home, it’s not worth it. Not even close — and not even with the former American Marine Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia for allegedly having a thumb drive with classified information on it, included in the deal.
Are there no other US citizens wrongfully detained in Russia? On what grounds does the State Department even claim she was wrongfully detained? Unless the Russians are supposed to turn a blind eye when a professional athlete bearing identity characteristics from not one but two ruling-class-approved victim groups breaks their drug laws…