The Biden administration has been criticized for securing the release of celebrity basketball player Brittney Griner, who spent nine months in a Russian prison after police found cannabis oil in her luggage, while former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges.
Congressional Republicans questioned the decision to agree to a prisoner swap between Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury pro basketball star, and Russian arms dealer Viktor “Merchant of Death” Bout.
Bout was arrested by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Thailand after a sting operation in 2008. He was charged with conspiring to kill Americans and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Griner was accused of bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil in vape cartridges into Russia, where she had played for years in the off-season for a Russian women’s basketball team. She was arrested on drug smuggling charges and testified that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil found in her luggage.
Critics have demanded that Whelan, the ex-Marine imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges who was once court-martialed in the U.S. and received a bad-conduct discharge, should have also been freed as a condition of the deal.
“While I welcome the release of Brittney Griner, I cannot help but think about Paul Whelan – as he has apparently been abandoned by the Biden administration,” Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, tweeted.
Black Americans Have the Highest Mortality Rates But Lowest Levels of Life Insurance
Are you prioritizing your cable entertainment bill over protecting and investing in your family?
Smart Policies are as low as $30 a month, No Medical Exam Required
Click Here to Get Smart on Protecting Your Family and Loves Ones, No Matter What Happens
Some have said Whelan is a hero. Others on Twitter insist that the former Marine had a less-than-stellar record in the U.S. armed services.
Whelan, 52, was born in Canada and has U.S., British, Irish, and Canadian citizenship. He was arrested by Russian authorities at a Moscow hotel in 2018 for allegedly spying and sentenced to 16 years in prison in what U.S. officials described as an unfair trial.
U.S. military records released shortly after Whelan’s arrest show that he had been convicted in a court-martial on charges including larceny, the Associated Press reported in 2019.
Court records provided by the Marine Corps headquarters show that he was accused of attempting to steal more than $10,000 while serving as an administrative clerk in Iraq in 2006, of using a false social security number on a government computer and of using a false account on the system to grade his own exams.
Whalen’s rank was reduced from staff sergeant to corporal and he was given a bad conduct discharge, AP reported.
“Griner kneeled during the Anthem,” tweeted former federal prosecutor Ron Filipkowski to his 589,800 followers. “Paul Whelan was court-martialed by the Marine Corps and received a Bad Conduct discharge after being convicted of multiple counts of larceny, dereliction of duty, identity fraud, false statements, and check fraud.”
Dr. Obery M. Hendricks, author of “Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith,” tweeted, “Whelan served, yes, but he was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps for thievery. It’s unfortunate, but stop trying to make a hero out of him.”
The U.S. did not get to choose who came home, according to the Biden administration. “This was not a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home. It was a choice between bringing home one particular American – Brittney Griner – or bringing home none,” a U.S. senior administration official said Thursday morning, according to a CNN report.