The case of Brittney Griner in Moscow during a U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout
She’s fine. She’s on a plane. “She is on her way home after being held under intolerable conditions in Russia,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room.
Officials have not specified for how long Griner will be at the medical center, but the basketball star was “in good spirits” and “incredibly gracious” following her release, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN.
Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow airport in February on drug charges and later sentenced to 9 years in prison, was released as part of a prisoner exchange between the US and Russia for notorious convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The U.S. government has long resisted prisoner swaps out of concern that it could encourage the imprisonment of more Americans abroad. The exchange for Bout should not be seen as new normal practice because there are times when there are no alternatives.
The official said the administration felt amoral and policy obligation to bring people home from captivity.
“We start by asking ourselves this question: How is it acceptable for someone like Brittney Griner to be put through sham proceedings and forced to spend [time] … in a Russian penal colony, in horrific circumstances that she did not deserve? And we regard that as unacceptable,” the official said.
The agreement to secure the release of Griner was achieved after months of talks and a number of proposals, according to senior administration officials on a conference call.
An official on a conference call said that this wasn’t a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home. I had to choose between bringing home a specific American, likeBrittney Grieer, or bringing home no one.
The US connected her to her family after the swap was completed. That call “was as moving as it was unforgettable” to hear Griner speak on the phone with her wife, Cherelle, who was present for an Oval Office meeting, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said.
Griner went to Russia to play for a team there during the U.S. offseason, which many WNBA players do because of basketball’s gender pay gap. She was detained in February and sentenced to nine years in prison on drug smuggling charges
She was sentenced last August by a Russian court to nine years in prison for carrying less than a gram of hash oil into Russia when she arrived in February of this year for play in the Russian women’s professional basketball league. Last month, she was transferred to a prison colony in Mordovia — 300 miles southeast of Moscow — to begin serving out her sentence.
In court, Griner admitted to mistakenly packing two vape cartridges in her rush to pack her luggage — but provided documents that showed the hash oil was legally prescribed by her U.S. doctor for pain management.
The US Ambassador to the United States to reunite with Whelan, Colas, and Bout: The wake of Griner’s return home
A U.S. official visited Whelan’s sister on Wednesday to share the news about Griner, and a U.S. official also spoke to Whelan himself in prison to share the news. The official told reporters that Biden intends to speak with the family.
Though it remains unknown if fans will see Griner back on the basketball court in May, one thing is certain, Colas said: Griner is eager to use her power and influence to help others – especially Paul Whelan, another American still imprisoned in Russia.
“We are now focused on ensuring that Brittney and her family’s well-being are prioritized and that all available assistance can be offered to them through an appropriate manner,” US State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a news briefing Friday.
The swap, which took months to negotiate and has drawn mixed reaction in the US for not also including fellow detainee Paul Whelan, occurred at an airport tarmac in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
She said that the phone call to see her was happy for her, even if they wanted to see her at home.
Jackson Lee – who represents the 18th Congressional District of Texas including Griner’s hometown of Houston – said aspects of the two-time Olympian’s current welfare “have to be reviewed.”
She thanked staff at the San Antonio base for the time and care that they gave her as she prepared for her new journey.
The statement said they were thankful for the kind words, thoughts and prayers and thanked those who had helped out, including Paul and the Whelan family.
While many are celebrating Griner’s return home – seen as a diplomatic win between two of the world’s largest nations at fierce odds over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the fate of Whelan’s release remains unclear.
Both of the Americans were facing serious charges and Russia refused to swap them for Bout, with Russia saying the cases were handled differently due to the charges they faced.
“This is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly,” Whelan told CNN in a phone interview. I don’t want the administration to have to pay for my return, so I would hope they would do everything they could to get me home.
Biden said it was not a choice of which American to bring home. “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. We are not giving up, and we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release. We will never give up.”
Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Friday that the public discussion surrounding a potential swap has “been very difficult for my family to hear,” adding she believes her brother is being “discussed as if his only value was what we would have to give up for him.”
Asked about her family’s discussions with the US government regarding her brother’s imprisonment, Elizabeth Whelan said, “I think we’ve made it pretty clear – that as far as I’m concerned, at least – my brother is worth more, has a greater value than any Russian criminal.”
“Russia was a place that paid us a lot of money for our talent, more than being here in our own country,” McCoughtry told CNN on Friday. It is sad that I am wealthy not because of the WNBA but my years overseas. I would make my entire salary overseas in one month.
“For too long women sports have been undervalued, under-invested in,” said Engelbert, who noted that less than 1% of all corporate sponsorship funding goes to women’s sports.
Engelbert also pointed out that the WNBA is a fairly young sports league, which was established in 1996. Still, she added the organization is working on a three-to-five-year plan to drive up players’ pay.
The average tenure in the NBA is about five years, so I believe players will continue to play overseas even as the changes take place.
They are never going to be prevented from making more money in their leagues outside the US during our off season. We want them to come and play at the highest level when they are back in the states.
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“If you promote the women just like the men, people will watch,” McCoughtry said. “Once we get the brand partnerships behind us and promoting us and people know who we are, they’ll come to watch. It will grow.
Toledo was released in October as part of a prisoner swap after being detained while on a 2017 business trip to Venezuela with other oil and gas executives from the Citgo Corporation.
Two months after his release, Toledo described the challenges he has faced with returning to regular daily life – hurdles he didn’t think about when he was first freed – and the advice he has for Griner.
I felt great to smell freedom when I arrived in San Antonio. And you never think about any aspects as a consequence of your captivity. He told CNN’s Pamela Brown that after a while, you begin to notice that reintegrative means a challenge.
Toledo had to rebuild his relationship with his family after spending five years in captivity when he was only a baby.
Toledo also experienced trouble sleeping and other health issues after returning to the US, and saw minor, everyday tasks like driving become sources of anxiety.
It is important that you feel loved by your family, and that you allow them to love you. He said that the feel of love is important.
Sherry, Cherelle, and Michael Griner: Back in Phoenix after a 10-month Detention, Recovery from a Drug Abuse Interaction
In December, after returning from her 10-month stay in Russia, the basketball player posted on her Facebook page that she would return to Phoenix. Griner had been arrested at an airport just outside of Moscow on drug possession charges a year ago and was brought home in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange in December.
“Yesterday my heart was made whole thanks to the collective efforts of MANY! I’m humbled by their hearts. It’s not a secret that to care for another is in its purest form. Griner’s wife wrote.
I want to say a thank you to some of the hands that helped make it possible for me to visit my wife again, as I begin our journey to heal our minds, body, and spirits. her statement continued.
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, told NPR’s All Things Considered on Wednesday that the athlete is doing well and “benefitting from all of the resources that the U.S. government provides to someone like her, who has been through so much and is now into this next phase of reintegration.”
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, “We all want to see her, but we’re going to give her time and space and get her medically evaluated, mentally, emotionally and physically.”
The Olympic gold medalist and basketball Superstar arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on Friday and is staying with her wife, Cherelle, in a residential environment decorated with a Christmas tree.
During her confinement in Russia, the first drink she took in the airplane hangar was a Dr Pepper soda.
The athlete has been eating far more nutritious food and supplements compared with her time in detention, Colas said. “Her energy level was really high,” she added.
Griner’s long, signature deadlocks had been cut while in captivity. She was unable to dry her hair and battled the flu, Colas said.
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Colas said it was fair to say that she picked up a ball voluntarily and then dunked the ball. “She was really excited.”
She arrived at the San Antonio facility for a routine evaluation four days after her release from what US officials deemed wrongful imprisonment.
“She’s had a lot of psychological support,” Colas said. The resources are very strong. It is very supportive and centered. It’s about her developing agency.”
Griner opted into the Department of Defense’s post isolation program, which other wrongfully detained Americans, including Trevor Reed, have participated in, Colas said.
“She is absolutely thinking about the future,” Colas said. She already talks about the position that she is in and the responsibility she will have in helping other people come home.
It’s so good to be back home. On the photo sharing website,Griner wrote. The last 10 months have seen a lot of battles. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. Thanks to everyone for their help, from the bottom of my heart.
Griner, 32, said she was “grateful to each person who advocated for me” and thanked the staff at the Texas military facility she briefly called home. A foreign prisoner in Russia who was not released in the prisoner swap secured her freedom.
Her representatives wouldn’t confirm where she was headed, but they did say she was headed back to Arizona. CNN previously reported that Griner and her wife, Cherelle, had already made plans to move upon her return to the United States.
Phoenix Mercury Center President Jennifer Whelan, 20, after he was arrested in a Russian penal colony during the 2018-2019 espionage trial
Her detention, after Russian officials found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage, became an international cause during a delicate time in relations between Washington and Moscow. It was deemed a mistake by US officials.
The Mercury center was a pawn in the war in Ukraine and returned to the US on December 9th after the prisoner swap for notorious convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
For months, a delicate diplomatic dance played out between the US and Russia, which waged war in Ukraine. The US enacted sanctions in response to the conflict while diplomats kept open lines of communication with Moscow over prisoner negotiations.
Whelan is a US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen who is imprisoned in a Russian penal colony after he was arrested in December 2018 on espionage charges, which he has denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist shared the news on 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299 888-353-1299
“I also want to make one thing very clear,” she wrote. I intend to play basketball for the Phoenix Mercury this season and I will be able to say thanks to those of you who wrote, wrote, and posted about me in person soon.
The 2023 WNBA season begins on May 19. Griner was the Mercury’s leading scorer and rebounder in the 2021 WNBA season, in which Phoenix lost in the finals.
Griner already had hit the basketball court, she said, emphasizing that “the most important thing is that the things that she’s doing now, it’s all her choice.”
On the Sign-Up of Diana Griner with the Mercury for a Multi-Year Contract in the Phoenix O’Raifeartaigh Field
Before that, the seven-time All-Star had played all nine seasons with the franchise since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft.
Phoenix are scheduled to open the season on the road against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19. The team will play their first home game against the Sky on May 21.
A person familiar with the deal said that Griner signed with the Mercury for a one-year contract. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made.
The 6-foot-9 center last played for the Mercury in 2021 and helped the team reach the WNBA Finals. She had a good season in that year, scoring 20 points and 9.5 Rebounds.
“We are very cognizant of BG’s unique situation,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the AP earlier this month. We’ve been thinking about it for a while and we’ve had security experts on our side. We’ll talk about that when she signs with a team.
Diana was signed to a multiyear contract by the Mercury. The WNBA’s all-time leading scorer has only played with the Mercury since being drafted No. 1 by the team in 2004.