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.
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...
UPDATE: A reader writes:
I have to say that I was really disappointed with your recent post about the Brittney Griner situation. I was hoping to see some nuanced opinions from you or at least some options that maybe our state department isn't considering, but instead, I found your writing to be sardonic in an extreme way and very lacking in empathy for this young woman's situation.
Obviously "stupid actions = stupid consequences" is an elephant in the room in any conversation wherein a member of the celebrity elite class (like Griner, a pro athlete) is concerned, but the fact of the matter is that Russia wouldn't be proposing we trade her for an arms dealer if Russia wasn't already feeling especially belligerent thanks to our many mistakes over the past months dealing with sanctions etc. Is it a fair trade? Probably not from a purely cold, militaristic standpoint. But the entire goose on the table is that if we don't trade for Griner, then we'll be the ones abandoning a young woman to certain suffering in a prison in a nation that's itching to get back at the U.S. for our foreign policy mistakes and Russia knows this perfectly well. It knows the U.S. relies heavily on its "freedom from oppression" line to keep its public standing and it also knows that the people in power over here can't afford to lose that image of they want all of these other nations to keep playing our twisted games.
I won't get any deeper than that since I know you know the situation perfectly well, but the bottom line is that I feel sorry for Griner, who's caught between a rock and a hard place in a situation she'd never have been in if she had timed her (foolish) mistake before this year. I think it's profoundly lacking in empathy to act as though it's better to leave Griner in prison rather than to free an arms dealer and possible spy. Obviously this isn't a decision that should come lightly, the detaining of athletes or other U.S. travelers for a variety of reasons could become an even bigger problem in the future and we can't give Russia the impression we'll hand over an important figure to them every time a celebrity gets in trouble in Russia. But again, some emphasis has to be placed on the fact that leaving Griner in Russia to serve her sentence is not an option either, and that's just the reality of the (moral side) situation.
If Griner was left in Russia she would undoubtedly suffer tenfold what she actually deserves for her related offense. A relative of mine is a big fan of hockey, and they've been talking about some members of the NHL want to cut ties with all their Russian-born players and ship them back to Russia over the Ukraine situation. But no one has seriously considered actually doing this, because those players are valuable assets, and because frankly, none of them want to go home. They can't even openly denounce Russia over Ukraine (despite that some of them might want to) because they know their families and friends at home would be at risk. If they did go back to Russia, (according to my relative) they'd likely never be able to leave and their careers as pro hockey players on the world stage would be over. This isn't speculation, either, it seems to be the reality of the situation. So considering how unsympathetic Russia's state department would likely to be their own athletes wanting to leave the country right now, imagine how much worse they're going to be to a foreign athlete who's (again, very stupidly!) gotten themselves arrested and put in prison for a drug offense.
The difference, though, is that those Russian athletes broke no laws. Griner broke a drug law, one that was very, very easy not to break. As I've said, I think her sentence is monstrously unjust, and is clearly political. The US Government is right to advocate for her release, and to call attention to the injustice of her sentence (though for reasons explained above, she was not "wrongfully detained"; she broke the law; most US travelers who smoke pot manage to leave their vape cartridges at home when they go to Russia). But is it worth sending back a genuinely bad guy in exchange for her, as opposed to, say, a Russian imprisoned for spying for the US (if such a person exists)?
Another reader writes:
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Regarding Brittany Griner, you said, “There is no way in the world that Griner didn't know that drug possession is illegal in Russia.”
Maybe. But a hallmark among drug users, even those who only smoke weed, is irresponsibility. They do it in part because they don’t think the rules should apply at all. So they just ignore them. They’re just like habitual speeders. Put short, these are narcissists and people who think it’s up to the world to accommodate them, while refusing to ever return the favor. At worst, they become social predators. Social predators keep messing and messing around until they eventually find out. This is what happened to Griner and it happened in a country that doesn’t care one iota about her identity, what she thinks, or what she’s allowed to do in America.
In some ways, Griner’s the ultimate “Ugly American” and it pains me to acknowledge her American citizenship, because she clearly doesn’t identify as American in anything beyond a legal sense. But she still thinks her personal values ought to apply all across the world because, well, she’s hot s**t and it’s what she wants. I personally don’t have anything against people who smoke pot, but I do have something against people who have the mindset and personality of Griner: my way, all the time. Once upon a time, I never thought the Ugly American was indicative of who we are as a people, but in so many ways, Griner is what America has become, circa 2022. Our degeneracy, all the time, every corner of the world.
A part of me kind of hopes the U.S. gives up Viktor Bout, because, no matter how much of an effort the Biden administration gives to convince us otherwise, this will actually be a major victory for Moscow. In this day and age, all you have to do is ask, “What if Trump did the same thing?” If Trump doing it would’ve resulted in apocalypse, then it’d at least be half as bad if someone else did it.” Keep in mind, Trump intervened to free LiAngelo Ball after he was arrested in China for allegedly stealing luxury goods and he also helped free a rapper who was arrested in Sweden (his name escapes me). If I recall correctly, Trump gave up nothing in either case, merely using the power of his office as leader for the free world to free the men. He was still criticized by the Left and the media for his actions. What Biden’s trying to accomplish here is far, far worse. This would be like trying to exchange Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to his native Pakistan in exchange for some American tourist who got arrested there. Where’s the condemnation in the media? Remember, Fox News doesn’t count!
There’s something so poetic about all this. We’re willing to exchange a very bad man to rescue someone who hates her country and conducted herself so irresponsibly overseas. And for what? What do we get out of this? What sort of message do we send? I’m not saying the Biden administration shouldn’t try to get her back, but the way they’re going about it just screams decadence and weakness. Like it doesn’t matter we’re going to give up one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, begging the question why we ever arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated him in the first place. If our civilization is going into decline and there’s no way to arrest said decline, we may as well just accelerate the process and bring down the degenerates, including President Biden, with it. May he and everyone else like him be remembered as the people who just gave this country up because they convinced themselves this country wasn’t worth saving.
She is a celebrity. That makes her the Most Valuable Player in American life. That, and she is a person of color, and a lesbian.