Freeing Brittney Griner comes at too great of a cost to the world


Noah Amidon, opinions editor

On February 22, 2022, Brittney Griner, an American WNBA player was taken into Russian custody on charges of carrying illicit materials into the country. Allegedly, Griner had vape cartridges on her that contained Cannabis oil, which had been banned in the country. This led to her eventual sentencing to nine years in a Russian Prison.

Due to her being an American citizen the U.S. State Department is rumored to have begun negotiations with the Russian government to conduct a prisoner exchange that would see Griner and Paul Whelan, an American teacher who had also been arrested and placed in a Russian prison, freed. However, this would come at the cost of freeing the Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, also known as ‘The Merchant of Death.’

Bout’s actions as an arms dealer are deeply ingrained in the history of modern war. He’s credited with supplying the Afghan Northern Alliance against the Taliban, the Taliban themselves, flying millions of dollars of weapons into South America to supply the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and supplying guns to former Liberian President Charles Taylor (who is currently serving a prison term for murder, rape, and terrorism). All of these acts have accumulated with him gaining the moniker of “The McDonald’s of Arms Trafficking.”

Peter Hain, a British politician, states in 2000, “Viktor Bout is indeed the chief sanctions-buster, and is a merchant of death who owns air companies that ferry in arms and other logistic support for the rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone and take out the diamonds which pay for those arms.”

To put it simply, he is a bad man, whose presence in society threatens millions of lives. Therefore, the question is easily posed: is it worth it? If we were to weigh the potential impacts of this trade deal it becomes increasingly clear that this is not something that the U.S. should pursue. In the world of no deal, Griner and Whelan’s potential never return to the U.S., however in the world of the deal we see one of the world’s most dangerous men being released and made free to reign terror on the globe.

It’s important for President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to understand this since often leadership can be caught in a tunnel vision of simply trying to get American citizens home. If the U.S. were to try and act as a global peacekeeper then they should see that by releasing this man then Biden and Blinken act as accomplices to whatever death happens as a result of Bout’s dealings.

It should also be considered the dangerous precedent that Griner’s freedom could cause. If the U.S. is willing to release a dangerous Russian criminal to free an American citizen, what’s stopping Russia from continuing to arrest American citizens with the knowledge that they could exchange prisoners for one of their own. This is a dangerous precedent that would be created, and thus is just another reason to not go through with this trade.

If the Biden Administration really does want to make a difference by freeing people under wrongful arrest they should rather move to free incarcerated Americans. Forbes estimates in 2020 that “40,000 Americans were incarcerated for minor Marijuana Offenses.” Seeing as a majority of these charges are federal, the President carries the power to pardon any number of these individuals for their crimes that have since been decriminalized.

It could also be seen potentially as hypocritical if the President were to invest in a trade deal to free Griner from her possession charges, with insurmountable costs attached, while thousands of Americans sit in prison under similar charges. It’s just not fair.

Clearly, we hope for the best for Griner, Whalen, and their families; however, this deal just doesn’t make sense for millions of people across the globe.