The Trade for Team USA

On December 7th, 2022, WNBA basketball player, Brittney Griner, was finally released from a Russian prison.

She was released in a one-to-one trade for Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout.

Immediately, here in the United States, we saw an avalanche of rhetoric spouted on all news and social media outlets regarding the fact that the Biden administration traded a notorious Russian arms dealer for a “basketball player” when former U.S. Marine, Paul Whelan, still sat behind in an abysmal Russian labor camp.

Given the climate of the U.S. at this current time, this is to be expected. As is, I guess, the outlandish political posturing, with particular senators calling for impeachment on Twitter, and other formerly outrageous statements that, sadly, have now become so common that we in the audience don’t even waste a blink over it.

First, let’s take a brief look at the three different people involved in this story. Sorry folks, but I’m going to approach this in the most dispassionate way possible. While taking colorful swipes at the opposition is entertaining, doing so without facts would make me just one more monkey just randomly flinging poo all over you with great fervor and very little thought. I prefer to fling my poo in a targeted fashion, so we’re going to, first, take a look at the facts as they stand. I’ll be providing references from reliable sources.

I’ll wrap it up with some editorializing, of course, because yes, this is my blog and it’s all about my opinions here…but I like my opinions to be formed based on actual fact versus fanaticism.

So let’s do this…

Brittney Griner

close up of Brittney Griner in team USA jerseyOn February 17th, 2022, Griner, a then 31-year-old Houston native and professional basketball player for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki.

Griner had returned to Russia to play for the UMMC Ekaterinburg team during the WNBA’s off-season.

She was accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country.

A week after her detainment, Russia invaded Ukraine.

After being held for over a month in pre-trial detention, Griner finally met with U.S. representatives from the consular office.

On May 3rd, the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. government had classified Griner’s case as “wrongfully detained” in Russia. This classification resulted in greater U.S. involvement in negotiating for her freedom versus waiting for her case to run its course in the Russian legal system.

On June 14th, a Russian court extended Griner’s pre-trial detention for a third time, with a decision to keep her in pre-trial custody until July 2, 2022.

On June 27th, Griner attended a preliminary hearing where her detention was extended for the fourth time as the first day of her trial was set for July 1, 2022.

On July 1st, Griner’s trial began in Russia. After a week, she pled guilty on drug charges with the explanation that the vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage unintentionally.

Griner had a prescription for medical marijuana in the U.S., issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health. She had hastily packed for her trip to Russia and didn’t realize the cartridges were in her bag.

She had also underwent tests, prior to her arrest, as part of an anti-doping check, which didn’t detect any prohibited substances in her system.

She had no intention of breaking Russian law. However, medical marijuana is illegal in Russia and, on August 4th, 2022 Griner was found guilty on drug charges and sentenced to nine years in prison.

On December 7th, 2022, the Biden administration successfully negotiated the release of U.S. citizen, Brittney Griner.

These are the absolute facts.

Viktor Bout

viktor bout in bullet proof vest with armed guards on either sideOn November 2nd, 2011, after years of investigation and a dramatic 2008 sting operation by U.S. agents in Thailand, Victor Bout, a notorious international arms dealer, was found guilty of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

FARC is a designated foreign terrorist organization based in Colombia. The weapons were intended to kill Americans in Colombia, per the Department of Justice.

Bout’s story is a very long and winding one that spans over two decades and has actually inspired the 2005 Nicolas Cage film Lord of War. It’s already been heavily documented, so I’m not going to go into great length to re-chronicle it here.

These are the absolute facts.

Paul Whelan

Paul Whelen from Russian courtroomPaul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine and corporate security expert, was sentenced to 16 years in prison by Russian authorities on espionage charges in 2020.

Whelan’s story is a very interesting one.

Whelan, who calls Novi, MI home, holds American, Irish, British, and Canadian citizenship. He was born in Canada to British parents and his family moved to the U.S. when he was a child.

Much has been mentioned about his military service and there are some inconsistencies that should be addressed, which we’ll now get to.

Whelan joined the US Marine Reserves in 1994, while working for a stint in law enforcement.

In the early 2000s he worked as an IT project manager for Kelly Services.

In 2003 he took military leave of Kelly Services and then deployed with the marines as an active-duty reservist on the first of two tours to Iraq, in 2004 and then 2006, where he served most of his time as an administrative clerk.

According the BBC news story Who is Paul Whelan, the ex-US Marine jailed in Russia?, posted on December 8th, 2022, it was while serving in the marines that he made his first trip to Russia. He chronicled his visit, shared pictures, and said he had a “quite enjoyable time” exploring the cities of Moscow and St Petersburg on his website, which was shut down several years ago.

On August 26th, 2008, Whelan received a bad-conduct discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps on charges of larceny and bad check writing. (Note that Due to this fact, per 38 U.S.C. § 101(2), he can not actually claim veteran status. Reports referring to him as a veteran are erroneous.)

After his discharge, he returned to Kelly Services and, in 2010, was promoted to senior manager of global security and investigations, where he was in charge of the company’s campus security group. His duties included managing and conducting investigations, as well as handling some purchasing.

Whelan was “responsible for overseeing security” at facilities in Michigan and around the world, a company statement said. Kelly’s Services had a 25 year presence in Russia up until May of 2022, when the company decided to make an exit from the country.

Per the BBC, since his first visit in 2006, Mr Whelan made a number of other trips to Russia and developed an in-depth knowledge of the country.

It was due to his knowledge of Russia that he had been asked to attend the wedding of a fellow former marine in Moscow in December 2018, his brother David told the BBC’s Newshour after his arrest.

“His experience of having already been to the Kremlin and having already walked around Red Square and navigating the metro, his friend felt Paul could assist a bunch of Americans who hadn’t otherwise ever been to Moscow,” David Whelan informed the BBC.

On December 28th, 2018, he was arrested by Russia’s FSB state security agency, which claimed he had been “caught spying” in Moscow. At the time, there were uncorroborated reports he had been caught receiving a digital storage device containing a list of intelligence officials.

According to Whelan, he was framed and a person he considered a friend unknowingly planted a USB drive with classified information in his pocket, according to the BBC.

So those are the facts as we have them right now regarding Mr. Whelan.

Now that we have the facts…

Here Are My Feels

On December 7th, I got the notification about Griner right as it happened. I made a happy post about it 30 seconds later…because it is joyous news. Anytime an American citizen is released from captivity in a hostile country, it’s joyous news.


I’ve been a women’s basketball fan for years. I don’t watch pro sports very often anymore, I prefer college sports usually, but I’m well familiar with Brittney Griner from her days at Baylor where she was a devastating force for the Bears.

Just for some added love, Griner is also openly queer, has a wife, and is a powerful role model for all the outsider kids who love sports but may be reluctant to play due to their sexuality or gender identity.

So yes, it made me really happy to see that news. There’s my bias out there for the world to see.

What About the Marine?

Before moving any further, let’s hear from Paul Whelan’s brother regarding the Whelan family’s feelings over Griner’s release before Whelan’s.

David Whelan gave a very fair statement, I feel. Yes, he and his family are disappointed that his brother wasn’t included in the deal. This goes without saying. Whelan admits, in the video, that it’s very possible the Russians are holding his brother in reserve, in the event the U.S. captures a Russian agent of some sort or ends up with something else that they would like to leverage.

So now, yes, what about Paul Whelan?

Oh yeah I can hear that grating, whining, whataboutism from every MAGAt in three neighboring counties. It’s like a shrill chorus of tone deaf hyenas. When I checked Facebook and Twitter this morning, the crap that I saw was so bad that I had to sit down and make sense of it here.

I mean, seriously MTG? Seriously? Impeachment? This knucklehead was, per usual, one of the first loose cannons to go firing off her big mouth.

Let me make it clear that I’m not interested in tearing down Paul Whelan. I don’t know the man. All that we all have to go off of are the facts as they exist. I feel for him and I feel for his family. The situation is terrible.

The fact remains, tho, that in their zeal to tarnish the Biden administration’s success in bringing another U.S. citizen home all those MAGAmaniacs actually ended up giving themselves a massive black eye.

According to the BBC, Whelan’s family didn’t know about his bad-conduct discharge. All of that very old, private history of his has now been dug up and splattered all over the interwebs.

Can you image? I mean, the man had some big errors in judgement…over 15 years ago.

Fifteen years ago, I did stupid shit that I would prefer stay in the past as well.

People make mistakes. I don’t know if Whelan has redeemed himself for his or not. I hope he has. The fact remains, tho, that all this newly unearthed information about his bad-conduct discharge has put an indelible stain on him. When folks add in the fact that he’s a citizen in four countries, worked in law enforcement, and was a regular visitor to Russia, it’s really easy to connect the dots in a way that hints at him being a spy.

Even if he’s not.

But yeah, I’m sure Paul Whelan has a big old thank you for you and the other baboons in your monkey house, MTG.

In the meantime, Putin, ever the agent of chaos, was fully aware of the political fallout that would occur in trading a young, Black, queer, female athlete. Don’t think for a second that he wasn’t aware of it. Take a look for yourselves:

But She Hates Our Country

Oh, yeah, that’s right…she’s Black and refuses to play along with the whole tired out National Anthem bullshit, so she “hates our country”.

I gotta say…she looks like she’s incredibly embarrassed to wear that Team USA gear.

RIO DE JANEIRO – AUGUST 20: Brittney Griner #15 of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team poses after winning the Gold Medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic games on August 20, 2016. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

But what do I know?

But She’s A Drug Using WNBA Basketball Player!!!

She’s a U.S. citizen who was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment over a minute amount of an illegal substance.

As someone who finds forgotten items in his suitcase all the time, including medication, her story is absolutely plausible. Furthermore she had a prescription for it and she had tested clean for illegal substances, as a routine course of business for professional athletics, shortly before she was arrested.

Yes. I absolutely believe her story.

However even if she were lying through her teeth about it, the amount was so miniscule that it’s laughable. The thought of putting someone into prison for nine years, for paying for them to live for nine years, over a small vial of pot juice is economically ludicrous.

This was a 100% politically motivated blow from Putin straight to us one week before Russia invaded Ukraine. We all know this. Things aren’t working out quite as Putin expected where Ukraine is concerned however. This whole ugly Christmas sweater is starting to unravel for him, so they’re cutting losses while they can still get some kind of decent deal out of it and, hopefully, save some political face.

What About That Other Marine?

No one seemed to be too upset about U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed being released on April 27th, 2022, before both Griner and Whelan.

I mean, Reed had been a Marine Presidential Guard. During the Obama administration, he was tasked with the protection of then Vice President Joe Biden at Camp David.

Reed, who was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2016, was in Russia on vacation, visiting his girlfriend, back in 2019 when he was arrested for intoxication and grabbing the arm of a Russian police officer while in transit to the station. He was sentenced to 9 years as well.

The fact that he knows President Biden didn’t seem to register with anyone as some terrible offense.

I gotta admit, watching this guy go all jarhead over these MAGA politicians is vastly entertaining.

The Merchant of Death for a Basketball Player?

Okay…so now I guess we’re going for overall value of bad?

Trevor Reed, who was sentenced to nine years for basically being drunk and disorderly, was swapped for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot and aviation expert from Russia, who was sentenced to 20 years for conspiring to bring $100 million worth of cocaine into the US.

So, I guess, a big time drug trafficker might not be quite as bad as an old, washed up international arms dealer, but neither are great…and both were swapped for U.S. Citizens who received ridiculous, disproportionate sentences for fairly petty crimes.

So it just leaves me to wonder…is the Right really upset because Griner’s Black? Or a woman? Or queer? Or all of it?

Take your pick, you’re probably correct.

Published by Jonah Sheridan Fenn

Nerd herder, word wrangler, working on the next chapter...

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