Brittney Griner’s release in Russia in exchange for Victor Bout known to us in the media as “Merchant of Death,” and simultaneously failing to bring him Paul Whelan shines the light on other Americans left behind in foreign prisons.
Whelan was convicted over bogus espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He now lives in a penal colony while not even knowing the language according to his brother. .Whalen has denied his guilt and the United States government has denied he was a spy. Whelan has said he is “disappointed.” This past summer Whalen’s name was mentioned in connection with Griner’s for a prisoner swap with Bout. His brother, David, said on CNN on Thursday evening he is worried about Paul’s “mental health.”
Over the summer the U.S. State Department said that there are between 40 and 50 Americans being wrongly detained by foreign governments.
The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates on behalf of both hostages and wrongful detainees, have found that the number of Americans being unjustly held by foreign governments has been rising.
“Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a 175 percent increase in incidents of Americans being wrongfully detained,” Cynthia T. Loertscher, the director of research for the Foley Foundation, said in an interview to the New York Times.
The James Foley Foundation was named in honor of James Foley, journalist who was killed in Syria by the Islamic State in 2014, and issued a report in September ,which found that wrongful detentions have been on the rise.
Among its findings:
- More Americans are being held wrongfully. An average of 34 U.S. nationals were wrongfully held by foreign governments each year between 2012 and 2022, the report found, which is a 580 percent increase from the prior decade when an average of five U.S. nationals were held each year.
- More countries are unjustly holding Americans. At the beginning of the century only four countries were wrongfully detaining U.S. nationals, the report found, while in 2022 “at least 19 countries had either wrongfully detained or continued to hold a U.S. national in captivity.”
- There are concerns that Americans are being targeted to secure political leverage against the United States. The report found that detentions in Iran, China, Venezuela, Syria, and Russia account for three-quarters of U.S. nationals currently wrongfully detained.
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President Biden addressed the subject Thursday morning as he discussed the release of Griner.
“I don’t want any American to sit wrongfully detained one extra day if we can bring that person home,” Biden said. “My administration has now brought home dozens of Americans who were wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, many of whom had been held since before I took office. And today we also remember the other Americans that are being held hostage and wrongfully detained in Russia or anywhere else in the world. Reuniting these Americans with their loved ones remains a priority — a priority for my administration and every person in my administration involved in this.”
Diane Foley, the founder and president of the Foley foundation, praised the Biden administration’s efforts to free Ms. Griner. She urged the administration to continue to press Russia for Whelan’s release, saying it was “heartbreaking that Paul Whelan is not also on that flight home with Brittney.”
At the White House, Mr. Biden said that “we’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years.”
“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” the president said. “And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”