Will Paul Whelan Ever See Freedom?

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WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from her Russian imprisonment and is back in the United States, where she belongs. The Kremlin agreed to release her after the Biden administration released a Russian arms dealer. The move is being debated among members of the chattering class, but regardless of what one thinks about the prisoner exchange deal, most agree that her return is a positive development.

While many are celebrating Griner’s freedom, others are also discussing U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned since 2018, when the Kremlin arrested and convicted him on espionage charges.

Many hoped the Biden administration would be able to negotiate the release of both prisoners, but Russia was only willing to give up Griner, which has become a source of contention, especially on the right.

“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case different than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up,” President Joe Biden said after the athlete’s release was publicized, according to the Hill.

A senior White House official said they believe Moscow is refusing to budge on Whelan because his charges were more severe than that of Griner, who was arrested for possessing cannabis oil, the Hill also reported.The official said:

We as a government have sought to bring Paul Whelan home as well. We did so in good faith with the Russians and proposed multiple different options. Regrettably, due to the nature of the sham espionage charges Russia levied against Paul, the Russians have treated, continue to treat, his situation differently from Brittney’s and rejected each and every one of our proposals for his release.

John Kirby, Biden’s National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told CNN that Russia never considered Whelan a part of the deal. “Viktor Bout was never a bargaining chip for Mr. Whelan, and the Russians consistently made that clear. So I think we need to make that well-known. We will work as hard today and tomorrow and the next day to get Mr. Whelan home as we have been working since he’s been in Russia wrongfully detained,” he said.

“It has to do with the nature of the sham charges against him, which were based on espionage,” he added.

White House officials acknowledge the unfair situation in which Whelan finds himself. But will they expend the same level of energy and resources they did to secure Griner’s freedom? It’s possible. But the way the administration has approached this matter might give cause for doubt. During a press conference, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre explained:

“The choice was bring Brittney home or no one. The president will never stop working to secure Paul Whelan’s release. On a personal note, Brittney is an important role model, an inspiration to millions of Americans particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color”

The left has been highlighting Griner’s race and sexuality all throughout this story. Even now, their rhetoric suggests that these characteristics are the most important component of this issue. It seems reasonable, then, to question whether this administration will be as willing to go to bat for a cis white male even if it doesn’t give them an opportunity to virtue signal.

Perhaps. But it seems almost equally possible that the Biden administration might just consider the matter resolved since they already got the positive press they desired. Additionally, the activist media’s attention to this matter played a significant role in this affair. They were willing to give substantial coverage to Griner’s plight after years of almost completely ignoring Whelan’s.

Maybe I’m being too cynical. It is also possible that people in the administration are putting forth a sincere effort to bring Whelan home. Hopefully, they prove me wrong.


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