Blowback Over Griner’s Release Exposes Depth of America’s Divisions

CTN News


There was a time when the release of American citizens who had been unjustly imprisoned by a foreign adversary was a moment for bipartisan relief and celebration: the 2018 return of three men from North Korea, secured by President Donald J. Trump, or the 1991 freeing of Terry Anderson, an American journalist, after years of captivity in Lebanon.

Those moments felt like sepia-toned artifacts on Friday as Brittney Griner, the women’s basketball star, slipped quietly into a military base in Texas for evaluation following her release from Russia, while a Fox News reporter peppered the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, with pointed questions about an exchange that he said had sent the “Merchant of Death” to Russia for a “professional athlete.”

Within hours of Ms. Griner’s release, much of the right wing was in full outrage mode, seizing upon both the man Ms. Griner had been exchanged for — Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms merchant serving time, in part, for endangering American lives — and the Biden administration’s failure to secure the release as well, or instead, of a former Marine, Paul Whelan, who has languished in a Russian prison since his 2018 arrest on espionage charges.

A considerable amount of attention was also paid to who Ms. Griner is: a Black woman, a celebrity, a married lesbian and, though it had gone largely unnoticed until now, an assertive liberal — one who, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, called to stop playing the national anthem at her team’s basketball games.

From the early days of the Cold War through the protracted conflict in Afghanistan, hostage releases have carried political risks, especially when they involve prisoner exchanges, said Danielle Gilbert of Dartmouth College, an expert on such deals. The scenes of joy and the human drama of a return to freedom must be tempered by the knowledge that victory was attained through a deal with an adversary — almost always involving a…

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