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‘Devastated’ Family of Marine That Biden Left Behind in Russia Speaks Out After Trade for Brittney Griner

    Paul Whelan, the U.S. Marine that has been held in Russia for over four years on suspicion of being a “spy,” reacted on Thursday to the news that the Biden administration had secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

    Griner was swapped for arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death.” Bout was serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to kill U.S. citizens, providing support to a terrorist organization, and delivering anti-aircraft missiles. Griner was arrested in Russia in February, a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, for illegal possession of cannabis oil.

    Whelan gave a statement about the Biden prisoner swap to CNN.

    “I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Paul Whelan told CNN’s Jennifer Hansler. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

    “I was led to believe that things were moving in the right direction, and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon,” he said.

    Whelan added he was told that because the Russians have accused him of being a spy, “they’ve put me at a level higher than what they did with Trevor (Reed) and Brittney.”

    “That raises a lot of concerns because none of it is true. And they’re trying to get out of United States, what the United States may not be able to provide, but this is basically political extortion,” he said.

    Whelan said he was aware that he was considered in a different category than Griner – “the Russians have always said so.”

    “They’ve always considered me to be at a higher level than other criminals of my sort and for whatever reason, I’m treated differently than another individual here from a Western country that’s also on a charge of espionage. So even though we’re both here for espionage, I’m treated much differently than he is, and my treatment is also much different than others held for espionage at other prisons,” Whelan said.

    David Whelan, brother of Paul Whelan, also reacted to the news of Griner’s release with a statement that conveyed anguish and disappointment.

    “I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home,” David Whelan wrote. “As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays. There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home. The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

    “This time, US government officials let us known in advance that Paul would be left behind [12/7/2022], unlike April when they left him,” he added. “That early warning meant that our family had been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul. I do not know if he is aware yet, although he will surely learn from Russian media. Our parents have had calls with him every day since his return to IK-17 on December 2d, and they will surely speak to him soon.”

    “It is important to me that we do not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom,” he continued. “As I have often remarked Brittney’s and Paul’s cases were never really intertwined. It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other. The sentiments I shared in April about Trevor are unchanged: this is the event we wish for so much for our own family. She will be united with her family. Brittney is free. And Paul is still a hostage.”

    “But how many more times do I need to write that?” he added.

    David Whelan then revealed some of the mental distress his family has been going through waiting for Paul’s release.

    “Despite the possibility there might be an exchange without Paul, our family is still devastated,” he wrote. “I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 years of this injustice. His hopes had soared with the knowledge that the US government was taking concrete steps towards his release. He’d been worrying about where he’d live when he got back to the US.”

    “And now what? How do you continue to survive, day after day,when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison?” he asked. “I can’t imagine he retains any hope that a government will negotiate his freedom at this point.”

    Biden acknowledged the Whelan family on Thursday, saying that the prisoner swap for Griner was “not a choice of which American to bring home.”

    “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” Biden said. “And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”

    In April, the Biden administration made a deal to bring home another prisoner, marine Trevor Reed. Paul Whelan was left out of that deal, too.

    Reportedly, Russia was only willing to do a one-for-one deal with Griner. The exchange occurred in the United Arab Emirates and was arranged by Saudi Arabia.

    There is another prisoner left behind in Russia. Marc Foley, a teacher from Oakmont, Pennsylvania, was detained in Russia for more than a year before being moved to a hard-labor colony in October. He was sentenced to 14 years in a maximum security prison after he was caught with 17 grams of medical marijuana for a spine condition.

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