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Note: Last week I failed to detect an error until I saw it in print. I had accidentally typed “1781” instead of “1791” when noting when the “Bill of Rights” was ratified.
The hot topic this week was the prisoner exchange where the United States traded Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for women’s basketball player Brittney Griner.
Bout, a Russian arms dealer, smuggled arms around the world, earning him the nickname “the Merchant of Death.” Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and later extradited to the U.S. where he faced charges of attempting to sell arms to rebel forces in Colombia for use against U.S. forces. In 2012, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
In response to the trade, Donald Trump posted on Truth Social that he had previously “turned down a deal with Russia for a one-on-one swap of the so-called Merchant of Death for Paul Whelan,” adding that he “wouldn’t have made the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone that has killed untold numbers of people with his arms deals.”
Whelan, who in 2018 had been in Russia to attend a wedding, was charged with espionage when Russian authorities found him in possession of a USB drive containing “a list of all the employees of a classified security agency” plus $80,000 in cash. Whelan protested that he was not a spy, yet the evidence was compelling, and Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020.
After Whelan’s conviction, a former CIA officer corroborated Whelan’s claim that he was not a U.S. agent, stating that the CIA would not leave an officer exposed without a diplomatic passport, nor would they recruit someone with Whelan’s prior military record. Whelan, a former USMC staff sergeant, was court-martialed in 2008 for violating several counts of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and was given a “bad conduct” discharge.
Because of his conviction, the U.S. Marines no longer count Whelan as one of their own. Combined with the financial nature of his UCMJ charges, it is my belief that Whelan intended to sell the classified information for the money, but was not an actual spy.
New to the Russian / American exchange is Brittney Griner, who was a 2013 draft pick by the Phoenix “Mercury” WNBA team and a member of the 2016 and 2020 U.S.A. Olympic basketball teams. In Arizona, Griner obtained a legal prescription for medicinal cannabis for pain relief. That Rx was only for within Arizona, as possession of cannabis is still illegal at the federal level.
During the WNBA off-season, Griner played basketball for the Russian Premier League, and in February of 2022, Russian customs officials found vape cartridges containing a cannabis concentrate in Griner’s luggage. Griner was arrested for smuggling, later pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Russia refused to release Whelan along with Griner as part of the exchange, asserting that both Griner and Bout were just criminals, while Whelan, as a “spy,” required an exchange of a comparable value, such as Vadim Krasikov, an assassin serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili. The Germans, however, were not agreeable to the Russian request.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who had overseen thousands of marijuana-related prosecutions when she was the district attorney for San Francisco and later the attorney general for California, would be accused of hypocrisy when on the day of the prisoner swap, she first “tweeted” that “Brittney Griner’s wrongful detention in Russia finally ends and she is on her way home to be reunited with her family. Her release is the product of painstaking negotiations and @POTUS’ commitment to bring home every U.S. citizen wrongfully detained anywhere in the world.”
Harris followed with a second tweet, stating: “while we celebrate Brittney’s homecoming, we remain committed to seeing Paul Whelan released. We will not relent in our efforts until Paul is home with family. We will not stop working to bring home every U.S. citizen wrongfully detained.”
There are Americans around the world sitting in foreign prisons for breaking the laws of that nation. It is no different than any foreigner who ends up in a U.S. prison for breaking a U.S. law. Actions have consequences, and if you do the crime, and get caught, you need to be prepared to do the time.
That said, no person on this planet is entitled to a “Get Out of Jail for Free” card based simply upon their nationality, or celebrity status, and the Biden administration has made an egregious error in trading someone who armed terrorists for a minor celebrity.
Yet, there is still an opportunity for the Biden administration to address the root cause of the problem that landed Griner in a Russian jail. As a matter of principle, based solely upon the unalienable right of free people to choose for themselves what they consume into their own bodies; especially if it in no way violates the liberties, rights, or freedoms of others; the Libertarian Party opposes the overreach by our government in their prohibition of cannabis.
It is because of the failed prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and 30s that led to the unintended creation of organized crime that leads Libertarians to equally oppose prohibition of drug usage, a campaign that has failed even more so with the unintended creation of drug cartels and the elevation of the United States to the highest prison population per capita in the world.
The United States has wasted billions upon billions of tax-payer dollars on their War on Drugs, with no visible percentage of diminishing drug usage. As Libertarians, we demand that if the Biden administration is sincere, that they should re-examine the thousands upon thousands of Americans convicted here at home for violating U.S. drug laws. It is time for the U.S.A. to set an example for the rest of the world and end the war on drugs, letting the free people of the U.S.A. re-assume for themselves the rights and responsibilities of their own bodily autonomy.