Bring Paul Whelan Home, Now!
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on December 9, 2022
An Editorial Opinion
Yesterday, Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner in a prisoner swap for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was imprisoned in America. Many Americans celebrated Griner's freedom. I am one of them.
In February 2022, Griner was arrested and charged with violating Russian drug possession laws by bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis with her when she flew into Moscow. Griner pleaded guilty and was sentenced in August to nine years in a Russian prison.
Since July, the Joe Biden administration had been trying to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner and former Marine Paul Whalen. Biden offered to swap Viktor Bout, a convicted arms trafficker, for Griner and Whelan.
In 2018, Russian officials arrested Whalen on espionage charges and sentenced him to 16 years in prison following his trial. Whelan has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
No progress was made on Biden's “two-for-one” prisoner swap proposal.
On August 18, 2022, I published an article titled, “Bringing Brittney Griner Home.” The article warned the public that Biden would not be able to free Paul Whalen with Griner because Whelan's situation is far more complicated than Griner's.
Whalen was a U.S. soldier whom the Russians believe was engaged in espionage activities. In Russia and the United States, Griner is a professional athlete only. She is not involved in any real or perceived espionage activities. The crime Griner pleaded guilty to committing did not threaten or adversely impact Russia's national security in any way.
The Biden administration's effort to bootstrap Whalen's release to Griner's was unfair to Griner and delayed her release. These two prisoners fall into two vastly different categories of crimes.
Now that Brittney Griner has been freed, it is time for Biden to focus his presidential resources on bringing Paul Whelan home. Another prisoner swap is needed to achieve this goal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will release Whalen only if he is swapped for another high value detainee of interest to Putin. America has custody and control of a vast population of high value-detainees in secret CIA prisons around the world. We lead the world in snatching wanted criminals in foreign countries and taking them to secret CIA “black sites” in host countries.
We call this practice “renditions.” In 2006, I was briefed on the nature and scope of America's rendition business by a participating U.S.-based CIA contractor/company with whom I had an ongoing business relationship.
The CIA runs an estimated 50 “black sites,” or prisons, around the world. These prisons hold detainees from 28 countries who were the targets our renditions. The Russians have a keen interest in several of these detainees.
Biden should immediately offer to swap one of these detainees for Paul Whelan’s freedom. He should let the Russians have their pick of who they want for Whelan.
It makes no sense to prolong Whelan’s agony while he languishes in a Russian prison.
Biden should ignore the criticism coming from members of both major political parties in the wake of Griner's release. This criticism is nothing more than a self-serving exercise in political gaslighting. If any one of these critics had a blood relative in Russian captivity, he/she would support a prisoner swap for his/her relative in a heartbeat. These critics love to play geopolitical hardball with the health, safety, and lives of somebody else’s relatives.
Additionally, while Biden was vice-president in 2014, he joined President Barack Obama in swapping Bowe Bergdorf for five high-ranking Taliban members who were held at the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba. What is more, Bergdorf was a deserter.
America’s ability to replenish its population of detainees at “black sites” through renditions is unsurpassed by any nation. We can free a detainee today in exchange for Paul Whelan, and rendition two more high-value detainee targets tomorrow. This is how things work in the real geopolitical world.
This is not the time for Biden to sit back in the comfort of the Oval Office during the Christmas season and complain about the terrible conditions of Paul Whelan’s confinement.
Russian prisons are bad, but so are American prisons. As a country, we are in no position to criticize Russia’s criminal justice system or the country's treatment of its prisoners.
This year, alone, the U.S. Department of Justice released two reports by its Office of Inspector General (OIG) that describe the deplorable conditions in federal prisons. On March 17, 2022, the OIG issued a report that blasted the Federal Bureau of Prisons for its chronic failure to provide adequate medical care to federal inmates. On December 8, 2022, the OIG released a devastating report on the litany of lapses in internal Bureau of Prisons procedures and protocols that resulted in the 2018 death of James “Whitey” Bulger.
Biden should waste no time in bringing Paul Whelan home. His only decision is which one of our dozens of high-value detainees in CIA “black sites” does he want to swap for Whelan. I don’t want to see anymore delays or hear anymore excuses from Biden in this matter. I want Paul Whelan brought home, now.