White House Can't Justify Letting Free Russia's 'Merchant of Death'

White House Can't Justify Letting Free Russia's 'Merchant of Death'

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre was asked by Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy why the prisoner swap between Russia and the United States was so favorable to the former, after WNBA player Brittney Griner was traded for infamous arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

“Why did Russia get such a better deal?” Doocy asked, to which Jean Pierre responded, “Look, you know, I’ve talked about this. And I’ll say this again. Here were our choices. Our choices was Brittany, or no one at all, bring home one American or no American at all. And that’s that.

Doocy shot back at the press sec, saying “They gave up a professional athlete. We gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans, who was called the ‘Merchant of Death’.”

The Biden administration originally had offered to swap Griner and Paul Whelan, a US Marine veteran who has been in Russian custody since 2018 for espionage, for Bout. The trade was then reduced to a one-on-one trade.

Another question was asked regarding Bout’s reputation as the “Merchant of Death,” to a senior administration official. “How was it acceptable to trade a woman who is wrongfully detained for a criminal who is so notorious he has the nickname “The Merchant of Death”? And given the notoriety of Bout, how do you avoid governments looking around the world and thinking, “Well, geez, if I just take one of theirs, we can get back someone even bigger that’s one of ours?” Thanks.

The response by the official was, “So I guess we start by asking ourselves this question: How is it acceptable for someone like Brittney Griner to be put through sham proceedings and forced to spend, as she was sentenced to, nine years in a Russian penal colony in horrific circumstances that she did not deserve? And we regard that as unacceptable.

And from there, we work to make it not so and to bring Americans home. We try to explore all sorts of alternatives. We try to pay, of course, as little a price as possible. But ultimately, we feel there’s a moral obligation, frankly, as well as a policy obligation to bring people who are being held hostage or wrongfully detained home.

And I would also emphasize that the best antidote to future predicaments like that is avoiding these types of cases arising in the future,” the official said, in a strange instance of victim blaming.

They continued “… It is also why we have tried to make even starker, even clearer to the American people and the traveling public where they are at risk.

“So, in addition to the particular language of travel advisories that have long warned Americans about the risk of wrong detention by certain foreign governments, that “D” for wrongful detention indicator, which joined a previous “K” for kidnapping indicator, and has been applied to six countries, are a — that represents part of that effort to guide Americans away from the choices that can land them and us, as a government, in this type of very challenging predicament in the first place.


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