By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
After 294 days in Russian custody, including the past several weeks in a dreaded and dangerous penal colony, WNBA star Brittney Griner is free.
The Biden administration secured Griner’s release after agreeing to a one-for-one prisoner swap that saw the president commute the 25-year sentence of notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The White House said it would continue efforts to bring home retired U.S. military officer Paul Whelan, who remains in Russian custody.
Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years, and, recently, his family said they hadn’t heard from him.
They were told he was transferred to a hospital, but the family doubted that explanation.
The deal to release Griner was consummated in the United Arab Emirates.
“After months of being unjustly detained and held under intolerable circumstances, she’s coming home,” Biden asserted.
The president said his administration “never stopped pushing for her release.”
“It took painstaking and intense negotiations for her release,” Biden stated.
He thanked the UAE for helping to facilitate Griner’s release and noted that’s where her plane landed after finally leaving Russia.
Biden added that Griner wrote him in July, not asking for special treatment.
“She said, please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees,” Biden said.
“We have not forgotten about Brittney and Paul Whelan.”
Biden emphasized that the one-for-one swap wasn’t America’s choice.
He said he wished to bring Whelan and any other wrongly detained American home.
As expected, civil rights activists, many in the sports world, and politicians applauded Griner’s release.
“This is long overdue,” Rev. Jesse Jackson declared. “This is a cause for global celebration and could be a step toward peace. Releasing prisoners and prisoner swaps as opposed to more bombing and killing is good news,” Jackson stated.
Texas Democratic Congressman Al Green said he was delighted at the timing of Griner’s release.
“There’s no place like home for the holidays,” Green tweeted.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeted, “Thank you to President Biden and all those who worked so hard to secure her freedom.”