Lee Heidhues 7.1.2022
It’s a scandal. While America gets ready to celebrate its Independence Day one of its international sports stars is rotting in a Russian jail.
The Biden Administration is dawdling while American basketball Brittney Griner star has languished in a Moscow jail since last February, Her continued detention on bogus drug possession charges is an outrage.
The only reason Ms. Griner is being held captive is Vladimir Putin’s evil utilization of her as a pawn while he wages his barbaric war of attrition against Ukraine. The Biden Administration could secure her release. It must secure her release and stop playing these political diplomatic games.
Excerpted from The New York Times 7.1.2022
Brittney Griner arrived in Russia in February to play basketball, one of the sport’s biggest stars. She arrived in a courtroom outside Moscow on Friday as something else entirely — a potential bargaining chip in Russia’s tense standoff with the West over the war in Ukraine, described by supporters as a hostage of the Kremlin.
After more than four months languishing in a Russian prison, and speaking no Russian, Ms. Griner, 31, went on trial, accused of carrying into the country vape cartridges with traces — 0.7 grams, the prosecutor said — of cannabis oil. In a legal system that rarely finds defendants anything but guilty, she faces up to 10 years in a penal colony if convicted.
In a court in Khimki, outside of Moscow, on Friday, Ms. Griner cut an incongruous figure, as always towering above everyone else as she was led in, her long, tattooed arms cuffed together and cuffed to the arm of a guard. For the first day of her trial, she wore a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and athletic shoes without laces.
She sat in the defendant’s cage with a bottle of water and a bag of cookies, and told a reporter that detention was hard because of the language barrier and a lack of exercise, Reuters reported. The session, conducted in Russian with a few journalists and three U.S. embassy officials present, was quickly adjourned after some expected witnesses failed to show up. The trial is set to resume next Thursday.
Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife and others have questioned whether the Biden administration is doing enough to secure Brittney Griner’s release, a view the State Department seemed determined on Friday to dispel. Elizabeth Rood, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, attended the trial and talked with reporters afterward.
“I did have the opportunity to speak with Ms. Griner in the courtroom,” Ms. Rood said. “She is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances and asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith.”
“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Ms. Griner,” she said, adding, “the U.S. government at the very highest levels is working very hard to bring Ms. Griner as well as all wrongfully detained U.S. citizens safely home.”
Ms. Griner’s arrest on Feb. 17 — a week before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — pulled her into the maw of geopolitics as President Vladimir V. Putin faced a determined Western effort to help Ukraine fight back. She has been touted in Russian state media as an asset who could be traded for a Russian arms dealer sitting in an American prison.