HomePoliticsDo prisoner exchanges encourage hostage taking? Brittney Griner Release Debate Resurfaces

Do prisoner exchanges encourage hostage taking? Brittney Griner Release Debate Resurfaces

The exchange of prisoners between the US and Russia to secure the launch of women’s basketball star Brittney Griner has brought the debate over whether such concessions encourage hostage-taking back into the spotlight.

Griner, who had been detained in Russia since February on drug charges, was released Thursday in a prisoner exchange for international arms dealer Viktor Boutwho was jailed in the US for more than a decade on terrorism charges as a result of a sting operation.

“In the case of Viktor Bout, these are tough decisions,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan. “And ultimately those of us who work for the president make recommendations, give advice. He’s the one who has to make the tough decisions. And he made a tough decision. Viktor Bout has been out of the field since 2008, which is something very good.” , and he served about half of his sentence. At some point in the next few years, he was going to get out. And at least I’m glad we got to bring Brittney Griner home.”

While Griner’s release was widely praised, the trade was quickly criticized by those who thought the US was making a lopsided trade, especially since the US had declared Griner wrongfully detained.

Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, stands inside the defendants’ cage before a court hearing in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on August 4. .


“This should be a moment of deep reflection for the United States government to recognize that we have a serious problem with the taking of Americans hostage,” Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said in a statement. “We must stop inviting rogue, dictatorial regimes to use Americans abroad as bargaining chips, and we must work to encourage American citizens not to travel to places like Russia, where they are prime targets of such kinds. unlawful detention”.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told reporters that the more the United States engages “in such exchanges, the more Americans are at risk of being detained and held as leverage to try to secure the release” of people the United States would prefer not to. release. .

The US government has long had a policy of refusing to make concessions to terrorists who kidnap Americans, on the grounds that refusing to pay ransoms or give in to other demands would remove the incentive to take American hostages in the first place. .

But prisoner swaps with governments involving Americans the United States believes have been wrongfully detained have blurred the policy.

The RAND Corporation, which published a study in 2018, he said that he “could not find persuasive evidence to support the claim that a policy of no concessions provided an effective deterrent.”

“While the US no-concessions policy has not deterred kidnappings, there is some evidence that political concessions and ransom payments seem to encourage more kidnappings and increased lawsuits.” the study said.

The longstanding policy of not dealing with terrorist groups frustrated the families of the hostages who wanted the US government to do more to bring their loved ones home. President Obama announced a new policy in 2015 which sought to create better coordination across the government to ensure the release of hostages and better communication with families. He also reaffirmed the US position of making no concessions to terrorist groups.

A report from the expert group new america in 2017 found that refusal to make concessions to terrorist groups often had more adverse effects on hostages in those countries than on countries that made concessions. Other to study found “strong evidence that successful terrorist bargaining results in the kidnapping of more hostages due to anticipated future payments from terrorists.”

A senior administration official told reporters on Thursday that it would be “a mistake” to think that prisoner exchanges in hostage situations “have become the norm.”

“I don’t think governments around the world are wise to make that inference,” the official said. “But in the rare event that it is imperative to bring Americans home, which is a real priority for this president, sometimes there are no alternatives left and a heavy price must be paid.”

While Griner’s Free, Navy Veteran Paul Whelan is still incarcerated in Russia on espionage charges that the United States says are false. Whelan’s brother, David, called on the United States to make him “more prepared” when more Americans are imprisoned abroad.

“It’s clear that the US government needs to be more assertive,” he said. “In the case of Russia, this may mean arresting more Russians who break the law and are connected to the Kremlin.”

Thursday, President Joe Biden warned Americans against traveling to countries where they could be wrongfully detained, saying it is not a guarantee that the US government can secure their release.

“I strongly urge all Americans to take precautions, including reviewing State Department travel advisories before traveling abroad, which now include warnings about the risk of being wrongfully detained by a foreign government,” Biden said.

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