Exchanging Prisoners for Honor

Much ink has been spilled of late concerning the Brittney Griner/Victor Bout prisoner exchange since its announcement on December 8. 

The opinions, as usual, fall into two distinct camps depending upon one’s political orientation. Unanimously, however, they all enthusiastically or reflexively declare how good it is that we have at least secured the release of an American citizen, one “unjustly imprisoned” by an evil foreign power.

Really? Why?

Granted, in terms of intersectional mascots, Brittney Griner is an absolute dream. A black lesbian leftist celebrity who despises her country and who suffers terribly from unspecified “pain” that supposedly requires “self-medicalization” with weed. Seemingly, these are the very attributes that led to President Biden to describe her as representing “the best of America” while announcing her release.

And, granted, as an American citizen, she does deserve the constitutional protections afforded to all Americans.

But in terms of basic proportionality and justice, attaining her freedom in exchange for Victor Bout, the appropriately named “Merchant of Death,” is a grotesque and disgraceful offense against the nation and its people who depend upon its leaders to act in their interests and in accordance with what is right. Many have said that this prisoner swap was a slap in the face to those DEA personnel who put themselves in harm’s way to capture Bout in 2008, to those who continue to risk their lives to protect their fellow citizens from violent and predatory drug traffickers, and especially to those who have given their very lives in the service of their nation and the rule of law.

Certainly, it’s all that. Yet, it’s so much more.

It is betrayal. The betrayal of trust. Of the expectation, even faith, that traditional America places in their leader that he will always act with their welfare -- indeed, their very security -- in mind. And once that trust is extinguished, it is not easily, if ever, recovered.

Described as “one of the most dangerous men on the face of the earth,” the former KGB agent and terrorist serving a twenty-five year sentence was one of the most prolific arms traffickers in the world, supplying dictators, warlords, and thugs across the globe with sophisticated weapons that not only destroyed countless human lives, but destabilized entire nations. Yet what makes -- or should make -- the release of Victor Bout particularly abhorrent and unjustifiable was that he conspired explicitly to kill Americans -- the specific crimes for which he was convicted in U.S. District Court. Bout agreed to sell millions of dollars of advanced weapons, including surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), to the Marxist FARC guerillas in Colombia in order to shoot down American aircraft assisting the Colombian government in the preservation of their democratic state.

In 2008, the communist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia was not only an existential threat to that nation’s democratic government, but had also evolved and metastasized into one of Colombia’s most expansive and sinister drug cartels. As such, they were responsible for not merely producing and shipping ton quantities of cocaine and heroin to the United States, but to those specific communities of people across America that Brittney Griner claims to represent.

And since the FARC was not just a terrorist group, but, rather, a narcoterrorist organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration, despite its outsized and thankless mission, would develop a sophisticated operation to ensnare the Russian criminal in concert with dozens of other partner agencies in the U.S and abroad. In describing the Biden administration’s decision to free Victor Bout as “beyond the pale of wrong,” journalist Jason James Barry observed that, “Of all the ops teams and agencies in all the world that could have come into play, it was the DEA that made the case.”

Perhaps because it was DEA enforcing international drug laws, amidst an administration which demands that only therapeutic and compassion-based responses are permitted to fight the drug epidemic, that Bout’s incarceration was no longer deemed important.

One is left to wonder whether the policies of this current White House are actually intended to degrade our nation through the premeditated diluting of standards in order to achieve some kind of twisted notion of globalized equity. Even apart from his breathtaking dereliction at our southern border, Biden’s pattern is beyond disturbing. In September of this year, the administration quietly sent Afghan warlord Haji Bashir Noorzai home to a warm Taliban welcome after exchanging him for American contractor Mark Frerichs, who had been kidnapped in 2020 by the Haqqani terrorist network specifically, according to reports, to strike this very bargain. Noorzai was not only Afghanistan’s biggest heroin trafficker at one time, but one of the world’s biggest. One month later, the administration exchanged two family members of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, nicknamed the “Narco Nephews,” for seven Americans held by the communist government on sham charges. The nephews had been sentenced in U.S District Court for conspiring to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine to New York via Haiti. Both Noorzai and the Maduro nephews were also cases painstakingly made by DEA. So the narcs are pretty torqued these days. They must be thinking that this is what Democrats meant when they demanded we “reimagine” law enforcement.

As the Biden administration has recently made disturbing new diplomatic concessions to the Maduro regime in their desperate and schizophrenic attempt to acquire more oil while they simultaneously constrain it, most Americans have forgotten that Nicolas Maduro himself, along with fourteen of his top governmental officials, and two Colombian FARC leaders, were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2020 for narcoterrorism, drug trafficking and other criminal charges. The indictment specifically described Maduro, et. al., of operating “a narco-terrorism partnership with the FARC for the past 20 years” that was “expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and well-being of our nation.”

With Biden’s clearly established record of betrayal and appeasement, he is likely to secretly dismiss the charges against the Venezuelan dictator in pursuit of some corrupt political reward.

In trying to spin a narrative, the administration has plainly been lying about details of this repugnant transaction. No one had seriously been considering a deal to free Victor Bout for anyone -- not even former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been languishing in a Russian prison for four years -- until the WNBA celebrity was arrested by Moscow customs agents. Moreover, Griner was not “wrongfully detained,” as Biden has stated, nor was she a “political prisoner.” She’s a drug user. She violated not only the laws of Russia, but also the same international treaties to which we adhere.

Lastly, it was not merely “cannabis” that she attempted to smuggle into Russia, but a nearly pure form of THC known as butane hash oil (BHO), most probably originating from one of the many illegal California marijuana grows befouling the environment in shocking ways and controlled by Mexican drug cartels operating inside the U.S.

In one of the most powerful scenes from the movie Saving Private Ryan, the character played by Tom Hanks, after sacrificing himself and most of his platoon to rescue Private Ryan, implores him with his dying breath to, “Earn this!” If Ms. Griner has any shred of honor and decency, she would dedicate herself to educating her fellow citizens about the harms of illegal drugs on behalf of the nation that rescued her and returned her to its embrace. 

Let’s see if she earns this.

Jeff Stamm is a 40-year law enforcement veteran, having served as a Deputy Sheriff in Sacramento County, California; a Special Agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and as the Executive Director of the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). He is also the author of On Dope: Drug Enforcement and The First Policeman.

Image: DEA/Lorie Shaull

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