Paul Whelan’s sister says her family has been left unsettled by ‘partisanship’ pitting Brittney Griner against her brother

Britney Griner.

Britney Griner.Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

  • Brittney Griner returned home from Russian detention during a prisoner exchange in December.

  • Wrongfully detained American Paul Whelan did not return home as part of the deal.

  • Elizabeth Whelan, Paul’s sister, criticized those who “pit us Griners against each other”.

Not everyone was happy to see Brittney Griner return from Russia.

The WNBA superstar has returned home after 10 months in overseas detention due to a December prisoner swap between the Biden administration and the Kremlin. Paul Whelan, a fellow American wrongfully detained in Russia since 2018, was not released as part of the deal despite attempts by the US government to negotiate the simultaneous release of the two US citizens.

While President Joe Biden was adamant that “it wasn’t a choice of the American to take home,” as he said when announcing Griner’s return to the public, countless naysayers criticized the deal as one that prioritized the famed basketball player over a Marine veteran.

Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, told Insider that “the partisanship that came through really bothered our family.”

US detainee Paul Whelan holds a sign before a hearing in Moscow.

US detainee Paul Whelan holds a sign before a hearing in Moscow.REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

“There’s been a lot of partisan stuff on Twitter and in the media about how Biden made the choice to bring Brittney home and not Paul,” Whelan said. “This was consciously put in place by the Russians to cause division. And it continues to cause division. We have to keep the focus on the people who are actually doing wrongdoing, and that’s the Kremlin and Putin.”

In the years since Paul’s arrest in Russia, the Whelan family has come to believe that Putin is more or less holding American citizens for ransom in order to “sow as much chaos as possible” in the United States, said Whelan.

So when Griner was arrested in February 2022 and turned into a political pawn by Russia, Elizabeth Whelan and her family realized that critics were playing into Putin’s hand by “trying to pit us and the Griners against each other,” a- she declared.

Brittney Griner watches herself depicted in a mural of wrongfully detained Americans.

Griner looks at himself depicted in a mural of wrongfully detained AmericansREUTERS/Caitlin O’Hara

The Whelans collectively decided to support any action that would result in the return of a wrongful inmate to the United States, even if it wasn’t Paul. The Griners did the same, cementing the promise that families would not be torn apart by Twitter trolls or pundits promoting partisan agendas.

“I’ve always thought families should try to support each other because we’re the only people who really understand what other families are going through,” Whelan said.

As fall gave way to winter and news of a potential deal to bring Griner home grew louder, Whelan realized that a potential trade that included his brother in addition to the two-time medalist Olympic gold was unrealistic. As Biden explained at a press conference in December, the Kremlin viewed “Paul’s case differently from Brittney’s” and awarded a higher bounty upon his return.

The president could either bring Griner home alone or leave the two Americans abroad.

President Joe Biden speaks to the press as Griner's wife Cherelle looks on.

President Joe Biden speaks to the press as Griner’s wife Cherelle looks on.REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Although Griner has been a staunch defender of Americans, including Whelan, who remain wrongfully detained abroad, skeptics have called her return a betrayal of the very people she aims to help.

“There are people who are going to be happy to make Brittney a partisan issue for years to come, and Paul in the same way,” Whelan said. “People who have never experienced these detentions are ready to say awful things about people who have essentially been prisoners of war. It is a horrible practice.”

Read the original Insider article

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