• Who Else Is Wrongly Detained?

    August 8, 2022

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    Posted in: Biden

    The rule is simple: abroad, Americans are subject to the host country’s laws and legal system, whether that be Great Britain or Russia. The Bill of Rights does not follow Americans to foreign countries, nor will the U.S. government intervene with the host country on their behalf. Try and bring some weed into Japan and if you’re caught, you’re looking at years behind bars. No matter what you were carrying would clearly be seen as a small amount for personal use back home, in Japan anything over about an ounce means you intended to sell it, and the punishment is lengthy accordingly. I should know; I spent seven years in Japan visiting American prisoners as part of my State Department job there. The top three reasons for their arrest were drugs, drugs, and drugs. Just like Stephanie Griner. I was not allowed to help you get out, or advocate for a shorter sentence.

    The only exception was if you were “wrongly detained,” a new category that allows the U.S. government to actively help free those designated. It is up to the Secretary of State to make the call, as there are no set criteria. Even the total number of American so designated is murky, somewhere around 40 out of those 4,000 some Americans locked up. One of the wrongfully detained is Stephanie Griner, held in Russia after admitting she tried to smuggle in to the country a couple of vials of cannabis oil. The U.S. announced just this week it is ready to trade a real bad guy, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed the “merchant of death” for Griner (and another American, Paul Whelan, accused of having a USB drive that contained classified information.) In April, retired U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who had been sentenced to nine years in prison, was exchanged for a Russian pilot who had been in a U.S. jail since 2010.

    The problem is in looking at Griner’s case, it is very hard to see what makes her so “wrongfully” detained (as she admitted the smuggling attempt) and is being given a trial under Russian standards. Her case seems a long way from both other wrongful detentions (some we know about involve what would more readily be described as hostage situations involving terrorist elements) and other needful instances of Americans locked up abroad. Looking at just a handful of those cases it sure seems Griner benefited more from being a black, lesbian, woman athlete married to another woman in a tough midterm year than anything approaching right or wrong, never mind geopolitics that would see an arms dealer who sought harm to innocent Americans walk free.

    Consider the case in Japan of U.S. Navy lieutenant and Mormon missionary Lt. Ridge Alkonis, currently locked up on a three year sentence after two people were killed in a traffic accident doctors said may have been caused by a medical episode. The U.S. has not offered to help free him. Alkonis and his family hiked Japan’s famed Mount Fuji when on the way home Alkonis blacked out at the wheel and crashed his car, with his own family inside, in a restaurant parking lot and killed two Japanese citizens. Neurologists diagnosed Alkonis with Acute Mountain Sickness, which can cause sudden fainting up to 24 hours after rapid altitudinal change.

    Alkonis’ family offered an appropriate $1.65 million in compensation to the Japanese family for the loss of their two relatives, along with an apology. The Japanese family, however, uncharacteristically refused the settlement and instead demanded jail time for Alkonis. Senator Mike Lee of Utah claims Alkonis is being targeted as a proxy for American forces stationed in Japan, which remain unpopular among many Japanese who feel they receive special treatment under the law due to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces agreement. Alkonis, for example, will serve his term in a barracks-like prison alongside other Americans, instead of the more medieval prison conditions and isolation Japanese criminals face in their own system. On the face the case certainly looks like one unfair, with an American singled out for extraordinary punishment and wrongfully detained. Why not help Lt. Alkonis, President Biden?

    Or what about Marc Fogel? Fogel is “the other American” imprisoned in Russia on minor drug charges. Fogel previously taught history at the international Anglo-American School in Moscow, and was well-known and well-thought of by diplomats not only from the U.S. but also from Great Britain, Canada, and elsewhere. For the past 11 months, Fogel has languished in Russian detention centers following his August 2021 arrest for trying to enter the country with about half an ounce of medical marijuana he’d been prescribed in the United States for chronic pain after numerous injuries and surgeries. He is facing down a 14-year sentence. Like Griner, he has admitted his guilt, seeking to smuggle vape cartridges of marijuana into Russia. His trial included accusations of close connections to the American Embassy, was confused by a visa issue and his personal friendship with the ambassador, and false claims he aimed to sell marijuana to his students. It all lead to a tougher than usual sentence. The State Department has denied Fogel “wrongfully detained” status. Why not help Marc Fogel, President Biden?

    If neither of those cases catch your interest, President Biden, the State Department has some 4,000 more to choose from. The point is not to see Stephanie Griner suffer, the point is to ask what makes her case special enough to warrant the designation “wrongfully detained” and the offer of a lop-sided prison swap to be made. During my State Department career I visited hundreds of American prisoners abroad, from celebrities and white collar criminals dealing with multi-millions of dollars at issue to near-homeless Americans trying to make a quick drug score. Not a single one of them felt he was “rightfully detained” in every sense; most felt their sentences were too long given the minor offense they committed. But I was under strict and standing orders not to advocate for any of them, to allow the host country process to play out as it would. What makes Stephanie Griner more special than Lt. Alkonis or Marc Fogel, Mr. Biden? Will they have to wait for some future election cycle when it is their peer group a future president seeks to impress?

     

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      If Trumpie is re-elected he says the U.S. should model its response to the illegal narcotics trade on China, where he said accused drug dealers are executed after swift trials.

      Trump made the remarks in a speech he delivered in Las Vegas, Nevada, Friday during a rally for his endorsed candidates in the state’s gubernatorial and Senate races. The speech was marked by two recurring themes for Trump: a demand for law and order, as well as an admiration for heavy-handed governance.

      Addressing what he’s characterized as an alarming wave of violent crime, Trump prefaced his praise for China by saying he would either “get a standing ovation” or “people are going to walk out of the room.”

      08/9/22 9:11 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      2

      Maybe some in Biden’s administration were hoping Griner would transition while in Russia adding more fringe support. Griner isn’t the only male playing in the WNBA so transitioning may be only a paper formality -and something the Russians can easily expedite as a favor. It is of course very unlikely she’d aspire to move over to the NBA. The transition thingee doesn’t work that way.

      08/9/22 9:35 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      At least she can save on rent and food for this time.

      FYI: The average monthly rent for a Manhattan apartment surpassed $5,000 for the first time — and brokers say demand and prices are headed even higher into the fall.

      The average apartment rent in June was $5,058, the highest on record, according to a report from Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman. Average rental prices were up 29% over last year, while median rent was up by 25% to $4,050 a month.

      Peter should have rented his glitzy Manhattan condo. He would be rich.

      08/9/22 2:21 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      Good news. Russia offered her a pardon if she joins the Russian army and fights in Ukraine.

      08/9/22 8:02 PM | Comment Link

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