The World Socialist Website Calls on the Russian government to release basketball star Brittney Griner from prison, expunge her conviction on trumped-up drug charges, quash the 9.5-year sentence in a penal colony imposed on her on Thursday and to allow her to return to her and her family in the United States.
The drug trafficking charge is transparent fraud. Griner was in possession of a tiny amount of cannabis oil, prescribed by his doctor for back pain caused by playing professional sport at the highest level, year after year. She had forgotten to remove two vials weighing a total of 0.7 grams from her luggage before leaving for Moscow and was arrested when they were detected at the airport.
Griner is a world famous athlete, not a political figure. But his arrest, trial and conviction were nonetheless a set-up from start to finish, following a storyline that former KGB agent Vladimir Putin no doubt learned from his police mentors. Stalinist secret, who carried out the show trials and mass murder of the Trotskyists. , old Bolsheviks and other dedicated socialists in the 1930s.
While Putin has seized on Griner as a bargaining chip with Washington, the Biden administration is seeking to exploit the Griner affair to generate political support for its imperialist intervention in the war in Ukraine. No one should be fooled by White House crocodile tears. This is a government that left a million Americans to die from a preventable COVID-19 pandemic and is risking World War III to further the global economic and strategic interests of the financial aristocracy.
Griner was arrested on February 17, when she entered Russia to play for professional team UMMC in Yekaterinburg. (Ekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia. It was given the name Sverdlovsk in Soviet times, after Bolshevik leader Yakov Sverdlov. It reverted to its Tsarist name, honoring Catherine, wife of Peter the Great, after the restoration of capitalism.)
There has been little discussion in the American media about why Griner visited Russia, a momentous act of independence that came just a week before the US-led invasion of Ukraine and then that the Biden administration was stoking a militaristic frenzy and demanding that all Americans leave Russia. as soon as possible.
She used to play regularly in Russia during the Women’s National Basketball Association offseason because WNBA salaries are so low compared to those paid in other American professional sports. Griner was one of the highest paid players in the WNBA, but earned just over $200,000 a year. The Yekaterinburg team, on the other hand, paid her $1 million per season, in keeping with the great popularity of women’s basketball in Russia and her position as one of the most well-known and accomplished players in the game. sport, and a two-time Olympic gold medal. medal.
Griner apparently became attached to the Russian people and told the court at one point during her trial that she considered Yekaterinburg “her second home”. According to a profile of Washington Post, “She said she was moved by the camaraderie she found there with her teammates and by the enthusiasm of her fans, especially the young girls who were waiting outside the team’s locker room to welcome her. “That’s why I kept coming back,” she said.
These humanitarian sentiments were rewarded by the Putin government with an arrest, a show trial and a barbaric sentence. The purpose of this action has of course nothing to do with drug trafficking. Griner was effectively taken hostage in order to use her in the reactionary bargain between Moscow and Washington over the other’s spy swap.
The State Department says it offered to free Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, in exchange for Griner and Paul Whelan, who were arrested in Moscow for espionage in 2018 and sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison. The former Marine has close ties to the US military intelligence apparatus. On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that talks on such a swap would continue through designated secret channels.
There is widespread and entirely justified sympathy for Griner among his fellow athletes and among the American population as a whole. During Thursday night’s game between the Phoenix Mercury and the Connecticut Sun, players stood arm-in-arm in a circle on the half court to watch a 42-second moment of solidarity in honor of Griner, who carries the number 42 for the Mercury.
One of Griner’s teammates, guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, pointed out that the protest had nothing to do with politics (i.e. the war in Ukraine). “He’s a human being and our true friend and true sister. … Nobody even wanted to play today. How are you supposed to approach the game with a clear mind, and the whole group is crying before the game? Because you try to honor her and you try to come out and still play hard for her.
The cruelty of the Putin regime towards Griner must not cause the working class in the United States or any country to forget that US imperialism is the most powerful and vicious reactionary force on the planet. The invasion of Ukraine was Putin’s desperate and bankrupt response to two decades of US-led encirclement of Russia, which gradually expanded NATO into Eastern Europe and culminated in the fascist-led coup in Ukraine in 2014, instigated by US and German imperialism. .
The Biden administration has sought to use Griner’s imprisonment in the most cynical way, as yet another element in its propaganda campaign to justify massive US military intervention in the Ukraine war, including tens of billions. weapons, and the deployment of US special forces. forces to provide intelligence, targeting and battlefield direction for the Ukrainian military.
The White House released a cursory one-paragraph statement after Griner’s sentencing, calling it “unacceptable” and pledging “to work tirelessly and to seek every means possible to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home in safely as soon as possible”.
Former President Donald Trump has in fact denounced any effort to free Griner. “She knew we weren’t going high on drugs,” he said. “She got caught. And now we’re supposed to get her out. This unspeakably rude comment was aimed at racist and fascist Trump supporters, who insult Griner as a prominent black and gay athlete and outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights.
When it comes to the vicious treatment of prisoners, the United States can more than rival Russia. The United States imprisons more than 2 million of its own citizens, twice as many per capita as Russia. The prison population has increased 500% over the past 40 years, under Democratic and Republican administrations. Drug convictions account for by far the largest number of prisoners, many of them, like Griner, convicted on the basis of set-ups and concocted evidence by police.
As for the circumstances in which prisoners are held, American prisons are notorious for violence, disease and death, as well as the widespread use of torture methods such as solitary confinement. There were headlines about Griner being sent to a “penal colony” – a terrible fate, of course, if that happened. But there is no such media concern for the hundreds of thousands of inmates in American prisons who work for pennies an hour, or who are contracted out to cost-cutting companies, or drafted into chain gangs resembling slaves on roads and fields.
Since the Obama administration when Biden was vice president, the US government has particularly targeted journalists and those seeking to expose the crimes of US imperialism. The Obama-Biden administration has prosecuted more journalists than all previous US administrations combined, sending Army Private Chelsea Manning to prison for seven years for leaking evidence of US atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks.
It was Vice President Biden who called WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist,” while the Obama administration leveled espionage charges against him and harassed him for he seeks refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. It was Trump whose administration discussed Assange’s assassination plans, illegally bugged his meetings with his defense lawyers and backed the British police raid that dragged him out of office. embassy and put him in the toughest prison in Britain.
It is now the Biden administration that is on the verge of securing Assange’s extradition to the United States, where he would face trial on 17 trumped-up espionage charges, which could result in a sentence of 175 years in a Supermax prison in Colorado.
The working class must demand the release of all political prisoners, whether they are held in one of Putin’s dungeons, Belmarsh prison, Guantanamo in Britain or the vast American gulag.