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What are some of the most controversial prisoner exchanges in US history?

Trading Russia a prisoner for basketball star Brittney Griner is reminiscent of Cold War era days.

Update:
Trading Russian a prisoner for basketball star Brittney Griner is reminiscent of Cold War era days.
SUZANNE CORDEIROGetty

According to Danielle Gilbert, a professor at Dartmouth College and a leading expert on international hostage situations, the United States’ special presidential envoy for hostage affairs handles cases involving kidnapped Americans who the United States considers to be detained wrongfully or unlawfully overseas.

A unified reaction team composed of diplomats, spies, and cops also offers support. After the deaths of many hostages at the hands of the Islamic State, notably journalist James Foley, that group was formed. Relatives of jailed Americans have complained concerning this and other previous instances that they were hampered in their efforts to secure their release by U.S. policy.

Ultimately, the State Department and the White House often decide on prisoner swaps.

Brittney Griner and the most famous prisoner swap

Washington’s negotiations with Moscow and its allies during and after the Cold War were tense, and the possibility of trading a Russian prisoner for basketball star Brittney Griner is reminiscent of those negotiations.

Viktor Bout arms dealer and ‘Merchant of Death’: a former Soviet military officer and interpreter Bout, 55, was serving a 25-year sentence for planning to murder Americans, procuring and exporting anti-aircraft missiles, and supporting a terrorist group. Bout maintained innocence, and the Kremlin frequently called the U.S. indictment “baseless and prejudiced.”

The exchange was propelled after many progressive organizations pushed Washington to bring the WNBA star back home. Women’s activists were front and center in bringing up the possible fact that if this were an NBA player, the U.S. would have done more to free him. In the end, Washington listened to public opinion and worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia.

The Biden administration now faces the challenge of what to do with those in jail for the similar crime that Brittney Griner committed while in Russia.

However, polemic the swap and what will bring in coming months or years. Exchanges are not uncommon and will continue between the U.S. and its enemies in the future.

These are some of the most controversial exchanges done by the U.S. with other countries.

Swingers in disguise: In 1986, Czechoslovakian and KGB operatives Karl and Hana Koecher participated in a nine-person spy exchange along the Glienicke Bridge. Karl, a skilled linguist, and CIA translator/analyst, and his wife acquired kompromat on U.S. agents at swingers’ parties and nudist beaches. Hana donned a fur hat and coat to the spy exchange. Karl recalls sipping champagne before returning to Prague for a two-month question as they were taken away from the bridge in a gold Mercedes. In return for the operatives, the Soviets freed Anatoly Shcharansky and other dissidents.

A writer freed in Iran: A Marine veteran and a writer for the Washington Post, both of Iranian heritage, were among the four Americans rescued from Iran in a complex prisoner exchange in 2016. The United States freed seven Iranians detained for violating economic sanctions. Since 2014, Mr. Rezaian has been languishing in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison on nebulous allegations of espionage, which he rejected.

The biggest swap in history: In 1985, the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin was the scene of the largest-ever prisoner swap. Three Soviets imprisoned in the West were exchanged for Polish operative Marian Zacharski and twenty-five Americans were detained in East Germany and Poland. Poland, then part of the Eastern bloc and allied with the Soviet Union, sent Zacharski to the Golden State to investigate the aircraft sector and discover its military and industrial secrets.

Trading for tourism: Alan Gross, a USAID consultant from Maryland, spent five years in a Cuban jail after being wrongly suspected of being an American spy. To facilitate improved trade and tourism between the two countries, Havana released Gross in 2014. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Canadian negotiators, and even Pope Francis were instrumental in facilitating the discussions. In addition, although some American authorities claimed otherwise, three Cubans who had been convicted of espionage as part of Florida’s so-called Wasp Network were freed around the same time.

A scientist for a journalist: Gennadi Zakharov, an UN-employed Soviet scientist, was captured in an FBI sting operation in 1986. A Guyanese man, one of Zakharov’s former classmates, approached him at a New York subway station and gave him secret U.S. Air Force jet engine documents for $1,000 cash. The FBI acted. The KGB captured American journalist Nicholas Daniloff in Moscow three days later for spying. The convicts were freed one day apart without trial and permitted to leave the country after heated consultations between Washington and Moscow.

Republicans and Democrats alike

Trump made a number of high-profile attempts to liberate Americans while president. In 2019, Trump, for instance, publicly urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to free North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson.

The number of times the United States has intervened to liberate an American from unlawful criminal incarceration at the hands of a country rather than a terrorist organization has grown.

The State Department said the same year that it had assisted in the release of more than 180 Americans since 2015.

According to the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, 60 U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are imprisoned in publicly revealed hostage and unlawful imprisonment cases in 18 countries, including Russia, Iran, China, Venezuela, and Mali.