Jun 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Families of detained Americans press Biden for meeting

President Biden speaking in the White House on June 16.

President Biden speaking in the White House on June 16. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A coalition of families of Americans held abroad pushed for a meeting with President Biden and urged him to do anything necessary to secure the release of their family members.

Why it matters: The Bring Our Families Home Campaign said in the letter that over 59 people are being unjustly held by foreign governments because they are American.

  • The Biden administration in April secured the release of former Marine Trevor Reed, who had been detained in Russia since 2019.
  • In another high-profile case, WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested by the Russian government in February on drug charges and is currently being held in pretrial detainment.
  • Paul Whelan, a 52-year-old corporate security executive who is also a citizen of the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018. His family has pushed the Biden administration for more transparency on the prisoner swap that freed Reed.

What they're saying: "It has become clear to us that without your direct involvement, other issues will continue to overshadow the release of our innocent family members," the Bring Our Families Home Campaign said in the letter to Biden.

  • "We are worried that many of our loved ones will continue to be left behind if we do not get your personal attention," the families added.
  • "We are doing everything we can as regular people, but we are certain you are the one person that could make this trauma end."
  • "We are not indifferent to the moral and ethical questions posed by using trades or other tools, but we know you will understand that the value of bringing home an innocent American unjustly held abroad far outweighs anything else."

The big picture: Reed was released by Russia in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian citizen who had been serving a 20-year sentence after being found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in an interview in April that the exchange to free Reed could not be used as a model for other cases.
  • Reed has urged the U.S. to use additional prisoner exchanges to free other wrongfully detained Americans, including Griner and Whelan, who in 2020 was sentenced by a Russian court to 16 years in prison on spying charges that he and his family said are false.

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