Enes Kanter Freedom: White House Cannot Exchange ‘Merchant of Death’ for Brittney Griner

American basketball player Enes Kanter Freedom speaks during an interview with AFP at the

“I want [Brittney Griner] to return back home. … [but] we cannot trade that horrible human being for her. It’s just not a fair trade,” professional basketball player Enes Kanter Freedom said during a Friday appearance on Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum.

Freedom, who has been an outspoken critic on human rights issues in countries such as Communist China, officially added the “Freedom” to his name after becoming a U.S. citizen in 2021.

WNBA player Griner, who was arrested in February in a Moscow airport with CDB oil in her luggage, was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison on drug charges by a Russian court Thursday morning. The Biden administration reportedly made an offer to swap Brittney for convicted arms dealer and “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout, who is being held on a 25-year sentence in the U.S. for selling weapons to a Columbian terror group.

“I’ve been following her case very closely and the one thing that I will say, we cannot be sending a merchant of death. A person who is responsible for thousands of lives by selling illegal weapons in Africa, in Asia, and we cannot trade that horrible human being for her. It’s just not a fair trade,” Freedom, who was raised in Turkey, told host Martha MacCallum.

“First of all, you know, she pleaded guilty and the sentence is harsh, and of course, like everyone else, I want her to return back home because I know how the Russian jails can get tough,” Freedom told MacCallum

US' Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, waits for the verdict inside a defendants' cage during a hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. - A Russian court found Griner guilty of smuggling and storing narcotics after prosecutors requested a sentence of nine and a half years in jail for the athlete. (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / POOL / AFP) (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Brittney Griner waits for the verdict inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. (EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/AFP via Getty Images)

“I know one thing that she misses: the national anthem, every word of the national anthem in that Russian jails,” Freedom said of Griner, who has protested the National Anthem being played during WNBA games.

In July 2020, Griner told sports media, “I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season. I think we should take that much of a stand.”

When asked at the time how she would feel if the league decided to play the anthem, Griner replied, “I’m going to protest regardless. I’m not going to be out there for the national anthem. If the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine. It will be all season long, I’ll not be out there.”

However, Griner seemed to have a change of heart in July when, after pleading guilty in a Russian court, the WNBA player sent a letter to the Biden White House pleading for her freedom and invoking American freedoms, saying:

On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father, who is a Vietnam war veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.

The Associated Press

Brittney Griner is escorted from a court room after a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Freedom said that even though he wants Griner returned home, it cannot be at the risk of returning a prisoner as dangerous as Bout.

“We can trade her for someone important, but we don’t give back someone who can actually harm the U.S. in the long run, like a terrorist, a weapons smuggler. It’s just not a fair trade,” Freedom said.

The Associated Press

Viktor Bout, center, is led by armed Thai police commandoes as he arrives at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

MacCallum played a clip of Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby saying, “We are absolutely dedicated … to finding a way to bring Brittney …  back to her family, friends, and her teammates. We are willing to keep having the conversation with the Russians but it’s got to be a two-way street.”

The Associated Press

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“What is a two-way street?” Freedom replied. “She is a basketball player, and the other guy is responsible for thousands of lives. It is not a fair trade. … I want her brought home. She deserves to be here. But the White House needs to watch out for what they are doing because that person could hurt the U.S. … [Bout] is a weapons smuggler and pretty much a terrorist.”

MacCallum also asked Freedom, as an athlete himself who has traveled across the globe, who is responsible for preparing athletes for the geopolitical situations in which they might be placed during their time spent playing in foreign countries, and how the athletes should behave.

Freedom said that Griner’s agent should have prepared her for going to Russia, “one of the worst dictatorships in the world,” but added, “For her to go there and have the cannabis oil on her is unacceptable … even she said she was guilty … at the same time it is not just on her, it is on the WNBA and NBA as well.”

“I definitely think we need to educate these athletes when they leave America, because they like to sit here and criticize America, but they don’t have the same freedom that they have in America on the other side of the world,” Freedom concluded. “They definitely have to do their research when they step outside of America.”


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