(Adds Griner comment and background on reaction to prisoner-swap
Brendan O’Brien, Amy Tennery
Dec 16 (Reuters). U.S. basketball player Brittney griner left Friday’s Army medical center, where she was recuperating from her release from a Russian prison colony.
CNN reported that Griner was a two-time Olympic gold medalist as well as an eight-time Women’s National Basketball Association All-Star. She left Brooke Army Medical Center a few weeks after arriving at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
“The past 10 months have been a struggle at every turn. “I dug deep to keep faith, and it was the love of so many of you who helped me keep going,” she stated in her first public statement since returning from the United States.
“President Biden brought me home. I know that you are committed in bringing Paul Whelan home as well as all Americans,” she stated, referring specifically to the former U.S. Marine being held in Russia. “I will make every effort to help you with my platform.”
Griner arrived at a medical center on Friday following U.S. officials securing her freedom from Russia in trade for Viktor Bout (Russian arms dealer).
Griner, 32, was detained on February 17th at an airport near Moscow. She was carrying vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her bag.
She was subsequently convicted of drug smuggling and later transferred to one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies, where former inmates have described torture, harsh beatings and slave labor conditions.
Griner stated that she will be returning to the WNBA team.
“I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” she said.
‘BRING ALL AMERICANS HOME’
Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden, announced the release from the Roosevelt Room at the White House last week, with Griner’s wife Cherelle standing by.
Biden stated that “She’s safe, and she’s aboard a plane. She’s on her return home after months of being unfairly detained in Russia,” prompting cheers from many people, but harsh criticism from some Republicans.
Although Donald Trump was at the White House when Whelan was taken into custody in late 2018, Trump dismissed the exchange with the ex-Marine and called it “a stupid” and an unpatriotic embarrassment.
Kevin McCarthy, House of Representatives Republican Leader, called the deal “a gift for Vladimir Putin.”
Officials from the United States pressed for Griner’s release and Whelan’s release on “sham” spying charges.
However, Moscow insists on treating Whelan’s situation differently. Antony Blinken (U.S. Secretary Of State) called the Griner Swap a “one-or-none” deal.
Griner posted a photo on Friday of her stepping off a flight to her Instagram account. Griner said she was going to spend the holidays at home with her family, and asked for support to help other Americans detained abroad.
Griner stated, “(I] encourage everyone who played a part [in bringing me home] to continue their efforts towards bringing all Americans home.” “Every family should be complete.” Reporting by Brendan O’Brien (Chicago) and Amy Tennery (New York); Editing by Frank McGurty-Berkrot