WNBA star Brittney Griner landed in the US early Friday morning for the first time since being arrested and detained in Russia in February.
Griner, 32, and Bout were released to their respective countries in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Griner was then brought to San Antonio to be given a medical evaluation. She arrived Friday at 4:30 am local time at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
The Phoenix Mercury center was “in good spirits” and “incredibly gracious,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN in a statement.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre added that Griner appeared to be in good health.
Griner was detained at an airport near Moscow on Feb 17. She admitted in a courtroom to bringing marijuana vape cartridges in her luggage, as prescribed by her doctor. She said she did not have criminal intent to bring the cartridges into Russia, saying she had packed hastily before traveling to the country last winter.
Griner was convicted of criminal drug possession and sentenced to more than nine years in prison. Last month, Russian officials informed Griner’s attorney she had been relocated to a penal colony, where forced labor shifts for prisoners commonly last between 12 and 14 hours per day.
The US State Department’s stance was that Griner had been wrongfully detained, which Russia denied.
The deal to free Griner had been negotiated for several months. U.S. officials insisted on the release of Michigan corporate security officer Paul Whelan, jailed since December 2018 in Russia on espionage charges. But the prisoner swap ended up being “one for one,” Bout for Griner.
“Today, my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there are so many other families who are not whole,” Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner said at the White House. “BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate BG being home.”
Bout, who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and had been in US custody since 2010, had his remaining sentence commuted and is now back in Russia. Bout is a former Soviet Army lieutenant who was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years for conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars in arms that US officials said were used against Americans.