As long as prisoners are being added to the list of those to be included in a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia, how about adding another American to the deal? American Marc Fogel, a 61-year-old Pennsylvanian who teaches history in schools attended by children of American diplomats, is serving a 14-year sentence for being caught in Russia with medical marijuana that he used to treat a severe back injury. His case sounds oddly familiar, right?
Today I wrote about WNBA star Brittney Griner’s case. She was found guilty of drug possession and smuggling. The judge said she deliberately brought drugs into Russia. She has been sentenced to nine years in prison and fined more than $16,000. There was really never any doubt that she would be found guilty. She’s a political pawn and Putin wants to jab his thumb in Joe Biden’s eye. This is what foreign dictators do. There is no rule of law in Russia. The rule is that judges follow whatever the Kremlin wants them to do.
Marc Fogel is caught up in Russia’s anti-drug policy for travelers. Since the Biden administration made the news of prisoner swap negotiations public, the family and friends of Fogel want to know why he isn’t being included in the deal. Now Pennsylvania lawmakers are getting in on the action. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), and a bipartisan group of elected officials are making a plea to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to include Fogel in the deal.
U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Pennsylvania Republican, sent a letter to Blinken on Wednesday asking that Fogel, a longtime teacher, be included in the government’s potential deal with Russia to exchange Marine Corps. Veteran Paul Whelan and WNBA athlete Brittney Griner, both of whom have also been detained there, for Russian criminals being held in the U.S. At least 10 other members of the Pennsylvania delegation, including Sen. Pat Toomey, signed the letter.
“Mr. Fogel taught history courses at schools attended by children of U.S. diplomats in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman, Malaysia, and, for the last 10 years, in Russia,” Reschenthaler wrote in the letter, obtained by Fox News Digital. “Upon his return to Russia in August 2021 to continue his decade-long position at an Anglo-American school in Moscow, Mr. Fogel was detained in the Sheremetyevo Airport with slightly more than half an ounce of medical marijuana, which was prescribed in the U.S.”
“We stand united – both parties, both chambers of Congress – in wanting to get this Pennsylvania native back,” Reschenthaler told Fox News Digital on Thursday.
If the policy of the Biden administration is to do prisoner swaps for Americans being detained overseas, then it is only logical that American families are going to be demanding their loved ones be included in any prisoner swaps going forward. It is good that Trevor Reed is back home after his brutal incarceration in Russian prisons, thanks to a prisoner swap, but it has opened up the floodgates for future swaps.
I have the same question for Mr. Fogel that I had for Brittney Griner. Why did you bring medical marijuana into Russia? Fogel has taught the children of American diplomats in schools around the world. He wasn’t new to Russia. He has been teaching at an Anglo-American school in Moscow for over a decade. He surely knew what would happen if he brought drugs into the country. Fogel’s sister and relatives are now speaking out, after remaining silent in order to not impede his case. Sound familiar? That is the same route that the families of Trevor Reed, Paul Whelan, and Brittany Griner took. It seems that the way to get the attention of Blinken and Biden is to make some headlines. The old policy of the United States was that we don’t make deals for political hostages or prisoners. The addition of drugs blurs the lines in the cases of Griner and Fogel. Biden is all about transforming America into something else, something other than our traditional way of life, apparently, so it looks like prisoner swaps are the new normal. Frankly, if I had a loved one in a Russian prison, I would be doing all I could to get him or her out, too. Russian prisons are known for their brutal conditions and prisoner abuse.
It is alleged that Fogel uses medical marijuana due to chronic pain he has suffered with for decades. An editorial penned by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board says that Fogel is not being given a fair shake from the Biden administration because he is not a well-known basketball player or a former police officer like Paul Whelan with a D.C. constituency. The editorial claims that Fogel is being used as a bargaining chip.
The truth is that Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan have advantages that Mr. Fogel does not. She is a celebrity with an established public profile, not to mention a publicity and legal team to keep her case in the news. Mr. Whelan’s trumped-up charge — espionage — adds a sensational element to the former Marine and police officer’s unjust detainment.
Both Ms. Griner’s and Mr. Whelan’s cases also have domestic political salience. Besides being a celebrity, she is a Black LGBTQ woman. And he is a veteran (although dishonorably discharged) and a member of law enforcement.
Mr. Fogel, on the other hand, is a teacher from Western Pennsylvania who made a small mistake in the wrong place, and may pay for it for the rest of his life — if the U.S. State Department lets him founder in a Russian camp. He has no leverage of his own.
No one wants to become a household name under these circumstances, but becoming one is exactly what Mark Fogel needs. He is not getting a fair break from either the Russians or the State Department. Keeping his name in the public eye — which we pledge to do — will ensure his case is not forgotten.
It’s a strongly worded editorial but sometimes brutal honesty is called for, as in Fogel’s case. The editorial board encourages readers to contact their senators to pressure the State Department and Blinken. I’ll note here that Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican, did sign the letter with the other Pennsylvania lawmakers referenced above. I haven’t seen anything about Senator Casey, a Democrat, and his support or lack of support.