Day 1238 - Paul Whelan - IK-17 Mordovia Russia - May 19, 2022 - What Does It Take?

Paul has been struggling to keep in touch with our family.  About 3 weeks ago, Paul's phone calls became more sporadic.  He's been unable to call our parents since then.  It's not clear if it's the FSIN prison system or sanctions or something else.  Right now Paul can only call the US Embassy when calls are approved, and the Embassy staff transfer the phone call to our parents.  Sometimes that works but eats into the 15-minute time limit of the call as Paul is switched through.  Other times, the call just doesn't happen.

This must be so frustrating for Paul.  Our family remains focused on supporting his day-to-day needs but there's a limit to what we can do from here.  We appreciate the US Embassy's help with their consular care.  It's thanks to them that a payment Paul needed to have made to a dentist has been disbursed this week.  We could never have done that ourselves.

But we're frustrated too.  Ever since the Trevor Reed and Konstantin Yaroshenko release, we've been asked about what made Paul's case different? Why was he left behind?  Perhaps if Paul had been sicker, he might have been included in the exchange?  Perhaps if we'd met with the President, it would have meant Paul was released too?  Personally, my favorite was the one where someone asked what financial support the US government was providing Paul; as if.  I don't blame journalists for their questions; we ask ourselves what stones we haven't yet overturned.

US State Department representatives tried to clarify that in a call to one of our family this week.  They feel we need to do more, "make more noise" or "be a squeakier wheel."  Sure, we did 40-odd media interviews since Trevor Reed's release April 27; Elizabeth participated in a rally in DC with so many other families in the same position on May 4; she's has spoken with 10 different highly-placed USG officials since then, and over the 3 years of Paul's wrongful detention she's made nearly 20 visits to DC to advocate for him; inspired 3 House and Senate Resolutions on Paul's behalf to be passed; met countless government officials in two administrations at the State Dept, on Capitol Hill, with the NSC, and in the West Wing.  But what have we done lately?  

This suggests that people in the Biden Administration need to - still, after 41 months - be persuaded that Paul's case deserves action.  We know that President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, National Security Advisor Sullivan, and many others are aware of Paul's case.  So additional notoriety isn't needed for its own sake.  But apparently, we need to do more because not everyone is on board with securing Paul's release.

This is a hard message to hear.  The family of a wrongful detainee shouldn't be bearing the burden of persuading American government officials to act to secure the release of an American citizen wrongfully detained.  It's frustrating.  What sort of circus does a family need to put on to make more noise, to squeak louder, to move the immovable levers of government?

  • Why does the US government feel that families of wrongfully detained need to persuade officials to act by "making noise" and "getting more emotional"?
  • At what point has a family sacrificed enough to get the US government's attention: bankrupt elderly parents?  lost jobs?  deteriorating health?  lost homes?  We have 13 more years to go in Paul's wrongful 16-year sentence at the hands of Russia, and it would be nice to know what we'll be expected to give before the US government acts.