Here Are Some Prisoner Swaps That Freed Americans

The prospect of the United States exchanging basketball star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine, for a Russian prisoner is reminiscent of the fraught deals Washington orchestrated with Moscow and its allies during and since the Cold War.

Experts have said such a deal may be the only path to freedom for Mr. Whelan and Ms. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury.

If a prisoner exchange occurs, they would join a long succession of Americans abducted or arrested abroad whose releases have underscored the delicate task of negotiating with adversarial countries.

Here are some of the most high-profile prisoner swaps between the United States and other countries:

  • In a spy swap from 1962 that has since been depicted in a Steven Spielberg movie, the United States exchanged Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, a Soviet spy, for Francis Gary Powers, an American pilot of a U‐2 spy plane that was downed over the Soviet Union in 1960. Eventually, he was freed in a dramatic exchange on a bridge shrouded with fog between East Germany and West Berlin.

  • In 1985, the United States engaged in what an American official at the time called “the biggest spy swap” in memory. Four Eastern Europeans held in the United States for espionage were traded for 25 people imprisoned in East Germany and Poland.

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