July 20, 2022: -President Joe Biden will sign an executive order to expand the administration’s tools to deter hostage-taking and the wrongful detention of U.S. nationals.
The executive order, called “Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained U.S. Nationals Home,” authorizes the imposition of financial sanctions and visa banning on people in hostage-taking.
“This executive order reflects the administration’s commitment not just to the issues generally but to the families in particular, and it has been informed by the government’s regular engagements with them,” said a senior Biden administration official, which says that on the condition of anonymity to share details about the new executive order.
“The president has been ready to make what he has said publicly are tough but important calls when it means bringing home Americans,” the senior administration official said.
The official also said that the State Department would introduce a new risk indicator, the letter “D,” on travel advisories to inform Americans of the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government. The “D” indicator joins the existing “K” indicator that identifies the risk of kidnapping.
The executive order is coming as the Biden administration works to release WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison. The 31-year-old Griner, who recreates professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested in February at a Russian airport on accusations that she was smuggling hashish oil.
The Biden administration has described Griner’s arrest, a dramatic revelation that came as the Kremlin prepared for war in Ukraine, as wrongful detention. This month, she begged guilty to drug charges in a Moscow court and faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
“I’m terrified I might be here forever,” the Olympian wrote in a letter to Biden, requesting his direct assistance with her case.
On the heels of the letter, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with her wife, Cherelle Griner.
According to a White House readout of the call, Biden reassured his wife that he was performing to secure Griner’s release as soon as possible. He stated on the call that he is working on removing Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine operating a 16-year sentence in Russia.
In April, Russia decided to release former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner exchange with the United States.