Renewed debate about Paul Whelan's release from Russia ensued after Brittney Griner's return to the US (Image via Getty Images)

Why was Paul Whelan discharged from the military? Debate ensues amid Brittney Griner release 

Former US marine Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2018 and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges.

He was reportedly attending the wedding of a former fellow Marine at Hotel Metropol Moscow when he was arrested over suspicions of spying for the American government.


Following WNBA star Brittney Griner’s arrest for carrying hash oil in her luggage earlier this year, Whelan was also classified as one of the “wrongfully detained” US citizens in Russia. Amid the growing outcry over the former’s arrest, the US eventually proposed a prisoner swap deal with Russia.

Initial negotiations hinted that the US State Department was set to trade arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner and Whelan. The prisoner swap deal was finalized on December 8 and Bout was sent back to Russia while Griner was released from prison and transferred to her homeland.

Unfortunately, the prisoner swap deal failed to negotiate Paul Whelan’s release alongside Griner. According to the Washington Post, US officials allegedly said the former Marine could not be a part of the negotiation as his case was being treated differently by the Russian authorities.

Britney Griner kneeled during the Anthem.

Paul Whelan was court-martialed by the Marine Corps and received a Bad Conduct discharge after being convicted of multiple counts of larceny, dereliction of duty, identity fraud, false statements, and check fraud.

While America celebrated Brittney Griner’s return to her homeland, many also shared their disappointment about leaving Paul Whelan behind in Russia. The growing calls for the latter’s release also sparked a debate online.

Some social media users claimed that authorities failed Whelan even though he served in the army, while others pointed out that the former marine was once discharged from the military over bad conduct and convicted on charges of alleged larceny.

A look into Paul Whelan’s discharge from the military

Paul Whelan enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1994 and initially worked as an administrative clerk and administrative chief while holding the rank of staff sergeant with Marine Air Control Group 38. He was also part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


The former marine reportedly took a leave from Kelly Services, where he worked as an IT manager, to serve in the Marine Corps Reserve between 2003 and 2008, and was deployed in Iraq for several months between 2004 and 2006.

However, Whelan was convicted at a special court-martial in January 2008 on several charges “related to larceny” and sentenced to 60 days restriction. He also faced a reduction in pay grade E-4, and received a bad conduct discharge.

Reports suggest that the charges against Paul Whelan were “attempted larceny, making a false official statement, ten specifications of uttering checks without having sufficient funds in his account for payment, wrongfully using another’s social security number and three specifications of dereliction of duty.”

His last place of duty was reportedly Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California.


Twitter engages in debate surrounding former US marine Paul Whelan

Calls for Paul Whelan's release sparked debate on social media (Image via Getty Images)

In the wake of Brittney Griner’s arrest, renewed calls over former US Marine Paul Whelan’s release from Russian prison sparked renewed debate online.

While some called out the US government for failing to include Whelan in their US-Russia prisoner swap deal, others unearthed the former marine’s history and pointed out that he was discharged from the military in 2008:

Folks, Paul Whelan is a Marine.
We don't leave our soldiers behind.
Bring Paul home!
Great on Griner. Now let’s get Paul Wheelan home.
Day 1 of asking @POTUS to bring home US Marine Paul Wheelan home from Russia
Glad Britney Griner is coming home....but what about Paul Wheelan??? He's been there 4 years.
I do hope the US manages to get Paul Wheelan home. But kudos to getting Griner home in the meanwhile.

As some Twitter users continued to request to bring Whelan home after Griner, others argued:

Paul Wheelan was convicted of espionage in Russia and has a dishonorable discharge from the Marines (relating to multiple counts of larceny) that means that the Marines no longer count him as a brother.…
Folks, Paul Whelan is a Marine.
We don't leave our soldiers behind.
Bring Paul home!
Don’t tell republicans Paul wheelan is a dishonorable discharge lol
@MicahhParsons11 @marquezvic4 Do you guys realize the Paul Wheelan stole over 10,000$ from the MARINES. And Was Discharged for Bad conduct. Did your family really serve? Or do you not know how the military works???
@RepMTG Paul Wheelan is NOT a marine. He was issued a Bad Conduct Discharge for attempting to steal more than $10,000 in 2006 in Iraq and using a false Social Security number to create a false account on a government computer system to grade his own examinations.
Hey uh if you’re mad that Paul Wheelan is still in Russian prison and Brittany Griner isn’t and you’re mad because of Wheelan’s former mil service…make sure you’re aware he got court martialed and bad conduct discharged. He was a criminal in the military. Not Captain America.

As opinions continued to pour in online, Paul Whelan spoke to CNN from inside a Russian prison and said he was “greatly disappointed” about the US leaving him behind in the swap deal. He also called himself a victim of “political extortion” and said:

“I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

He further added:

“They’ve always considered me to be at a higher level than other criminals of my sort and for whatever reason, I’m treated differently than another individual here from a Western country that’s also on a charge of espionage.”

Whelan also urged the Biden administration to take active steps to send him back home, “regardless of the price they might have to pay.” He continued:

“My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me.”

Meanwhile, the Independent reported that President Biden told the press that there “was not a choice of which American to bring home.” Officials also clarified that while they failed to secure Paul Whelan’s release, they are continuing their efforts.

The Biden administration assured that they have “not forgotten” about Whelan and promised to “keep negotiating in good faith for his release.”


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Edited by
Barsha Roy
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