Here Are Some Prisoner Swaps That Freed Americans


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

Perhaps the most dramatic exchange was the 1962 swap on a fog-shrouded bridge between East Germany and West Berlin that became the stuff of Hollywood. The United States exchanged Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, a Soviet spy, for Francis Gary Powers, the American pilot of a U‐2 spy plane that shot down over the Soviet Union two years earlier. More than 50 years later, the trade was portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s 2015 film, “Bridge of Spies.”

Now, experts say a prisoner exchange 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.

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

  • The 1962 swap of Mr. Abel for Mr. Powers captivated Americans during the height of the Cold War. Mr. Powers had been subjected to 107 days of interrogation followed by a public trial in Moscow before he was imprisoned for more than two years.

  • 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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