American citizen and former US Marine, Paul Whelan has been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia since 28 December 2018. President of the United States Joe Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan have all called on Russia to release Paul Whelan and let him come home to his family in Michigan.
We had the honour of interviewing Paul’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan in September 2021 to find out what happened to Paul and what we can do to help. Four months later, there have been significant and worrying developments.
On this episode, Elizabeth Whelan joins us once again. We discuss escalating tensions between the US and Russia as the Russians appear to be getting ready to further invade Ukraine. We also discuss what the US government needs to do better, how American businesses with operations in Russia can help as well as what news outlets and the American public can do to free Paul Whelan.
We have interviewed eight American families to date with loved ones held hostage or wrongfully imprisoned overseas. The common problem they all face is that they don’t know where to start when working to free their loved one. There is currently no playbook to provide guidance to these families and they all end up having to reinvent the wheel. The Whelan family have taken the initiative and created a set of resources for American families in this situation. Elizabeth tells us more about these resources and where you can access them for free.
If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube.
For more information on Paul Whelan, please check out the following:
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SITREP Pod: Free Paul Whelan, American and former US Marine held in Russia | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Daren Nair, Elizabeth Whelan
[(0:00)] Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories every week and let you know how you can help bring them home. I'm Daren Nair, and I've had the honour of campaigning with many of these families for years. These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us. People who have never given up hope. People who will never stop working to reunite their families. We will be right there by their side until their loved ones are back home. Thank you for joining us, and now let's meet this week's guest.
Paul Whelan, an American citizen from Michigan and a former United States Marine has been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia since 28th of December 2018. Last month marked 3 years he's been separated from his family. The US ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, has stated the following about Paul, "As long as I'm here in Russia, as long as I am the US ambassador for the Russian Federation, I will keep advocating for Paul, for fair treatment and for his immediate release. My colleagues and I will keep visiting him and assuring him of our support. I will continue to call on Russian authorities to correct this miscarriage of justice, to right the wrong and to let Paul go home. Paul belongs at home in Michigan with his family, not in a Russian labor camp." That was a statement from US ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan.
The US Senate has passed a bipartisan resolution calling on the government of the Russian Federation to either provide evidence or to release United States' citizen Paul Whelan. The current US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has spoken to his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, and called[(2:00)] on Russia to release Paul Whelan so he can return home to his family. US President, Joe Biden, raised Paul's case with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when they both met at the Biden-Putin Summit and told reporters shortly after, that he's going to follow through with that discussion, and he's not going to walk away on that.
Paul's family believe he's a political hostage and is being used as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from the United States. This would be state-sponsored hostage-taking also known as hostage diplomacy. Now, Paul is not the only American and former US Marine unjustly held in Russia. Trevor Reed, another American and former US Marine from Texas, has also been unjustly held in Russia for over 2 years now. The Russian Security Service, the FSB has been involved in the unjust detention of both men. The FSB is one of the successor agencies of the Soviet era, KGB. There appears to be a pattern of American citizens and former US Marines in Russia being targeted by the FSB.
The current US travel advisory for Russia issued by the state department, has a “Level 4 - Do not travel" rating. The travel advisory states the following, "Do not travel to Russia due to the embassies limited to assist US citizens in Russia. COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials and the arbitrary enforcement of local law." The next paragraph of the travel advisory states the following, " US citizens, including former and current US government and military personnel and private citizens engaged in business who are visiting or residing in Russia have been interrogated without cause and threatened by Russian officials and may become victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion. All US Government personnel should carefully consider their need to travel to Russia.[(4:00)]
Russian Security Services have arrested US citizens on spurious charges, denied them fair and transparent treatment, and have convicted them in secret trials, and/or without presenting evidence. Russian officials may unreasonably delay US Consular assistance to detained US citizens. Now, that was the current US travel advisory for Russia. In September last year, I interviewed Paul's sister, Elizabeth Whelan. She walked us through what happened to Paul, as well as what the US government, news media and the public can do to help free poor Whelan.
Please do listen to the episode if you haven't already. I also spoke to Trevor Reed's parents, Joey and Paula Reed in September as well. So please check out that episode too.
We always tell the families we interviewed that we'll be campaigning right by their side until their loved ones come home and we mean it. So, we will keep you up to date with our campaigns through SITREP Pods like this one, or Breaking News Pods. Today, we have the honour of speaking to Elizabeth Whelan again. Elizabeth, I'm sorry, it couldn't be under better circumstances. Thank you for joining us.
Thank you very much, Daren, for having me back. It is amazing that it's been another 4 months and we still haven't seen Paul released and home. I really appreciate having the opportunity to catch you up on what's going on.
You're welcome, and thanks again for joining us. So, for our listeners who haven't listened to our previous interview, can you please give them a quick summary of what happened to Paul?
Absolutely. Paul had traveled a number of times to Russia over the years. He's a world traveler, and in December of 2018, he went to Moscow to help an American friend of his, also a former Marine, with a wedding in Moscow. Paul, having some familiarity as a tourist with how to get around, he was there to help the American visitors who are coming over for the wedding. During that time, Paul was visited by someone he[(6:00)] thought was a friend in Russia, who gave him a USB drive and told him that there were vacation photos on it. Five minutes later, he was arrested by the FSB supposedly, for espionage.
So, from that time, he was held for 18 months in the Lefortovo prison, interrogated and harassed. They tried to get a false confession out of him. Then in June, or May and June of 2020, he was put on trial and sentenced in a sham trial - I don't think we could call it anything else - to a prison sentence of 16 years in a forced labor camp. So, Paul is now in the province of Mordovia, which is about 8 hours away from Moscow. He is working 6 days a week at the forced labor camp. He is in a barracks with many other prisoners and considered a flight risk, which means he is woken up every couple of hours every single night. For some reason, they have designated him a flight risk, although in Mordovia, you're in the middle of absolutely nowhere and there is nowhere to go.
He is waiting for the US to come to his rescue, and now, he has been waiting for over 3 years. The 3-year anniversary of his wrongful detention was December the 28th. We are certainly hoping that during this fourth year, we see our brother and son, Paul Whelan come home.
We hope he comes home soon, too. There have been significant and worrying developments since we last spoke in September. Can you please tell us more?
Well, yes. There is a slight problem of Russia looking as if it's about to invade Ukraine, yet again. This is extremely worrying. It will put Paul and Trevor basically behind enemy lines more so than they are already. We have no idea what is going to happen next. So we're very concerned that some type of solution should be found to [(8:00)] bring them home before the situation gets any worse than it already has been. So, Paul right now is not allowed to contact the embassies, although luckily, he is able to make occasional 15-minute phone calls to our parents. So, we are able to keep up with how he's doing mentally and physically. He is in good shape and in good mental shape.
He is very strong, very courageous, but he is also sensing the impending problems. The escalation of problems, and we all have the same question that he does, which is, how long is it going to take for someone to get him out? We were very pleased, as you mentioned the Blinken-Lavrov meeting that happened last week to hear Secretary Blinken, once again call out the Russians for holding Paul and Trevor as they have been, but we need some action to add to that.
I'm sorry to hear that, and I obviously understand why you're worried and anyone in your position would be worried too as well. Trevor Reed's family are worried too. Trevor hasn't been able to contact his family in several months. Now, what can the US government do specifically, President Biden, the State Department and Congress?
Well, Paul and Trevor's situations are different. They're held in different prison camps. The reason is different. The sentence is different, but at this particular time, there is no doubt that Paul and Trevor have been sort of bundled together by the Russians. There are obviously things that they want in exchange for Paul and Trevor. I don't see either one of these men's situations improving at all, the longer they remain in Russia. As you say, Trevor has been held in solitary. Has had some terrible medical situations. [(10:00)] Paul himself had to have emergency surgery at one point during the time he's been held. Nothing good comes of these fellows sitting in Russian prisons.
So, what should the US do? I have had very high-level talks, and I believe the Reeds have been able too, as well. We certainly have encountered a lot more transparency and accountability from this administration. I've been very pleased to be able to have an opportunity to talk to all of these high-level individuals. At the same time, we need to see some action happening at this point. Paul is being held hostage by the Russian Federation, but we are all being held hostage by the process, and thereby by the US government. It's difficult at times to get this point across.
When a new administration comes in, we start all over again. I'm sure there are other families out there listening who are involved in this process for their own loved ones, and are frustrated at the fact that because the people who are the decision makers tend to be political appointees, no matter how much support we are getting from the state department and members of congress and the administration, we see the entire process start over again. So, we are unable to go over to the Russians ourselves, work out some sort of deal, and get our brother home. We have to rely on the US government.
We have stated to everyone at all levels that the Whelan's are behind whatever the US government wants to do. Now, we have avoided as, you know, and as I mentioned in the last podcast, we have avoided advocating for any one particular thing we think the Russians might want. We don't want to tie the US government's hands and we don't want to be advocating for the Russians either, but I[(12:00)] think we're at the point where we are staring down the barrel of a horrific situation that is unfolding with this potential second invasion of Ukraine. This is making the horror of Paul's situation even worse.
So accountability and transparency from our government are excellent. We appreciate the communication and the outreach, but access is no substitute for action. What we need to see is moral leadership. We need to see people standing up for US citizens being held overseas. The situation is not going away. There are not fewer Americans being held now than there were 3 years ago when Paul was first arrested. So, we need to see US citizens being brought home by any means possible. So the President, for example, he is in a situation where he probably will have to make the decision as to how not only Paul comes home and Trevor comes home, but people being held in Venezuela, in Iran, etcetera. The hostage-taking of this type relies on those high-level decisions that other people at other levels of the administration cannot make.
So, at the same time that these very difficult decisions have to be made, the president however, also has an opportunity to explain to Americans at large, why difficult decisions are being made? How he is going to bring these US citizens home? What we will have to pay in order to make that happen because there will have to be some sort of concession? What are we going to do in the future to stop this type of hostage-taking happening? So, in a sense, we talk about the difficult decision, but there's really only one right decision and that right decision is to bring US citizens home. It is a difficult decision because it will mean, as I said, some[(14:00)] type of concession. That is the nature of hostage-taking.
Very seldom do hostage-takers just release their prisoners for no reason, whatsoever. What we're asking is for the US government to put citizens first and bring them home. We don't want to see US citizens used as pawns in any situation whatsoever, but once they have been taken, we can't just abandon them. The problem of wrongful detention does need to be solved on a large scale. We're obviously seeing that governments are realizing that they can continue to take advantage of the United States in this manner because we're not doing anything effective to stop it. So, we do have to come up with some type of policy towards wrongful detention.
I have given various people in the US government many ideas on how this can be done, but we can't just wait until that larger policy is in place before we start bringing Americans home. Now, the previous administration was able to bring home a number of wrongful detainees and hostages, but to a certain extent they went after the low-hanging fruit. They did not take on the difficult cases such as the ones in Russia. So, this administration has inherited a terrible problem. We are asking that this administration go ahead and bring home US hostages at the same time that they are developing whatever their policy is going to be to stop this problem on a large scale.
Please, work on these in parallel. Please, bring Paul home, Trevor home, everyone else home, while you are figuring out how to stop wrongful detention. So, I think what happens is the new administration comes in. They're a bunch of really smart, great people. I have been so impressed with everyone I have met, but they also feel they're smart enough to figure out something that every other administration [(16:00)] has not been able to figure out because we have done trades and swaps with other countries to get our people back for decades. In fact throughout history, there have been prisoner swaps. So this is not a new subject, and yet a new administration tends to think that they are the ones that are smart enough to figure this out.
Meanwhile, our loved ones sit and wait for this miracle to happen. I think we're at the point where procrastination just has to stop. Nothing is gained by waiting. At no point, has the situation improved for Paul and Trevor due to government inaction. So, it's not as if this situation goes into stasis by doing absolutely nothing at all. There is no perfect solution to this problem. Why is it okay to leave innocent US Americans rotting in foreign jails for years when really, the US government knows that they have the means available to bring these people home? Now, that requires a concession and probably a painful concession of some sort to get our people back. That's why we also have to develop a policy to stop this from happening in the future.
That is no excuse for leaving someone like Paul, for over 3 years in a Russian prison. He is in a forced labor camp. How would you feel if your government just left you for years while they dickered over policy, and didn't make the decisions that were needed to get you out of there? Where's the moral imperative for that? So, enough with the hand-wringing for goodness sake. I think we've had enough of that. I think we have been as patient as a family. Paul has been extraordinarily patient. He has endured more than most people could take. He is still strong, but he is not impervious. We need a sense of urgency here.
In the meantime, [(18:00)] while these decisions are being made, while the papers are being pushed around, the US government is spending the days of Paul's life with the same, exactly the same disregard that the Russian authorities are. So, that is a cause for us to do better. We can only improve on the situation. We can only act to bring Paul home.
I absolutely agree with you, Elizabeth. Now, the news outlets can also help. Do you have any recommendations for them?
Yes. We've had some really fabulous support for media and journalists over the 3 years. It is not easy to not only keep interest in a story, but also to get it over your editor's desk so that the story actually sees life. I just want to give a huge shout-out to everyone who's continued to report on Paul and Trevor's cases. At the same time, I think we're at a point where it is great to see journalists ask what's being done about Paul and Trevor. Usually the government comes back with an answer along the lines of, "It is a large, huge priority to the US government that we get Paul and Trevor home. We have called for their release," or words along those lines.
I would like the media to now ask, when can we expect to see action to bring Paul and Trevor home? I think we need to start asking for some specifics and some kind of timeline. I want to include in this, I think one of the reasons, and I'm just guessing here, but one of the reasons I imagine that any government is reticent to do anything sticky to bring a US citizen home, is they're afraid of backlash. If they give up something that they think that there will be political backlash over, it makes people nervous.
So, I'm going to say to those journalists, pundits, members of congress who [(20:00)] may be planning on jumping all over President Biden, regardless of the solution that he comes up with to bring American citizens home, I would like you instead of doing that, which is hugely unhelpful, not just to the whole hostage enterprise that's trying to free Americans, but to everyone else who becomes wrongfully detained in the months and years from now. You are actively hurting them. You are actively making it difficult for the US government to bring them home.
So, instead of jumping over the administration and president for whatever decision they make to bring Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed home, I would like you instead, to contribute to the discussion in a meaningful, useful way with actionable ideas, or just put a sock in it. We don't need that unhelpful opinion. What we need to do is, we need to work collectively to bring home citizens that have been wrongfully detained, to work on ways to make this illegal action stop.
You bring up an excellent point, Elizabeth. I mean, America is polarized at the moment. Everyone around the world, everyone that watches anything related to America can see that. Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan are both former US Marines. They had this American flag on their uniform when they served their country. They helped, they served America irrespective of who you voted for. They protected all Americans and that's the nature of the Armed forces, the US Armed forces, the United States Marine Corps. It doesn't matter who you voted for in the last election, if you are American, they will fight for you. They will protect you, and all we're asking for is for these people, these decision makers to put America first above party and bring these Americans home. That's what Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed did as Marines, [(22:00)] and I hope the politicians in the US can do the same.
Now, you bring up the point on taking action. So, I work in the security industry, specifically in security governance risk and compliance. Whenever you write a law, or you write a policy, it's more like people will comply with it because there is a consequence. There is an enforcement clause in that policy, in that contract, in that law. Now, I hope that there is some kind of policy or law written somewhere either internationally or in the United States that you can't wrongfully imprison innocent Americans or take Americans hostage. Now, I've seen the government say, "Release Paul, release Trevor," but like I said, if you want people to comply with the policy, there has to be a consequence if they violate that policy.
So, what is the consequence to countries that wrongfully imprison or take hostage American citizens? I have not seen anyone discuss this consequence, so it's easy to say, "Release Paul Whelan, release Trevor Reed", but what happens if you don't? I've never heard that from Secretary Blinken, or I mean, I've heard some mention of sanctions, but if they don't follow through, no one's really going to listen to you. What do you think?
I think you've hit the nail on the head, Daren. This has been a theme, and anyone who is one of those high-level officials listening to this, will probably roll their eyes because I've had some very pointed remarks to make about this. But you're absolutely right. There is not actually, at least to the best of my knowledge, a law that that spells out, "We are going to bring home US citizens who are wrongfully detained."[(24:00)] I think that is in part because it has taken a number of years to develop any kind of policy around hostage-taking at all. So, PPD30 was written during the Obama Administration that covers sort of hostages the way we tend to think of them, held at gunpoint by terrorists, that sort of thing.
It wasn't until last year that we finally saw a subsequent piece of legislation, the Robert Levinson Act being passed. This is a piece of legislation that does start to build on reaction to wrongful detention. So, it actually created the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Office, which was already there under PPD 30, but it enlarged it so that they must now attend to wrongful detention. So Paul, is now a case that is handled by that group, that we call the SPEHA group. That legislation also calls for families to be involved, and get information and that sort of thing.
It does state that there are repercussions and sanctions as you say, is a part of that. But if those sanctions aren't either applied or used, then that becomes really problematic. My feeling is that, it is all well and good for the hostile foreign country to say, "Well, we want this, and we want that," but I do believe that we should be coming back and saying, "Well, if we want to negotiate at all, we can have something that we offer." But also say, "However, this situation cannot fly and these are the things that are going to happen to you if you don't give up, Paul and Trevor right now."
So I think it is difficult once somebody, once any hostage has been held for days, weeks and months and then years, it becomes more and more difficult to sort out how you're going to get them out. It is much better to have an immediate response to this kind of hostage-taking [(26:00)] and immediate set of punishments that you can lay down the minute you see that a wrongful detention is taking place. So, here we are 3 years plus, I think we're in a more difficult situation than that, but I have been very pleased to see, and of course, I don't know the details, but the concept of the package of punishments, basically - I don't know a better word for them - that the US is willing to levy against Russia should an invasion happen.
I want to see some comparable sort of reaction for wrongful detention, and I don't think we're organized enough yet to do that. We're still dealing with each detention on a one by one basis arguing about whether or not we should give up the concession. Meanwhile, our people are sitting there waiting for something to happen. But I do think that the answer is to have that package of whatever it happens to be, and I don't know what the possible concepts are, but to have that package of punishment against those hostile foreign countries that even considered that they're going to hold one of our citizens hostage, I think that needs to happen.
Absolutely. Now, in the last podcast, you mentioned that American corporations with operations in Russia can also do things to help, after all their employees are at risk of being targeted by the Russian government as well. Can you please, remind our listeners what these corporations can do?
Well, so, it's sort of, I won't to call it a myth, but a lot of people don't realize just how much interaction America and Russia has had over the last couple of decades. There are many business people, institutions and schools. There are travel agencies set up just to take tourists to Russia. Before COVID, 100 to 200,000 Americans a year traveled to Russia just as tourists.[(28:00)] So, I think for, I won't say, the average American, but for many Americans, the idea that Paul and Trevor that they went to Russia as tourists and are being held there, it seems odd. Like why would you do that? But we actually have this really large flow of money, of goods, of travel, of people going overseas to conferences and conventions and all of that sort of thing. All of these people are actually now at risk from being wrongfully detained should Russia suddenly decide they need a few more pawns.
So, I would definitely ask anyone doing business, anybody who has relations with Russia on any front, to put some feelers out, put a little pressure on your contacts in Russia and express your annoyance that Russia is holding American citizens wrongfully. Consider potentially, not doing business with Russia over this issue. Try to use the leverage that you have with dollars or influence or connections to help back up the US government and help bring our citizens home.
You have the ability to be part of this conversation and not a part from it because actually, if you, as a company or an institution that communicates and does business with Russia, if you are not helping the situation out, you're actually undermining the US government's attempts to bring home US citizens. This is a very serious problem. You need to step up and do your part to help stop wrongful detention. One day, it could be your employee who is being held and we don't want it to get to that particular point. Help bring home Paul and Trevor, and help stop this problem.
What can the American public do to help especially given the current escalation in [(30:00)] tensions between the US and Russia?
This is a difficult one because so many people now care about Paul and Trevor, follow the updates, express concern to the family, but we do feel overwhelmed because the problem that's happening now between Russia and Ukraine is far larger than most citizens feel that they can take on. So, rather than worrying about solving that particular problem, what we need to do is we need to support Paul himself because until he comes home, we have got very specific problems.
One of them is keeping his morale up. So, if you go to his website or the website we've created for him, which is www.freepaulwhelan.com, really simple, we've got an address you can use to write to him because letters, they take forever. The prison holds them. It says they censor them, but I'm not sure, exactly. I think they just sit on them and then after a while they give them to him. Paul does get his mail. It takes a while. He tries to respond although most recently, the prison has decided arbitrarily, to stop selling stamps and envelopes. So, that's making things a little difficult, and the embassies that visit Paul are planning on taking him stamps and envelopes to counter that problem.
But anything you send, just a card, just to say, you're thinking of him, help him keep his spirits up. Tell him something funny or interesting that's happening in your hometown. Even if you don't know Paul, know anything about him, you'll be doing a huge service. The other thing that you can do, if you have the means is to contribute to his GoFundMe account. So, from the very time that Paul was arrested, a number of things happened. To begin with, he doesn't get proper food. He's not given clothing, adequate clothing for the weather. Actually, winter is actually happening right now in Mordovia. So, [(32:00)] we end up supplying him with goods for all of that sort of thing.
There are items that he has to have in order to basically, use as prison currency to be able to get phone calls and things of that nature. But more importantly, even though we have support from the US government, the state department does not have a budget to help families in any way. So, they don't help us go down to DC to meet with people, to advocate for Paul. They don't have funds for anybody who after they're released as a wrongful detainee to have therapy or support or any sort of help after post isolation help. They don't have the funds to even bring Paul home.
So, when he is released by the Russians, our family will have to come up with the funds to get him back. So, our family, of course, is pitching in to the extent we can. I fund all my trips down to DC. I don't ask for anybody or the GoFundMe account to do that. Likewise, all of my family is contributing in every way they can, but anybody who contributes to the GoFundMe, you're helping Paul specifically get food, vitamins, writing utensils, books, clothes, things that the US Embassy can deliver to him when they go and visit. It's essential, and there are many items that can only be purchased in Moscow and that we can't send them from here. So, anything you can do to help would be really appreciated.
The last thing that you can do, which might seem like spitting into the wind, is to contact your members of congress, your representatives, and your senators. Contact them daily, if you need to, either by phone or by using their contact forms on websites. Just keep reminding them that there are American citizens or anybody in the world, as a matter of fact, out there who want Paul and Trevor to come home, and actually who want all the wrongful detainees [(34:00)] to come home. Over time, I have had interactions with families who are waiting for their loved ones to come back from Venezuela, from Iran, on and on, from Syria on and on, we could all use your support. We could all use your help to bring our loved ones home.
Thank you for that. Now, you and your family have been working to free your brother for over 3 years. There are too many American families at the moment with loved ones held hostage or wrongfully imprisoned overseas. I've had the honour of interviewing 8 different American families so far on this podcast, and I know many more. The one problem they all face is that there is currently no playbook for American families to give them guidance on what to do when a loved one is taken hostage or wrongfully imprisoned overseas. This means each family has to reinvent the wheel every single time. You and your family have decided to take the initiative and create guidance for other American families, which you've made publicly available for free on your freepaulwhelan.com website. First of all, thank you so much for doing this. I know it will definitely benefit many families. Secondly, can you please tell us more about this guidance you've created?
Absolutely. I think that perhaps, one of our ways of dealing with this awful problem, at least for my brother, David and myself, and David is our family spokesperson and I'm the one who usually goes to DC to deal with all of that. You can't go through a situation like this and not want to help others in some means. Both of us are a little literary. We have a literary bench, so we decided to write actual guides and we felt that it was best to do it while we were going through the process and could understand sort of what was happening. So, from the moment that Paul was arrested, we knew nothing about what to do. I had never called [(36:00)] a member of congress. I didn't even know that I needed to call a member of congress. I had no idea where to start.
The state department at that point was in touch with us so we knew a little bit about that, but I didn't really even understand how the state department worked. At least not in the sense of actually needing it to work with me to help get my brother out of this terrible situation. I have to say one of the awful parts of having your loved one wrongfully detained is that nobody wants to deal with this. Although we have sort of this general concept that you are innocent until proven guilty, there were plenty of people who wanted Paul to be guilty of the fake charges that were placed against him because it would mean that they didn't have to deal with it. They didn't have to work on it because it's an enormous overwhelming problem to come to a member of congress, for example, and say, "You know your constituent has been arrested on false charges of espionage in Russia."
The member of congress was really just hoping to deal with the road's potholes issue that was down the street. Now, they're dealing with this geopolitical problem. It's overwhelming. We are really super lucky that the members of congress for Massachusetts - I'm from Massachusetts - and from Michigan, just stood up immediately and helped. But there were plenty of people that just wanted the problem to go away. So, I ended up treading a path that so many others had gone down before me because wrongful detention does keep happening. It keeps being solved one case at a time. So, we don't have, as you say, sort of a playbook.
So, I decided to think about other families who would be going through this process
after me because I saw during the time, especially that first year, "Here comes Trevor Reed. "Here comes this person. Here comes that person," also now, wrongfully detained. Also[(38:00)] now needing to get the attention of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs." So, I sat down and remembered all the things I didn't know about the process. Everything from how to dress to go to Capitol Hill; where the buildings are? How to talk to somebody in the state department or the member of congress? What can you ask from different people?
With the idea that the guide I wrote, the Family Resource Guide is about trying to get enough people to realize that your loved one has been wrongfully detained so that you can get the attention of the Special Presidential Envoy office, which took me almost 18 months to manage. That is an awful ordeal in and of itself, but that was the impetus. Now, once the Special Presidential Envoy office, once you are part of that, they are now also, I believe they have it now available for people whose cases are being handled. They have their own resource guide as well to sort of help. But the effort to get to that point is overwhelming.
Now, our path may be different from other families. I can only write about my own experience, but I'm hoping that anyone that finds themselves in that situation can read through it, and maybe get a few other ideas and maybe some other way to solve the problems themselves. So, then David followed along with How to Deal with Media, a guide for how to deal with media because from the very start, we didn't know. In fact, we didn't even know that you possibly shouldn't talk to the media. In our particular case, immediately, there were media stories out there talking about Paul, the espionage. The fact he had 4 passports and sounded like 007. All of this stuff that we had to refute immediately.
So, we really didn't have any choice, but to engage. David, thank goodness, did a fabulous job and still is, of representing the family, sharing facts as we know them about Paul's situation [(40:00)] and keeping the media updated. He like I thought, we felt that for those people who just like us had never been in this situation, no idea how to get started, what the pros and cons were about various different approaches, should you talk to the media or not? He decided to do the same sort of thing, and now that we're into the fourth year of Paul's wrongful detention, we really felt that these guides should be shared more widely. So, we have them up now on one of the pages on freepaulwhelan.com says, Hostage Resources and it lists a number of not only the links to these two guides, but also a number of other organizations that might be helpful, including Daren, Pod Hostage Diplomacy.
Thank you very much for including this podcast on that guide. I really appreciate it. I'm truly honoured. Thank you for that. Elizabeth, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I think I would just sort of, I'd like to underline to the US government that we do understand how very difficult it is to make the tough decisions that will bring our loved ones home. It requires a lot of decisions that are against the grain of the various different departments and entities involved, but we need you, desperately need you to work together to bring our loved ones home no matter what it takes. Surely, the price that you pay is less than the price of the US citizen you will be rescuing. We have got to bring them home. Paul does not deserve to sit in a Russian forced labor camp. He didn't do anything wrong. The crime has been committed against him. He is not the criminal. Please, do what's necessary, to get our guys home, and then let's all work together to make wrongful detention stop. There has to be a way. I know we can do it together. Thank you.[(42:00)]
Elizabeth, we will be campaigning right by your side until Paul comes back home. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us, again.
Thank you so much, Daren. I really appreciate everything that you're doing for families of hostages and detainees everywhere. You're an amazing fellow. An amazing resource, and thank you so much for your time today.
I'm honoured to help, and you're very welcome. Thank you.
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