president Joe BidenThe U.S. State Department administration will add a new label for the State Department warnings on Tuesday China, Russia, Iran and other countries to warn of the danger of unlawful detention of Americans.
It’s part of a new executive order the president signed into law to help Americans detained abroad, support those incarcerated’s families and impose costs on those guilty — including potential financial penalties and visa bans.
Biden is facing increasing pressure from hostage and prisoner families, particularly in the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, both being held in Russia.
It’s unclear if the new order will result in more Americans coming home, but the administration pointed to the provisions, which will place costs on the kidnappers.
The order also directs the government to be more cooperative with families, including sharing relevant information, including intelligence information, and seeking releases.
The order will include the new “D-for Wrongful Detention Notice” for State Department travel advisories for six new countries: China, Russia, Burma, North Korea, Venezuela and Iran. It joins the K-for Kidnapping Indicator.
The indicator “will highlight the increased risk Americans face in certain countries and provide Americans with comprehensive safety information to help them make informed travel decisions,” the White House said in a fact sheet.
The order comes as Biden faces criticism from families of the detainees for not doing enough to secure the release of their loved ones.
A coalition of relatives involved in the Bring Our Families Home Campaign have urged the President to become more personally involved in the cases.
Biden signs the order the day before families come to Washington with the Bring Our Families Home Campaign to unveil a mural depicting 18 Americans jailed abroad.
Administration officials did not say whether or not Biden would meet with the families. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has previously met with families of detainees.
The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation estimates that more than 60 US citizens are unjustly imprisoned in some 18 countries, some for more than a decade.
The executive order aims to deter and punish unlawful detentions of US citizens abroad through sanctions and other measures.
It “creates new opportunities to impose costs on terrorist organizations, criminal groups and other malicious actors who take hostages for financial, political or other gains,” the White House said, adding the order “also fosters unwavering commitment by the United States.” Bringing home Americans who are being held hostage or unjustly imprisoned.’
A senior administration official told reporters at a briefing call Monday night that no new sanctions would be announced on Tuesday.
The officials downplayed the criticism of the families during the briefing. They emphasized their work with families, saying much of it was tailored to each individual case and kept out of the public eye.
President Biden will sign a new executive order Tuesday aimed at helping Americans detained abroad
And they found that Biden was ready to step in when needed, as in the case of Trevor Reed, the American released by Russians as part of a prisoner swap.
“I just want to emphasize that the President in this administration has been willing to make tough what he himself has said publicly, but major calls about what it means to bring Americans home draw particular attention to his willingness.” to do what is necessary to bring Trevor Reed home from wrongful detention in Russia,” a senior administration official said.
Biden was praised for bringing Reed home, but his move also raised questions about other cases, most notably Griner and Whelan.
And the president faced criticism from Whelan’s sister after calling Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and responding to a letter from the basketball star.
Elizabeth Whelan said she was “surprised” that her brother had not received similar treatment, noting that he had also written to the president and administration officials. Biden called her shortly after.
“My message to the White House is that other families with far fewer resources have waited years to see action to bring loved ones home. What we need to see is something more consistent,” she told CNN earlier this month.
Biden is facing increasing pressure from hostage and prisoner families, particularly in the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner (above).
President Biden has been criticized by the family of imprisoned former Marine Paul Whelan (above) for not doing enough to support his release
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after playing in Moscow during the WNBA offseason. Russian authorities claimed she had cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner pleaded guilty to drug offenses earlier this month.
Whelan was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges, which he has denied. He was found guilty in June 2020 in what American officials described as an unfair trial and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The government is also dealing with the cases of two other Americans, Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, who are being held by the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic after being captured in the battle for Ukraine.
The White House has repeatedly warned Americans not to go to Ukraine.
Detainees can become political pawns in international diplomacy, particularly those held by Russia.
The Biden administration is trying to secure their release while also trying to avoid signaling the US that it is open to doing business with inmates.
That would leave all Americans traveling abroad deeply vulnerable.