Trevor Reed Tells Jake Tapper About Time in Russian Prison
Trevor Reed, the former Marine who was released from a Russian prison last month, spoke with Jake Tapper in a CNN Special Report, “Finally Home: The Trevor Reed Interview,” that aired Sunday night, to share the experience of his ordeal and advocate for other Americans held by hostile foreign nations overseas. Reed described in brutal detail his horrific experiences while imprisoned, his efforts at resistance, and how he hoped he would be able to dissuade Russia from taking any other Americans hostage.
Reed was visiting Moscow in the summer of 2019 with his girlfriend at the time, a Russian lawyer named Lina Tsybulnik. He became intoxicated at a party, blacked out and was ill on the side of the road. He was arrested and put into a cell to sober up.
The Russian police officers initially treated him well, even joking with him the next morning that they would “teach him later” how to handle Russian vodka. Reed was told he could leave and was waiting for Tsybulnik to pick him up when the police officers’ shift changed and the on-duty chief was far more hostile, suddenly saying he could not leave. FSB officers (the successor organization to the KGB) came in and accused him of assaulting the police officers in the station. Tsybulnik disputed that, demanded video from the station cameras. Reed told Tapper there were about 40 cameras in the station, and the officers must have realized they couldn’t plausibly claim they were all out of order, so they then accused him of assaulting the officers during the ride to the station.
Despite evidence in Reed’s favor (Tsybulnik said she had driven behind the police car and denied any assault happened, Reed’s defense team obtained video of the road where the police officers claimed the assault happened and it too showed no such thing, Reed incurred multiple suspicious wounds while he was unconscious suggesting he was beaten by the officers), he was convicted after a “sham of a trial” to nine years in prison — a sentence more commonly handed down to those who had committed murder, Tapper noted.
Reed described his response to the conviction, telling Tapper that in Russia, after such a conviction, prisoners were sent to forced labor camps.
However, “I was not going to work,” Reed continued. “Ethically I could not do that.” In his view, the Russians had kidnapped him, convicted him, and given him “the biggest punishment you’ve ever handed out under this criminal article and then you send me to a forced labor camp and you expect me to go in there and work and produce things for the same government who is kidnapping Americans.”
“Did you do any work at all?” asked Tapper.
“No, absolutely not,” replied Reed. Once it became clear he was refusing to work, the Russian guards told him they would punish him, he said, but he was determined, telling them that was “not going to change anything.”
After that, he was put into solitary confinement, for nearly seven of the nine months he spent at the camp.
Reed described his goal for his resistance to Tapper: “I hoped that I would be such a problem for them that in the future when they considered, you know, taking Americans hostage they would think, you know, is it worth it?”
“Did you ever come close to hitting any sort of breaking point?” asked Tapper.
“No,” said Reed, “and to be honest with you, the longer that I was in there, the more dedicated I was to not allowing them to break me, and that was really one of the main things that I held on to that got me through that was knowing that no matter how long I was going to be there, they were never going to break me.”
“Maybe I would have died, but psychologically they never would have broken me.”
The food served to the prisoners was “extremely poor,” said Reed, theorizing that it seemed like what they would have given prisoners during the Middle Ages in Europe.
Dinner was “either cabbage or potatoes,” he told Tapper, and then “fish of some type,” listing three unappetizing varieties that included a patty that was “difficult to eat because of the bones inside,” a baked fish “that’s like a whole fish about this size with a tail and head and everything,” and then some type of “salt fish” that wasn’t properly dried or preserved, but just “put in salt water to try to kill the parasites.”
The fish was so bad, in fact, that not even the feral cats wandering the prison camp grounds would eat it.
Reed said he initially tried to “distract” himself by reading, “to escape into a different world,” finding it psychologically very helpful, but soon the Russians refused to let him access any books in English.
That, said Reed, was the “last straw” that led him into his first hunger strike. He became very ill, he said, “consistently sick until I left,” including coughing up blood multiple times a day, every day, for several months. The Russians refused to send him to a hospital, he said, so he started a second hunger strike “so that they would get me medical attention.”
“For their part the Russians say Reed was sent to a medical facility at the end of his hunger strike and his health was, quote, satisfactory, but that according to Trevor is a lie,” reported Tapper.
When Reed was being transported for the prisoner swap, he initially hoped and believed that Paul Whelan, another former Marine being held in Russia, would also be released with him. When he realized Whelan was not joining him, that was “tough,” he told Tapper. He was heartened to hear from other prisoners that Whelan was “fighting,” and “resisting,” and “causing as many problems as he can,” similar to Reed’s own efforts.
“He’s not giving up,” said Reed. “I was proud to hear that, and I’m still proud of him.”
Still, he is intensely frustrated that Whelan remains imprisoned, along with dozens of other Americans around the world.
“We need to do absolutely everything we can, as Americans, to advocate for those Americans who are being held illegally overseas and do every single thing we can possible to get them out,” said Reed.
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