» Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.

She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

Family Pleads on Capitol Hill for Marine Vet Held 1,340 Days by Iran

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The family of a Marine veteran imprisoned by Iran for 1,340 days was on Capitol Hill today along with Montel Williams to introduce a new congressional resolution on U.S. hostages and to plead the Obama administration to act.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) represents the hometown of decorated Iraq war vet Amir Hekmati, who was seized by Iranian authorities in August 2011 and is held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

Kildee’s resolution has five original co-sponsors: Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Amir’s sister Sarah, brother-in-law Ramy Kurdi, and Williams made the rounds after a morning press conference to meet with lawmakers and pick up congressional support. Via Twitter, they announced that Reps. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) were among those who signed on to the bill.

The resolution, which is not attached to any other bill and is non-binding, expresses “the sense of the House of Representatives that Iran should immediately release the three United States citizens that it holds, as well as provide all known information on any United States citizens that have disappeared within its borders.”

Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian, a California native who reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home and faces espionage charges. Idaho resident Saeed Abedini was convicted in January 2013 for establishing Christian house churches. Retired FBI agent Bob Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator.

“Iran cannot be taken seriously as a member of the global community if they continue to hold innocent Americans like Amir Hekmati as political prisoners,” Kildee said. “Amir is an American citizen, born and raised in the U.S., who served his country honorably in the U.S. Marines. He is innocent yet has been unjustly held as a political prisoner by Iran for 1,340 days. This congressional resolution allows Congress to speak with one voice and say that Iran must release the innocent Americans it holds.”

Williams, who served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, got choked up as he appealed for Amir’s release at the morning presser.

“This young man that’s there, 1,340 days, he is there because he wore the uniform to protect us, to allow us to be here and have the freedoms that we have. How dare we turn a back on him right now when we see ships on the horizon heading in a way that may send us all into harm’s way again?” Williams said.

“Let this country understand, we love you, we respect you, we will put our lives on the line for you. Defend us, that’s all we’re asking. Bring this young man home. I look to our commander-in-chief. You look to him as the president, I look to him as that fictional six-star general. The same applies for him. We leave no soldier behind.”

Sarah Hekmati said she hopes to meet with White House officials this week. President Obama has never said Amir’s name in public, and ABC News reported that the Marine was taunted by his Iranian prison guards after Obama only mentioned Rezaian at last weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“He has already been mistreated, abused, and tortured,” Sarah wrote to White House counter-terrorism advisor Lisa Monaco. “Now the mental torture continues as he is made to feel that the country he put his life on the line for, the one he defended, and the president he voted for has left him behind and are not actively trying to secure his freedom.”

“Why has President Obama yet to utter the name Amir Hekmati? Why on days significant for Amir — Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, the anniversary of his death sentence, the anniversary of his imprisonment — President Obama cannot say the name Amir Hekmati out loud, but he can say it for Jason Rezaian and he can say it for Pastor Abedini? Why when we make a request is it ignored? Why am I forced to write this email to you AGAIN, the same subject AGAIN, the same plea AGAIN?”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest replied at Monday’s press briefing that “when considering how best to secure the release of these individuals, a calculation is made about the wisdom of the publicity that surrounds the efforts to secure their release.”

“So, in each case, a different calculation is made, but I can just say as a general matter what the president said about Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter that’s currently detained in Iran, also applied to those other Americans, which is that the president and the U.S. government is prepared to go to great lengths to secure their release,” Earnest said.

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Posted at 1:21 pm on April 30th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

‘I Profoundly Regret What Happened’: Obama Admits Drone Strike Killed al-Qaeda Hostages

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Warren Weinstein and his wife, Elaine

President Obama said today that a U.S. drone strike in January on the border region killed two Western hostages: American Warren Weinstein, and Italian Giovani Lo Porto.

Weinstein was abducted Aug. 13, 2011, by armed gunmen who burst into his Lahore home. The Rockville, Md., resident put in several years with USAID and the World Bank before becoming an economic development consultant in 2003.

Last August, al-Qaeda needled the Obama administration about forgetting the contractor, charging the U.S. government “wants Warren Weinstein to die in prison so that it may absolve itself of responsibility regarding his case.”

In a letter and video released in 2013, the 73-year-old begged President Obama for help. “You are now in your second term as president of the United States and that means that you can take hard decisions without worrying about reelection,” he said. “I hope and pray to God that you, as leader of the United States, along with your administration, will feel an adequate level of responsibility toward me and work for my release.”

The Weinstein family was told yesterday, as was Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Warren’s wife, Elaine, said they still don’t fully understand the circumstances of Weinstein’s death but look forward to an independent investigation.

“On behalf of myself, our two daughters, our son-in-law, and two grandchildren, we are devastated by this news and the knowledge that my husband will never safely return home. We were so hopeful that those in the U.S. and Pakistani governments with the power to take action and secure his release would have done everything possible to do so and there are no words to do justice to the disappointment and heartbreak we are going through,” Elaine said.

“They will have to face their God to answer for their actions,” she said of his al-Qaeda captors.

Though the family said over the years that they were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of administration action, Obama said today that after Weinstein’s kidnapping “I directed my national security team to do everything possible to find him and to bring him home safely to his family.”

“Based on information and intelligence we have obtained, we believe that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al-Qaeda compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, accidentally killed Warren and Giovani this past January,” Obama said. “As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today. I realize that there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I know that there is nothing that I can ever say or do to ease their heartache.”

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Posted at 8:23 am on April 23rd, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Marine Held by Iran to Congress: ‘Serious Consequences’ Needed for Tehran’s ‘Serial Hostage-Taking’

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Congressional leaders are receiving a letter today from a decorated Marine veteran held for more than three and a half years by Iran on false charges, as well as a plea from Amir Hekmati’s family for help.

Amir, who was born in Flagstaff, Ariz., and grew up in Michigan, was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized and sentenced on trumped-up espionage charges.

In the letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Amir reaches out to the lawmakers “as a fellow American and combat veteran.”

I am writing to bring to your attention my situation and that of a long list of my fellow Americans. For nearly three and a half years, I have been falsely imprisoned and treated inhumanely by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence as a part of an ongoing propaganda campaign. After months of torture and solitary confinement, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence paraded a false and forced confession in international media in a failed attempt to humiliate the U.S. government.

The Ministry of Intelligence has demanded I be exchanged for Iranians being held in the U.S. for national security related offenses, a tactic that has been repeating itself for a long time now. In a letter to Secretary of State Kerry, I voiced my opposition to any prisoner exchange, as I’ve committed no crime, and consider the Ministry of Intelligence demands to be illegitimate. I assume the same demands are being made for other U.S. captives.

While I am thankful that the State Department and the Obama administration has called for my release and that of my fellow Americans, there has been no serious response to this blatant and ongoing mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and they continue on with impunity.

It was only a few months after the release of the American hikers, who were falsely imprisoned for nearly two and a half years, that I was dealt a similar fate, having been sentenced to death by hanging and subsequently ten years. A short time later, Mr. Abedini, a Christian pastor from Idaho, was sentenced to eight years. And in the midst of negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program, Secretary Kerry sits politely with the Iranians, shaking hands and offering large economic concessions to save them from economic meltdown, Jason Rezaian was added to the growing list of American captives, undoubtedly in hopes of milking more concessions from the U.S. government. As of today, the fate of Robert Levinson is still unknown.

This while the U.S. has opened its doors to Iranians who wish to study at U.S. universities and benefit from U.S resources while Americans visiting Iran are offered a prison cell and humiliation.

As a war veteran who defended our nation in its time of need, I ask that you also work to defend my dignity and that of my fellow Americans by putting in place serious consequences for this serial hostage-taking and mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence for clearly illegal purposes.

This has been going on far too long.

Amir’s letter, dictated over the phone to his family from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where he has faced torture and horrendous conditions, included a cover letter from his sister, Sarah Hekmati, to congressional leaders.

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Posted at 7:00 am on April 21st, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Harf: Americans Held by Iran ‘Clearly Important,’ But ‘Not as Part of Nuclear Talks’

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State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf stressed today that there’s no need to align the demand that four Americans be returned home with the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that the captivity of Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini and Bob Levinson is separate from the P5+1 talks. But with Iran poised to receive what it wants in a final deal, what leverage is left to compel Tehran to release the American hostages?

Washington Post bureau chief Rezaian, a California native who reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a reporter for UAE English-language newspaper The National, was also detained and released in October. Word came this month that Rezaian will go on trial for espionage charges.

Marine vet Hekmati was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011, Abedini was convicted in January 2013 for establishing Christian house churches, and Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family later received images of him in captivity, though the Iranian government has maintained they don’t know who is holding the former FBI agent.

“So we are still not aware of any official announcement yet from Iranian judicial authorities. I understand these reports are coming from his lawyer. We have seen the reports, of course, from his lawyer and others that he has been charged with espionage and other security related charges,” Harf told reporters today of the Rezaian case.

“If the reports are true, these charges are, as we’ve said in the past, patently absurd. He should immediately be freed so he can return to his family. The charges should immediately be dismissed. But again, no confirmation official from Iranian judicial authorities.”

Harf didn’t know whether Rezaian had been visited by the Swiss, representing U.S. interests in Tehran, or whether he could renounce the Iranian citizenship conferred upon him by his father’s place of birth.

Iran has claimed that the U.S. has no say over Hekmati and Rezaian, both born in the United States, because of their Iranian fathers.

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Posted at 12:17 pm on April 20th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

‘He Is Our Son’: Congressman Calls Iran Imprisonment of Marine Vet ‘Beyond the Pale’

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Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) implored his colleagues today to not forget about Americans held in Iran while the administration negotiates a nuclear deal with Tehran.

Kildee represents the Flint, Mich., home of Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, who was seized by Iranian authorities in August 2011 and is held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

The congressman stressed in a floor speech, with a placard of Amir’s Marine photo, that he is “an American citizen, born and raised in the United States; grew up in my hometown of Flint, Michigan; served in the United States Marine Core; he is a brother, he is a son.”

“Three and a half years ago he traveled to Iran. His parents are of Iranian descent. He traveled to Iran to meet for the first time a grandmother that he had never seen, traveled under his own name, notified the government that he was going,” Kildee said. “And after just a couple of weeks, he was apprehended, disappeared, and a few months later it was revealed that he had been tried and convicted, and sentenced to death.”

That was later commuted to 10 years in prison for alleged conspiracy to commit espionage.

“A young man, an American, traveling under his own name in Iran, who had served in the United States Marine Corps, was sentenced to death simply for being an American in Iran that had served this country. He’s an innocent man, and he continues to languish in Evin prison.”

Kildee wanted to “make it clear that the Congress of the United States and the American people are watching the Iranian government.”

“If in fact Iran intends, as they purport to do, to try to take steps to join the international community, they cannot hold Americans like Amir Hekmati as political prisoners,” he stressed. “Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, from John Lewis to Darrell Issa, have joined in the effort to raise awareness around Amir Hekmati’s case. It is important that we never let this case fade into the woodwork.”

“I think about Amir the same way that I would think about it if my own son were being held in a prison on the other side of the world. And I know that every other member of Congress who’s been engaged in this effort feels the same way. He is one of us. He is our son. And he needs to be reunited with his family.”

Kildee noted the current nuclear negotiations with Iran, adding it’s “very difficult for many of us in Congress, especially those of us who represent those few Americans being held in an Iranian prison to view this agreement other than through the lens of that imprisonment.”

“If Iran truly intends to try to rejoin the global community, they can make a very clear demonstration of their seriousness by releasing Amir Hekmati and the other Americans that they hold, and we all can play a role in making that happen, and I encourage everybody out there, members of Congress, people who want to want to become engaged to get to social media, use the hashtag #FreeAmir or hashtag #FreeAmirNow,” he said.

“We know that the Iranian government does pay attention to what the American people think. The Iranian citizens certainly do, and we know that we have to keep the pressure on right now. As I said, it is very difficult for many of us who support the direction that this administration has taken in these negotiations and really hope that it bears fruit, really hope that it creates an agreement that makes the world, and particularly that region safer. We can only really accept Iran as a member of the global community not just by entering into this agreement but by them joining the world community by not being a nation that can take a young man who served this country, who grew up here, was the captain of his high school hockey team, simply wanted to go to see the country that his parents were born in and to visit the grandmother that he had never met, to hold him as a political prisoner, as a chip in a geopolitical struggle, is beyond the pale, and it’s something that can’t be accepted.”

Kildee asked his colleagues to “make sure not that one day passes – especially during this period where we’re considering this potentially historic agreement – not one day passes where Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Pastor Abedini, that their cases, their names are never forgotten.”

Posted at 3:52 pm on April 14th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

American Reporter Held by Iran Since Last Summer Facing Espionage Charges

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Shortly after the P5+1 victory lap in Switzerland over a nuclear framework, Iran has finally revealed charges against an American held in custody since last summer.

Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian, a California native who reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a reporter for UAE English-language newspaper The National, was also detained and released in October.

According to the semi-official Fars News Agency, Rezaian will be brought before Iran’s Revolutionary Court on charges of espionage and “acting against national security.”

The report claimed that the journalist sold information to unnamed Americans. “Selling Iran’s economic and industrial information at a time of sanctions is exactly like selling food to the enemy at a time of war,” Fars said.

Rezaian was reportedly indicted on mystery charges in January and was unable to consult with an attorney for months. He’s been held in solitary confinement and reportedly needed blood-pressure medication as well as treatment for a severe eye infection.

Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron called the charges “absurd.”

“It has been nearly nine months since Jason was arrested,” Baron said. “Now comes word via an Iranian news agency that Jason will face espionage charges. Any charges­ of that sort would be absurd, the product of fertile and twisted imaginations.”

“We are left to repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Jason and, in the meantime, we are counting on his lawyer to mount a vigorous defense.”

That lawyer came on board the case only at the beginning of March. The Rezaian family’s first choice of lawyer was a man experienced in such cases, but the judiciary in Iran would not allow him to take the case.

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Posted at 5:33 pm on April 13th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Amir Hekmati ‘Put Life on the Line for This Country’ Before Seized by Iran: ‘He’d Do It Again; Bring Him Home’

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The case of a Marine veteran imprisoned for 1,317 days by Iran is getting new publicity traction as Fox News host Greta van Susteren, who championed the case of Marine Andrew Tahmooressi when he was held by Mexico after illegally bringing guns into the country, has started dedicating consistent primetime coverage to Amir Hekmati.

Amir, who served in the Iraq war and worked as a military contractor afterward, was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011. He has been tortured behind bars and is being held on a 10-year sentence for alleged conspiracy to commit espionage for the country of his birth, the United States.

A State Department official told PJM last week that the nuclear framework agreement with Iran does not include U.S. demands for the return of Amir and three other Americans, and the final deal isn’t expected to include the hostages either.

Saeed Abedini was convicted in January 2013 for establishing Christian house churches. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has been held without any notification of the charges against him since July. Bob Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator; his family later received images of him in captivity.

Fox and MSNBC featured Montel Williams last week to advocate for Amir, and last night his sister Sarah and brother-in-law Ramy Kurdi pleaded on van Susteren’s show for the Marine’s case.

“We respect our government. It’s an honor and privilege to be able to be here and to be able to have a criticism of our government — other people don’t have that luxury,” Ramy said. “Having said that, we respect the efforts they’ve made, directly the State Department, but on our end it’s Congressman Kildee, he’s come through 100 percent for us and he’s been our champion speaking out for Amir.”

“The State Department has been — we’d like them to do more, without question, they’ve shown that they can do more for other people. We’d like them to do everything they can for Amir, because Amir put his life on the line for this country. He’d do it again. Bring him home, he’d do it right now. And we want the State Department to show that same resolve.”

The Hekmatis’ congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), told Fox last night, “We know that when the American people speak up, the Iranian government listens.”

“We encourage people to speak out and your bringing attention to this case makes a big difference. We want people to use a social media use, #freeamirnow to express themselves on this,” he said. “…This is a young man born here in the United States, served his country and Marine Corps. Most likely because of that service is being treated by the Iranian government as a political prisoner. Is an innocent man, he has done nothing wrong and he has simply become a pawn in a geopolitical struggle between Iran and the rest of the world.”

Kildee noted that he’s spoken with President Obama “a number of times” about the case.

“The president understands the urgency of this. I continue to press him and the State Department,” the congressman said. “We don’t want Amir’s freedom to be a condition of this nuclear agreement. But, on the other hand, I as a member of Congress, many of my colleagues, cannot accept an agreement with Iran on its face unless Iran releases the political prisoners, the Americans that it holds and particularly Amir Hekmati. So, I think its right that we negotiate an agreement to limit their nuclear capabilities. But it’s hard to take any agreement with them seriously if they continue to hold innocent people for political purposes.”

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Posted at 9:24 am on April 7th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Release of Americans Not in Iran Deal; State Dept. Says ‘Their Freedom Should Not be Tied’ to Talks

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A State Department official told PJM today that U.S. demands for the return of three Americans held by Iran and one missing in Iran are not in the framework nuclear agreement.

In fact, the administration intends on keeping the return of the U.S. citizens separate from any deal, even though it says their cases have been brought up on the sidelines of the talks.

Decorated Marine veteran Amir Hekmati was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011. Saeed Abedini was convicted in January 2013 for establishing Christian house churches. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has been held without any notification of the charges against him since July. Bob Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator; his family later received images of him in captivity.

Secretary of State John Kerry was asked about the fate of the Americans during his press conference on the Iran deal in Switzerland today.

“With respect to our citizens, we, of course, have had a number of conversations, and no meeting, no date when we come together has been without conversation about our American citizens,” Kerry replied. “I’m not going to go into any details except to say to you that that conversation is continuing. We have a very specific process in place to try to deal with it.”

“And we call on Iran again today, now, in light of this, to release these Americans and let them get home with their families. And we’re working on that, and we will continue to be very focused on it.”

A State Department official reiterated to PJM later in the day that “we will continue to call on Iran to immediately release detained U.S. citizens Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, and Saeed Abedini, and to work cooperatively with us to locate Robert Levinson, so that all can be returned to their families as soon as possible.”

“We have raised these cases repeatedly with Iranian officials and will continue to do so until they are all home,” the official said. “But we have been very clear that our discussions with Iran about our concerns over these American citizens are a separate issue from the nuclear talks.”

“These U.S. citizens should be returned to their families independently of political negotiations with Iran; their freedom should not be tied to the outcome of these negotiations.‎”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted in his statement of disapproval of the framework agreement today that “Iran continues to hold multiple Americans hostage.” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the Levinson family’s congressman, said he greets “any deal with Iran with great skepticism given its deceptive history and ongoing destabilizing and dangerous activities.”

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents the Hekmati family, called the nuclear agreement “a positive step towards ensuring Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon, and I look forward to seeing a full and enforceable framework.”

“However, no agreement with Iran can be taken seriously if it continues to hold political prisoners like Amir Hekmati hostage,” Kildee said. “Amir has committed no crime, yet he continues to languish in Evin Prison. If Iran is serious about rejoining the global community – as it claims – it would release Amir and other political prisoners today.”

Amir’s sister, Sarah, told PJM recently that in September the family was “really excited” that her brother’s case was reportedly moving up to the country’s supreme court for review. But then in November, nuclear talks were extended by several months “and Amir’s case was completely dropped.”

Sarah said the family was “holding our breath” to see what happens at the negotiating table in Switzerland, with myriad scenarios running through their minds for Amir and the other hostages.

If a deal is forged, “what incentive does Iran have anymore to keep them, so why not release them?” she mused.

But then again, if a deal is forged, “they’ve received everything they’re asking for and there’s no motivation to release them, either.”

“We’re terrified of this,” Sarah added.

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Posted at 4:38 pm on April 2nd, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Family ‘Terrified’ Iran Deal Could Come Without Marine Vet’s Release

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Amir Hekmati, right, his father, Ali, left, and brother-in-law Ramy.

Amir Hekmati’s young nephew recently drew a plan for his uncle’s escape from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison: in stick figures, Sami documented how his dad could poke the guard in the eye while he grabs the key and unlocks his uncle’s cell.

If only that imagination could free the decorated Marine veteran unjustly held for 1,309 days and counting by Iran.

And Amir’s family, which has worked tirelessly for his release even when tragedy compounded upon tragedy with his father’s brain tumor, fears how current events could affect his case.

Indeed, the administration has said it’s raising the case of Amir and three other Americans held in Iran — Saeed Abedini, convicted in January 2013 for establishing Christian house churches; Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been held without any notification of the charges against him since July; and Bob Levinson, who went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator — at every opportunity, but that’s as much as we know about what hardball the U.S. is willing to play or not play to secure the release of these citizens.

Amir, who was born in Flagstaff, Ariz., and grew up in Michigan, was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized and sentenced on trumped-up espionage charges.

His sister, Sarah, told PJM last week that the process of his appeal is now “really ambiguous.” In September, the family was “really excited” that his case was reportedly moving up to the country’s supreme court for review.

But then in November, nuclear talks were extended by several months “and Amir’s case was completely dropped.”

“We heard no more of it,” Sarah said. “We were given the impression that it had to do with the talks being extended.”

In a December letter to President Obama, Amir stated he was “deeply concerned that my future has become tied to the nuclear negotiations with Iran, with which I have no connection, influence or leverage.”

“I can draw no other conclusion, as each opportunity for a legal or humanitarian remedy is ignored, delayed or denied,” he wrote. “…My punishment has already far exceeded the charges brought against me, charges that I continue to contest to no avail. I know that the climate between the United States and Iran is delicate. But I should not fall victim to it.”

Sarah said the family is “holding our breath” to see what happens at the negotiating table in Switzerland, with myriad scenarios running through their minds for Amir and the other hostages.

If a deal is forged, “what incentive does Iran have anymore to keep them, so why not release them?” she mused.

But then again, if a deal is forged, “they’ve received everything they’re asking for and there’s no motivation to release them, either.”

“We’re terrified of this,” Sarah added.

Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in mid-March that the administration will “continue to insist” that Iran locate Levinson and release Hekmati, Abedini, and Rezaian.

Blinken said it’s “something that we’re working on virtually every day.” Levinson’s congressman, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), said as the last days before the deadline for a framework deal with Iran drew near, “‘raising the issue’ at this point can no longer suffice…if anyone is to take Iran seriously, that there is any commitment that they can make that can be adhered to, then the best show of good faith they can make will be to return those Americans.”

“Amir Hekmati is an American citizen who has done nothing wrong, yet continues to languish in an Iranian prison,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Amir’s congressman, told PJM. “Despite his innocence, Iran has held him captive for more than three years. If Iran is serious about rejoining the international community, they must release Amir so that he can be reunited with his ailing father and the rest of his family in Michigan.”

Sarah Hekmati said the family has not been contacted by Iranian officials for any reassurance that the appeals process is moving. They’ve been told by the lead negotiator at the talks, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, that she personally raises Amir’s case with the Iranians.

“Our question right away is what does that mean?” Sarah said. “And if you’re raising his case, what is the response from Iran? Are you getting a flat, blank stare or are you getting a reaction?”

“Are they just asking about his well-being, his treatment, or what it takes for him to be free? We never get those answers.”

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Posted at 10:08 am on March 30th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Iran Hostages: ‘Raising the Issue at This Point Can No Longer Suffice’

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Rep. Ted Deutch’s (D-Fla.) constituent Bob Levinson is the longest-held U.S. hostage in history, having recently marked eight years since he went missing off the coast of Iran.

In January 2014, his wife, Christine Levinson, released photos the family had received from his captors nearly two years earlier. She did so because “there isn’t any pressure on Iran to resolve this.”

The captors of three other Americans are known: the regime in Tehran holds Marine vet Amir Hekmati, seized in 2011 when he went to visit family for the first time; Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, convicted in January 2013 for crimes against the national security of Iran, a charge tied to his involvement many years earlier with establishing Christian house churches; and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been held without any notification of the charges against him for more than six months.

The frustration at their continued captivity and documented mistreatment — especially as Washington sits across a table from Tehran nuclear negotiators — only mounts.

Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week that the administration will “continue to insist” that Iran locate Levinson and release Hekmati, Abedini, and Rezaian.

“I understand that we are now approaching a deadline and I want to — I want to express my thanks, as I have every single time I’ve had the opportunity, for the focus on working to bring my constituent, Bob Levinson, home,” Deutch told Blinken at the hearing.

“But as we approach these last days, let me just say that ‘raising the issue’ at this point can no longer suffice and that with respect to Pastor Abedini and Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and Bob Levinson, if anyone is to take Iran seriously, that there is any commitment that they can make that can be adhered to, then the best show of good faith they can make will be to return those Americans,” the congressman stressed.

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Posted at 6:31 pm on March 20th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson