» 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.

Iran Begins ‘Trial’ for Post Reporter as Families of Hostages Finally Get Their Day Before Congress

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A Washington Post reporter went on closed-door trial today in Iran on charges of espionage as it was announced that, for the first time, all families of the U.S. hostages held in the Islamic Republic will come before Congress on the same panel.

Jason Rezaian, who has 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. She will be tried separately.

Jason’s brother, Ali, will speak for his family at the June 2 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Both are California natives with an Iranian-born father.

Also on the panel will be Sarah Hekmati, sister of U.S. Marine vet Amir Hekmati, an Arizona native who was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011.

Nagameh Abedini, who has previously testified before Congress on threats to religious freedom, will speak on behalf of her husband, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini. He was convicted in January 2013 of establishing Christian house churches while in the country to set up a government-sanctioned orphanage.

Daniel Levinson will testify on behalf of his father, Bob Levinson. The former FBI agent 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 him.

After hearing from the families, the committee will mark up up a resolution calling for the immediate release of the Americans held by Iran. It was introduced by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who is Hekmati’s congressman, and sponsored by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who represents Rezaian’s district, Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who represents Abedini, and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), representing Levinson’s district. The bill is now up to 145 co-sponsors.

Last month, PJ Media asked representatives of relevant House and Senate committees if they were considering bringing the families together for a hearing as the administration negotiates a final nuclear agreement with Iran. One Foreign Affairs aide said they could “definitely try” to host the families at an upcoming hearing, while Senate staffers said there were no hearing plans in the works in the upper chamber.

The timing couldn’t be more critical as Rezaian faces a judge so renowned for harsh sentences that he was sanctioned by the European Union in 2011 for human rights abuses.

“In charge of the post-election cases, he was the Judge presiding the ‘show trials’ in summer 2009, he condemned to death two monarchists that appeared in the show trials. He has sentenced more than a hundred political prisoners, human rights activists and demonstrators to lengthy prison sentences,” says the description of Abdolghassem Salavati on the EU blacklist.

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Posted at 5:21 pm on May 26th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

‘It Is Beyond Politics’: Amir Hekmati’s Congressman Rallies Co-Sponsors for Iran Hostage Resolution

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Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) has 55 co-sponsors and counting on a bipartisan resolution to call for the immediate release of his constituent, Amir Hekmati, and other Americans held by Iran.

Original co-sponsors include the other congressmen of Americans held hostage by Tehran: Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), representing Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), representing Pastor Saeed Abedini, and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), representing former FBI agent Bob Levinson.

Rezaian, who has 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 last 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.

This morning on the House floor, Kildee propped up a photo of Hekmati with the number of days he has languished in captivity: 1,354.

“Amir is an American. He is a United States Marine. He is a brother. He is a son. He is a Michigander. He grew up in my hometown of Flint Michigan, served this country in uniform as I said in the United States Marine Corp. He is of Iranian decent, though he was born in the United States,” Kildee said.

His resolution reads in part: “Iran should release all detained Americans immediately and provide any information it possesses regarding any Americans that have disappeared within its borders.”

The Senate passed 90-0 on Monday a resolution introduced by Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) calling for the release of the Americans held by Iran. Of the 10 senators who no-showed the vote, three are running for president: Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

As of this morning, Kildee has 28 Republican co-sponsors and 27 Democrats on the House version — “and we are adding them every day.”

He tweeted thanks to each co-sponsor today.

“This is a not even a bipartisan issue. This is a nonpartisan question. It is beyond politics. This is about the rights of a free man being held in Iran,” the congressman said. “So I am asking my colleagues and the American people to get engaged – call upon Iran to do what it is right and release the Americans that they hold.”

“I know that Amir Hekmati himself does not want to be part of consideration, does not want to be traded for concessions at the nuclear negotiating table. The onus is on Iran to do what is right. It’s critical that this body, and all the people that we represent, speak with a single voice and make it clear, as the Senate did, in their resolution calling upon Iran to release these Americans. It’s important that the people’s body speaks for the people of the United states and tell Iran, loud and clear, that you cannot hold Americans as political prisoners and be accepted into the international community.”

Posted at 4:50 pm on May 14th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Cornyn Speaks Out for Austin Tice on Senate Floor

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) spoke out on the Senate floor today for his constituent, Austin Tice, who this week marked 1,000 days since he was taken by unknown assailants in Syria.

Tice’s battlefield experience in the U.S. Marine Corps lent immense credibility to the pieces he filed for McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and as a correspondent he quickly earned the respect of the Free Syrian Army fighters.

“Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever,” reads Austin’s last tweet, on Aug. 11, 2012.

On Sept. 26, 2012, a video titled “Austin Tice still alive” was posted on a pro-Assad website, and raised alarms about the Syrian government’s potential role in his capture. The Assad regime has denied any involvement.

“While we often mark the number of days someone is missing, I think it’s important to remember that to the family and friends of someone who is kidnapped even the minutes that pass are almost unbearable. Austin’s family is not just counting the days he’s been gone, and all the milestones that he’s inevitably missed, they’re counting the minutes, too,” Cornyn said today.

“I join the Tice family encouraging the federal government to do everything we can to possibly secure Austin’s safe return home. And I also want to say once again to his family: We haven’t given up, we will continue to stand by you, and we will never give up until we find your son and bring him safely home,” the senator continued.

“So today our thoughts and prayers are with the Tice family and I stand ready to do, and I dare say all of us stand ready to do, whatever we can to encourage and facilitate the return of this Texan, veteran, brother, and son.”

Posted at 3:17 pm on May 14th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

1,000 Days Since Journalist Austin Tice Went Missing in Syria

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This week holds a somber anniversary: 1,000 days since journalist and Marine Corps veteran Austin Tice went missing in Syria.

Tice’s battlefield experience lent immense credibility to the pieces he filed for McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and as a correspondent he quickly earned the respect of the Free Syrian Army fighters.

“Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever,” reads Austin’s last tweet, on Aug. 11, 2012.

On Sept. 26, 2012, a video titled “Austin Tice still alive” was posted on a pro-Assad website, and raised alarms about the Syrian government’s potential role in his capture. The Assad regime has denied any involvement.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan marked the anniversary with a “heavy heart” in a White House statement.

“The United States government will continue to work tirelessly to bring Austin home to his parents, Debra and Marc, and his brothers and sisters, who have endured anguish and suffering since Austin’s abduction.  We greatly appreciate the efforts of the Czech government, which acts as the U.S. protecting power in Syria, on behalf of our citizens, including Austin,” Meehan said.

“We strongly urge Austin’s captors to release him so that he can be safely reunited with his family. We call on all those who may have information about Austin’s whereabouts – governments and individuals – to work cooperatively with us to help bring him home.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest added that “obviously our thoughts and prayers are not just with Austin today, but they’re also with his parents, Debra and Marc and his brothers and sisters who are missing him dearly.”

Like other families of Americans held abroad, the Tice family has cautiously expressed frustration about dealing with the U.S. government in trying to bring their son home.

At the Newseum in February, Debra Tice said she and her husband, Marc, have been “sort of pushing on both ends” trying to get information from the U.S. government and the Syrian government.

The Houston resident gave credit to their congressman, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) for helping in whatever way they can. Cornyn raised Austin’s case on the Senate floor last summer at the two-year anniversary of his disappearance.

Reporters Without Borders took the lead on launching an awareness campaign about the threats that journalists embrace to report the news in some parts of the world — a campaign that also urges President Obama to do all he can to bring Austin home.

The Tices have visited D.C. to work with the National Counterterroism Center on drafting recommendations for potential policy changes on how the U.S. deals with hostage crises.

Obama ordered the review after two more Americans — journalist Steve Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig — were beheaded on video by ISIS. The terrorists are known to be holding at least one more American, a 26-year-old woman believed to be an aid worker whose family is not speaking with the media.

Tice said she’ll naturally think the U.S. government can do more “until I have my arms around my son again.”

She said the Texas family has had issues trying to deal with the FBI, which she called an “information vacuum” — they ask the family for info but don’t give any in return. That relationship has become “a bit acrimonious in a bit of middle-school way, unfortunately.”

Tice spoke carefully when asked if the U.S. government should entertain paying ransom for hostages.

“I think there are ways of moving money around without saying the government paid ransom,” she replied.
“Every option is on the table and you can be very clever how you exercise your options.”

Posted at 5:51 pm on May 12th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Senate Passes 90-0 Resolution Demanding Iran Release Americans

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The Senate lent strong support today to a simply worded resolution calling on Iran to let four Americans come home.

The bipartisan resolution from Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) passed 90-0.

It states that it’s the policy of the United States that “the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, and cooperate with the United States Government to locate and return Robert Levinson; and the United States Government should undertake every effort using every diplomatic tool at its disposal to secure their immediate release.”

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 last 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.

Levinson’s senator, Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), noted in a floor speech today that “if the government of Iran really wanted to help, it could.”

“There’s somebody in Iran who can produce the facts if he wanted to, and that’s the supreme leader,” Nelson said, asking that Levinson finally be brought home to his wife and seven children.

“That is what humanity would absolutely require,” the senator added.

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Posted at 4:35 pm on May 11th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

Marine Vet Held by Iran Begins ‘Heartbreaking’ Third Hunger Strike

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U.S. hostage Amir Hekmati’s nephew, Sami, shows his escape plan to Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday as his dad, Ramy Kurdi, points out the details

A Marine veteran held by Iran for 1,345 days has undertaken another hunger strike to protest his continued detention over trumped-up espionage charges.

Amir Hekmati’s last hunger strike was “reluctantly and temporarily” put on hold this past December upon promises from Iranian officials that his case would be “revisited by appropriate Iranian government authorities.” That hasn’t happened.

Born in Flagstaff, Ariz., and a resident of Flint, Mich., Amir served in the Iraq War and was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 2005. He was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War of Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. The 31-year-old was seized by Iranian authorities on a 2011 trip to visit extended family, before he was due to start economics studies at the University of Michigan.

The Hekmati family said in a statement today:

Citing the politicization of his imprisonment by Iran and the poor prison conditions in which he is being unjustly held, our son and brother, American and Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, has informed us he has begun a hunger strike. Amir went to Iran to visit his grandmother. He committed no crime by visiting Iran and he committed no crime while inside Iran’s borders. It has become increasingly clear to Amir that his imprisonment and the conditions of his release are being connected to the nuclear talks by some politicians within Iran. This is especially apparent when the Iranian Supreme Court was scheduled to hear Amir’s case until the nuclear talks were extended in November. Despite promises in December that his case would be revisited by officials within Iran, there has been no progress made and these promises have gone unfulfilled.

The conditions of Amir’s imprisonment have deteriorated in recent months. His basic needs are no longer being met. Not only is he housed with violent and hardened criminals, subject to blackouts of electricity, fed a diet of only lentils and rice, and has battled continuous infections due to no heat in the winter months in Iran, Amir reports that the little food they are fed is filled with parasites and his prison ward is infested with rats.

It breaks our hearts to know our brother has suffered through torture, abuse, and mistreatment for committing no crime. It hurts us even more knowing that he is risking solitary confinement for choosing to starve himself in hope that action will finally be taken and his case will finally move forward and he will be one day closer to coming home and being reunited with our family.

For decades, third parties were forced to act as intermediaries between the United States and Iran because no diplomatic relations existed. Even without diplomatic relations, previously held Americans did not spend as long in prison as Amir nor did they experience the treatment in prison Amir has been forced to endure. Amir has been held longer than any American in Iran in history. Amir was also the first American sentenced to death in three decades. We ask that as the United States and Iran sit across from one another, now communicating directly on diplomatic matters, that these two countries work diligently and continuously to bring Amir home to family.

Amir’s Marine brothers volunteered to fast in solidarity during his last hunger strike, and Marines indicated on social media today that they were already engaging in fasting days to stand with Amir. This is Amir’s third hunger strike in Iranian custody, the first being in 2012.

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Posted at 6:30 pm on May 5th, 2015 by Bridget Johnson

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