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.