The White House announced that Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American graduate student from Princeton University, was released by Iran in exchange for an Iranian scientist convicted of violating trade sanctions against Tehran.
Wang was arrested in 2016 on trumped-up espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017. The U.S. denied that Wang was working for any intelligence agency.
“After more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States,” President Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.
“We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran,” he said. “The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens. Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas.”
— Department of State (@StateDept) December 7, 2019
Iran routinely arrests Americans for spying. This isn’t only a reflection of their extreme paranoia. Hostage-taking is government policy in Iran and has been since 1979. When Obama signed the nuclear deal, he paid $400 million in cash for the release of four Americans held by Iran. Obama tried to downplay the connection, but it’s clear his administration ransomed the Americans.
Obama claimed that the seven criminals the U.S. released in exchange for the four Americans were all “civilians” whose crimes were not terrorism-related, but unbeknownst to the American public, Obama also had 14 other Iranians released secretly. These were not innocent civilians.
Earlier this week, Politico reported that not only were the seven Iranians released under the deal not the average “civilians” described by President Obama, but the administration also released an additional 14 fugitives who were facing charges in the United States. Those fugitives’ cases ranged from sanctions evasion to the illegal procurement of weapons technology, to severe violations of American and international counter-proliferation efforts.
President Obama and administration officials “weren’t telling the whole story,” Politico reported. The Department of Justice was ordered to drop charges and international arrest warrants against the 14 Iranian suspects, without the Obama administration disclosing who the individuals were, what they were accused of doing and the ongoing threat they may still pose.
Iran uses human beings as bargaining chips, seizing them initially for just that reason and then holding on to them until they get something they want. This is called “hostage-taking” and referring to it as a “prisoner exchange” is an insult.
Meanwhile, there are others languishing in Iranian prisons waiting for rescue.
Washington has demanded Iran release the Americans it is holding, including Iranian-American father and son Siamak and Baquer Namazi; Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American graduate student at Princeton University who was arrested in 2016; Michael White, a Navy veteran imprisoned last year; and Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent missing since 2007.
Levinson’s case is especially worrying. He disappeared in 2007 on an island in the Persian Gulf, where it is presumed he was arrested for spying. The CIA finally confessed he was one of theirs, but said he was on an unsanctioned mission.
Pictures of him and a brief video were sent to his family a few years later showing him in in orange jumpsuit asking for help, but Iran will not acknowledge he’s still a prisoner. Many in the U.S. government believe that Levinson, now 71 years old, is probably dead.