The mother of a decorated U.S. Marine vet held by Iran for 1,057 days appealed directly to President Obama for help on Friday, noting that her family “is constantly reminded” that her son’s case “is being raised, but there has been no real progress.”
Flagstaff, Ariz., native Amir Hekmati was seized by the Iranian government in August 2011 while on a trip, with proper visa documents from the Iranian government, to visit relatives in Tehran. He was originally sentenced to death in a quickie trial on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, retried last month and sentenced to 10 years behind bars for “collaborating” with the U.S. government.
The Flint, Mich., resident has now spent two birthdays in Iranian custody and has been held by the Islamic Republic more than twice as long as the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostages.
Behnaz Hekmati wrote to Obama “as a proud American” on the eve “of one of the most significant moments in history between the United States and Iran.”
The deadline for a final nuclear agreement was supposed to have been Sunday, but on Friday night the Obama administration extended negotiations for four more months.
“I ask you, Mr. President, to remember Amir. As you, Secretary Kerry and all the other hard-working Americans endeavor in what is no doubt painstaking and detailed work, please remember my Amir. He served his country during its times of peril and now needs his country to do the same for him,” wrote Mrs. Hekmati. “I know you have many challenges at hand, but I also know you read your letters every evening.”
“My family’s situation is made even worse, as my husband is gravely ill. He has been fighting terminal brain cancer for more than a year and recently had a stroke. He wants nothing more than to see his son once again.”
In March, Ali Hekmati’s doctor appealed directly to the Iranian government in a statement verifying the failing health of Amir’s father. “It is the family’s hope that Amir may be released to be reunited with his father, and to care for his family,” wrote Dr. Jami Foreback, an internist at McLaren-Flint hospital, stressing that “it is unclear how much time Dr. Hekmati has to live.”
Behnaz Hekmati told Obama that unlike Amir, she was not born in America but left her birth nation of Iran in 1979 “for the American dream.”
“While I am also proud of my Iranian roots and heritage (it is a great and beautiful culture and country), I cherish my U.S. citizenship. It has brought me and my family great opportunity and freedom,” she wrote. “But those freedoms have been unjustly and inexplicably torn from my son. It pains me to explain this to my grandchildren, Amir’s niece and nephew.”
“Amir was taken from me nearly three years ago, falsely accused of being a spy and sentenced to death. That sentence was later overturned due to a lack of evidence, yet still he languishes. This is a historic time for Iran and the United States. I plead that you do not forget Amir, his service, his beautiful smile and his zeal for life.”
She suggested that perhaps a furlough could be arranged for Amir to see her and Ali.
“Mr. President, the stress is nearly unbearable, but we persevere — just as I know Amir is strong. However, my husband’s situation is dire. He is weak. And he longs to embrace his son once more, to know Amir will be home to care for me and our family. Then he will be at peace, Mr. President.”
Secretary of State John Kerry last mentioned Hekmati in May. As the latest round of talks began in Vienna last month, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters that “whenever we meet bilaterally, which we have done several times this round, we always ensure a discussion about Robert Levinson, Saeed Abedini, and Amir Hekmati and our efforts to bring them home to their families.”
Amir took his case directly to Kerry in a letter smuggled out of prison and obtained by the Guardian in September. After thanking Kerry for lobbying on his behalf, Amir stressed that the confessions on false charges were “obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement.”
“This is part of a propaganda and hostage taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges. Iranian intelligence has suggested through my court-appointed lawyer Mr. Hussein Yazdi Samadi that I be released in exchange for 2 Iranians being held abroad,” Amir wrote in the letter confirmed authentic by his family. “I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition. I do not wish to set a precedent for others that may be unlawfully (obtained) for political gain in the future.”
“While my family and I have suffered greatly I will accept nothing but my unconditional release,” he continued. “The very same suffering that the 3 American hikers have recently suffered and many others by these unlawful tactics. My hope is that those individuals within the Iranian government who respect rule of law and international ethics will intervene in my case. As someone of Iranian heritage, I hope that the Iranian people will also support me and call on their government to respect my legal rights.”
Amir served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and was preparing to begin graduate school at the University of Michigan before he was seized by Iran.
His sister Sarah told PJM how her brother would boast about making it through boot camp while a lot of guys got weeded out during the grueling 13-week process.
“He always was so proud as a first-generation American to be able to feel like he was contributing to his country,” she said, adding that his time in the Corps and tour of duty “broadened his horizons” as he served as a linguistic bridge between U.S. and Iraqi officials. “He really felt like he had an important role and he really valued it.”
“He’s very proud of his service — the license plate on the back of his car says ‘Marine,’” she added.