In a letter to President Obama this week, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati asked for the commander in chief’s help “to end the nightmare I have been living” — more than three years in Iran’s notorious Evin prison on trumped-on espionage accusations.
“I am a son, a brother, an uncle and a man. I am an American who deserves basic human rights and his freedom,” Amir wrote. “Instead, I feel as if I have been left behind.”
A family spokesperson confirmed that Amir had started a hunger strike after his lawyer’s latest attempts to free the Marine failed.
Soon after the story broke, Amir’s Marine brothers began volunteering to fast in solidarity.
A group of Marines standing with Amir issued a press release today, including to the online Free Amir Hekmati campaign, detailing how Marines who served with Amir and others have begun rolling 24-hour hunger strikes.
The movement originated with a Facebook group of Marines who had been brought together by another Marine’s suicide. “Amir Hekmati’s absence from this group was painfully evident,
as many members served with him, and support for his hunger strike sparked nearly
overnight,” said the release.
In less than a day, enough volunteers had pledged daylong strikes booked solid through February. In spreading the campaign across social media, the goal is at least 3,000 hunger strikers by Christmas.
“Marines don’t leave anyone behind, and Amir has been left for more than three years in Iranian captivity,” said Nick Kaywork, a Marine veteran taking part in the hunger strike. “We can’t stand by and let another day pass quietly while he sits in prison.”
A native of Flagstaff, Ariz., and 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.
Earlier this year, his sister Sarah told PJM how proud Amir is of his military service, noting how he 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, noting he was often clad in Marines T-shirts.
Amir made clear in his letter to Obama that, while he continues to suffer and needs help, he doesn’t want his release negotiated as part of the P5+1 nuclear deal.
“With no answer in sight, I am 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.”
Last year, he asked Secretary of State John Kerry not to trade him for two Iranians being held by the U.S., a proposal he heard from his captors. “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,” Amir wrote. “I do not wish to set a precedent for others that may be unlawfully (obtained) for political gain in the future.”
The Marine protesters vowed to share their hunger strikes through the hashtags #FreeAmir and #HungerStrike on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Messages of support to Amir will be shared through the hashtag #Twt2Amir.
“Throughout their entire careers, Marines are united in their suffering doing things most people aren’t willing to do. I am striking with Amir so we can again be bound by adversity,” said Marine veteran Bryan Lane. “Three years of captivity is too long for ANY American traveling abroad, let alone a Marine Corps veteran. I hope to inspire our elected officials to act as the leaders they are.”
— Nick Kaywork (@nkaywork) December 18, 2014
— Mike Verrett (@MTVerrett) December 18, 2014
— Brandon (@iammolecular) December 18, 2014
— Bix Skahill (@jeff_girard) December 18, 2014
— Boyd Garrett (@boyd2671) December 18, 2014
— Lisl (@LislAK) December 18, 2014