As members of Congress pick their guests for Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, one lawmaker will make a statement by leaving the chair next to him empty.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Amir Hekmati’s home district in Flint, Mich., will leave a seat open for the Marine veteran held for 1,240 days and counting by Iran.
Amir, born in Flagstaff, Ariz., was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized and sentenced on trumped-up espionage charges.
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. Marine colleagues have symbolically joined Amir in rolling hunger strikes out of Semper Fi solidarity.
“Amir Hekmati’s continued imprisonment is worthy of the world’s attention. And as all eyes are on the President as he delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday night, there will rightfully be attention on an empty seat in the gallery reserved for Amir Hekmati,” Kildee said in a statement.
“The State of the Union, watched by millions, is one of the most important speeches a president delivers. As a nation, it is important that during this crucial primetime address we do not forget about Amir and recommit ourselves to doing everything we can to bring him home.”
Amir has appealed directly to President Obama to help with his release, as well as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
He spent the first four months in a cell just over three feet by three feet. For 17 months, he “endured a tiny cell with little access to sunlight, little to no contact with family, no access to legal representation, starvation, malnutrition, sensory deprivation, threats, and ridicule and insults to my family and country by Ministry of Intelligence personnel.” No longer in solitary confinement, Amir was able to dictate the letters to the world leaders to his family over the phone.
“Amir Hekmati should be home – here, in the U.S. – not in a lonely and dark prison cell in Iran. He is innocent and has done nothing wrong,” Kildee said. “Yet for over 1,200 days now, he’s been held captive by Iran, even as they say they wish to rejoin the global community.”
“Members of Congress are watching Iran closely and releasing Amir now would show that they are serious about matching their words with real action,” the congressman added.