Yellow Ribbon Project

Revealed in Hillary Emails: 2009 Iran Hostage Case Got Special Attention After Push from Clinton Confidante


As the families of U.S. hostages currently held in Iran have struggled for years to rally the determination to bring their loved ones home, newly released emails from the former secretary of State reveal the infuriating truth that those with connections get their case raised to the top.

In 2009, Iason Athanasiadis was covering the protests of the disputed election win of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Mir-Hossein Mousavi for the Washington Times. The Greek citizen was detained by Iranian authorities on June 17, 2009, as he tried to fly out of the country.

Athanasiadis was thrown in Evin prison and released after three weeks of interrogation, his captors explaining they had “unprecedentedly full jails” from the Green Revolution.

On June 23, six days after the reporter was taken into custody, Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Clinton, fired off an email to Hillary Clinton, according to a new batch of correspondence released by the State Department last night.

“Dear Hillary, John Solomon, Exec Editor of Washington Times and a close personal friend (and always fair to us as AP reporter and later Wash Post reporter), has called about a Wash Times reporter who is being held by Iranians. He says Greeks have good relations and he believes they are trying to help. He believes you are meeting with Greek Foreign Minister tomorrow and hopes you can raise the issue with him – he may already know something about it. Any information he knows would help family. Hope you can do this – And hope your elbow is better – Best wishes, Lanny.”

Clinton forwarded the email to Jake Sullivan, a deputy policy director on Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign who went on to serve as her deputy chief of staff at the State Department and then director of policy planning. Sullivan, now a visiting lecturer at Yale, also was a national security adviser to Vice President Biden until last year.

Sullivan “spent months secretly laying the groundwork” for the current Iran nuclear negotiations and is believed to be Clinton’s pick for national security advisor.

“Do you know anything about this?” Clinton asked Sullivan two days after Davis’ email.

“Yes. We had Jim raise this with the Greek ambassador yesterday, who told him that they were aware of the situation and would come back with a report when Jim got to Corfu,” Sullivan responded.

“Would you pis give Lanny a report and do you know who is keeping Solomon informed?” Clinton asked, referencing the Washington Times editor.

“I will. Philippe is keeping Solomon informed — he passed along a readout of Jim’s conversation yesterday,” Sullivan said.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. He is facing espionage charges.

Amir Hekmati, a decorated Marine veteran who served in the Iraq war, was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized and sentenced on trumped-up espionage charges.

Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini was convicted in January 2013 of establishing Christian house churches while in the country to set up a government-sanctioned orphanage.

Former FBI agent Bob Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family later received images of him in captivity, though the Iranian government has maintained they don’t know who is holding him. He is the longest-held U.S. hostage in history.

The Obama administration keeps saying that they’re “pushing” the four cases with Iran, but has made clear they’re simply on the sidelines of nuclear negotiations and Tehran doesn’t have to release them in order to win a nuclear deal.

Families have expressed frustration that their loved ones have been left behind and there’s no sense of urgency to bring them home.

Hekmati himself wrote in a letter to congressional leaders in April that “there has been no serious response” from the administration “to this blatant and ongoing mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and they continue on with impunity.” He and Rezaian, both U.S.-born, sit in Evin prison, where they’ve been tortured and suffer from health maladies.

Another email from the Clinton trove, dated May 15, 2009, reflects how the State Department discourages families from publicizing hostage cases. After American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained by North Korea in March 2009, an email from Kurt Tong, now principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, to Clinton’s top aides noted that the families were getting frustrated.

“Although the families have thus far shown restraint from approaching the media to publicize their story, they are increasingly anxious in response to the DPRK’s announcement of a June 4 trial date. They now feel that a media appeal is necessary and would be helpful to their case, citing the public attention given the Saberi case. They are considering doing interviews on Larry King Live and/or The O’Reilly Factor,” Tong writes. Much of the email chain is redacted.

Ling and Lee came home that August after President Clinton flew to North Korea to get them.

The Tong email references the case of Roxana Saberi, an American journalist charged with espionage and detained for 101 days in Iran during 2009.

Clinton aide Huma Abedin sent one email as an “Fyi” to Hillary on May 3, 2009, citing the first paragraph of a news report in which Iran claimed Saberi would get a fair trial. On May 14, a blank email was sent by Abedin with the subject line: “Roxana saberi just left Iran fyi.”