Next month, the family of a Marine veteran will mark the grim milestone of his fourth year held by Iran — barring a miraculous change of heart by a regime that originally sentenced him to death for conspiracy to commit espionage.
Today brought another milestone in the tragic case of Amir Hekmati: President Obama finally, for the first time, said his name in public.
The family had been begging the White House just to say Amir’s name.
“He has already been mistreated, abused, and tortured,” his sister, Sarah Hekmati, wrote to White House counter-terrorism advisor Lisa Monaco in April. “Now the mental torture continues as he is made to feel that the country he put his life on the line for, the one he defended, and the president he voted for has left him behind and are not actively trying to secure his freedom.”
“Why has President Obama yet to utter the name Amir Hekmati? Why on days significant for Amir — Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, the anniversary of his death sentence, the anniversary of his imprisonment — President Obama cannot say the name Amir Hekmati out loud, but he can say it for Jason Rezaian and he can say it for Pastor Abedini? Why when we make a request is it ignored? Why am I forced to write this email to you AGAIN, the same subject AGAIN, the same plea AGAIN?”
Amir, who was seized by Iran in August 2011, was reportedly taunted by his Iranian prison guards after Obama only mentioned one hostage — the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian — at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Obama mentioned the hostages by name today in his remarks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Philadelphia, on the tail end of the section in his speech dedicated to promoting the Iran nuclear deal and slamming “shaky information” being disseminated about the agreement.
“Of course, even with this deal, we’ll continue to have serious differences with the Iranian government: its support of terrorism, proxies that destabilize the Middle East. So we can’t let them off the hook,” Obama said. “Our sanctions for Iran’s support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program and its human rights violations, those sanctions will remain in place, and we will stand with allies and partners, including Israel, to oppose Iran’s dangerous behavior.”
“We are not going to relent until we bring home our Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran. Journalist Jason Rezaian should be released. Pastor Saeed Abedini should be released. Amir Hekmati, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps should be released. Iran needs to help us find Robert Levinson. These Americans need to be back home with their families.”
State Department press secretary John Kirby today recognized the one-year anniversary of Rezaian’s detention.
“And as I think you heard the Secretary talk about this yesterday in various interviews that he conducted, he never misses a chance on the sidelines – never missed a chance on the sidelines of the nuclear talks to raise Jason’s detention with Iranian officials as well as the detention of Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini and, of course, never missed a chance to continue to ask for Iran’s help in locating Robert Levinson. And we’ve been very clear that until they’re home, we’re not going to stop in our efforts and pursuit to see that outcome,” Kirby said.
On CNN Monday, Wolf Blizter asked Kirby if the State Department had “any reason to believe the Iranians might release those four Americans who are being held hostage, in effect, in Iran right now to help sway the vote in the House and the Senate” in favor of the nuclear deal.
“Well, we certainly hope that they will get released,” Kirby replied. “I mean, this is something that Secretary Kerry raises every single opportunity that he meets and met over the course of these negotiations with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif. It’s something we raise routinely on the sidelines of those discussions and we will continue to raise them.”
“We’re hopeful, as he said last week, that that could come about. But, obviously, we’re looking to Iran to make that decision and to do it.”
Iran has stated that the U.S. doesn’t even have jurisdiction over the cases of the prisoners because Abedini was born in Iran and Hekmati and Rezaian, both born in America, have Iranian-born fathers.
Kirby added that the U.S. government does “believe that Tehran has some information” about Levinson, a former FBI agent kidnapped eight years ago, “and we very much would like it.”
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who has negotiated hostage releases including the freedom of Marine reservist Andrew Tahmooressi from Mexican custody, told NBC on Sunday that he’s “troubled” by the Iran deal.
“I wish the conventional arms embargo, we stuck with it. I think it’s bad that ballistic missiles, conventional arms can go to Syria, to Yemen. I worry about Israel,” Richardson said. “I want these hostages back.”