Yellow Ribbon Project

On Veterans Day, Marine Vet Held by Iran 'in Worse Conditions Than 2 Years Ago'

As Americans marked Veterans Day with parades and memorials, one decorated Marine who served in the Iraq war marked his 1,535th day behind bars in Iran.

Amir Hekmati, who left the Marine Corps with a rank of sergeant and moved in contracting, was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. Iran claims that the Flagstaff, Ariz., native is an Iranian citizen by virtue of his father’s birth country, and thus says the U.S. has no right to interfere in the case. Amir has renounced that birthright Iranian citizenship.

In April, Amir dictated a letter to congressional leaders noting that while he’s “thankful that the State Department and the Obama administration has called for my release and that of my fellow Americans, there has been no serious response to this blatant and ongoing mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and they continue on with impunity.”

“As a war veteran who defended our nation in its time of need, I ask that you also work to defend my dignity and that of my fellow Americans by putting in place serious consequences for this serial hostage-taking and mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence for clearly illegal purposes,” Amir said. “This has been going on far too long.”

Today, the Hekmatis said that “after 1,535 days of turmoil, the family of American Amir Hekmati calls upon all interested parties to refocus on Amir’s case.”

“This must now become a priority. As an immediate step, we ask for increased family visits and a weekend furlough,” the family said. “Amir has served more than four years now for a crime he did not commit; according to Iran’s judicial system, he is eligible for a release.”

“Amir has severe and recurring health issues and his father is dying. It is simply unacceptable, with the two countries now talking and implementing the nuclear agreement, that an American is being held in worse conditions than he was two years ago.  These conditions have contributed to Amir’s health problems.”

They added that Amir’s release “would increase trust between the two nations and the Iranian people would see the fruits of an Iran beginning to reenter the international community.

The Hekmatis’ congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), said Amir cannot be forgotten today as “we thank and honor those who have worn the uniform to protect and defend the United States.”

“For Amir, Veterans Day is once again marked behind bars of a prison cell on the other side of the world. He has been separated from his family for over four years and has had to endure unimaginable conditions. Yet despite being the longest held political prisoner in Iran, Amir continues to show incredible resolve in the face of prolonged injustice. He is innocent and has suffered enough. It is time for him to come home to Michigan,” Kildee said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Amir Hekmati and his service to our country.”

“If Iran wants to taken seriously in the global community, it cannot hold political prisoners like Amir Hekmati. Congress and the world are watching Iran’s actions. It must release Amir and the other innocent Americans it is holding.”

Amir and the other hostages got a brief mention Tuesday from White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who was speaking to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Washington.

“This nuclear deal, of course, does not remove our many other concerns about the Iranian government,” McDonough said. “Iran still unjustly holds journalist Jason Rezaian, Pastor Saeed Abedini, and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati. We continue to call on Iran to release these detained Americans and to work with us find Robert Levinson, who is still missing. And we are not going to stop working until we bring these Americans home to their families.”

Amir was honorably discharged 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.

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.

His fellow Marines have conducted rolling hunger strikes in solidarity with their brother.