Donald Trump has occasionally referred to “four wonderful people” held by Iran, and vowed that he’d bring them home.
“Frankly, they’re never going to come back with this group,” the GOP presidential candidate said in September, referring to the Obama administration.
“If I win the presidency, I guarantee you that those four prisoners are back in our country before I ever take office. I guarantee that,” Trump said, not referring to them by name. “They will be back before I ever take office, because they [the Iranians] know that that’s what has to happen, OK? They know it, and if they don’t know it, I’m telling them right now.”
Jason Rezaian, of California, who has reported for the Washington Post from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. He was accused of being a spy and has been tried and sentenced in secret.
Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, of Michigan, was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage.
Saeed Abedini, of Idaho, 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, of Florida, 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.
Hekmati and Rezaian are both Muslims, born in the United States.
Hekmati’s congressman today lashed out at Trump for the real-estate magnate’s proposal to block Muslim immigrants and travelers from coming to the country.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said the proposal “flies in the face of the values that make our country great. His comments are offensive and un-American.”
“When I think about Muslims, I think about Amir Hekmati, a Muslim-American who served the United States honorably in the Marines,” Kildee said. “Amir risked his life for our country and now is imprisoned in Iran because of his service.”
The decorated Iraq War veteran left the Marine Corps with a rank of sergeant and moved into contracting. He was candid with the Iranian interests section about his military background when he applied for a visa to visit his grandmother, and was assured it wouldn’t be a problem.
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.
“To think that Amir Hekmati – a true patriot and Muslim – would be demonized in such a way by a leading presidential candidate is disgraceful,” Kildee said. “There’s no room in our country for such hateful rhetoric.”
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” the real-estate magnate’s campaign said in a press release Monday.
Trump’s campaign, when asked whether the plan included blocking American Muslims abroad from re-entering the country, told The Hill, “Mr. Trump says, ‘everyone.’ ”
On Tuesday morning, Trump told ABC, “If a person is a Muslim and goes overseas and come back, they can come back. They are a citizen, that is different.”
The Washington Post has urged governments and businesses to think twice about doing business with Iran as the captivities of the Americans drags on.
“If the callous regime in Tehran imprisons and abuses a fully accredited and innocent journalist, what might they do to a visiting delegation?” publisher Frederick J. Ryan Jr. said of Rezaian. “How would they treat employees stationed in Iran?”
The State Department reiterated last week that it considers the cases of imprisoned Americans in Iran “independent of the other issues, whether it’s Iran’s nuclear program or other issues on the ground.”
“We don’t want to link the two,” said spokesman Mark Toner. “Our message has been clear to Iran that these individuals should be returned home, independent of any other issue or involvement – or matter.”
“We never made any promises and, in fact, have been very clear-eyed about our assessment that the [nuclear deal] doesn’t necessarily or isn’t going to end Iran’s bad behavior elsewhere in the region. And I think that’s one of the reasons, as I’ve said, we’ve always tried to separate these issues, work on them independently. I know the secretary personally raises the cases of these Americans, detained Americans, at every occasion when he meets with his Iranian counterparts. We’re going to continue to do that and we’re going to continue to make the case that they should be released. But I don’t think anybody is claiming that – at least here from this department or from the U.S. government – that Iran is trustworthy.”