Marine Held by Iran to Congress: 'Serious Consequences' Needed for Tehran's 'Serial Hostage-Taking'
Congressional leaders are receiving a letter today from a decorated Marine veteran held for more than three and a half years by Iran on false charges, as well as a plea from Amir Hekmati's family for help.
Amir, who was born in Flagstaff, Ariz., and grew up in Michigan, was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized and sentenced on trumped-up espionage charges.
In the letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Amir reaches out to the lawmakers "as a fellow American and combat veteran."
I am writing to bring to your attention my situation and that of a long list of my fellow Americans. For nearly three and a half years, I have been falsely imprisoned and treated inhumanely by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence as a part of an ongoing propaganda campaign. After months of torture and solitary confinement, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence paraded a false and forced confession in international media in a failed attempt to humiliate the U.S. government.
The Ministry of Intelligence has demanded I be exchanged for Iranians being held in the U.S. for national security related offenses, a tactic that has been repeating itself for a long time now. In a letter to Secretary of State Kerry, I voiced my opposition to any prisoner exchange, as I’ve committed no crime, and consider the Ministry of Intelligence demands to be illegitimate. I assume the same demands are being made for other U.S. captives.
While I am 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.
It was only a few months after the release of the American hikers, who were falsely imprisoned for nearly two and a half years, that I was dealt a similar fate, having been sentenced to death by hanging and subsequently ten years. A short time later, Mr. Abedini, a Christian pastor from Idaho, was sentenced to eight years. And in the midst of negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program, Secretary Kerry sits politely with the Iranians, shaking hands and offering large economic concessions to save them from economic meltdown, Jason Rezaian was added to the growing list of American captives, undoubtedly in hopes of milking more concessions from the U.S. government. As of today, the fate of Robert Levinson is still unknown.
This while the U.S. has opened its doors to Iranians who wish to study at U.S. universities and benefit from U.S resources while Americans visiting Iran are offered a prison cell and humiliation.
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.
This has been going on far too long.
Amir's letter, dictated over the phone to his family from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where he has faced torture and horrendous conditions, included a cover letter from his sister, Sarah Hekmati, to congressional leaders.
"Amir is being held hostage by the regime in Tehran as leverage. He needs your help," Sarah writes. "He has been systematically tortured, denied Consular access, as provided for by Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the bilateral Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights to which both Iran and the United States are parties."
The Hekmati family has not only suffered because of Amir's unjust imprisonment, but Amir's father, Ali, has a terminal brain tumor.
"As Americans of Iranian origin, we fully understand the need for a diplomatic solution with Iran," Sarah continued. "That said, the reality is Iran that has deliberately ignored some of the most basic obligations required of the community of nations in its handling of Amir’s case and it is our view that Iran should be pressed to prove the sincerity of its professed desire to rejoin the International community by at a bare minimum honoring its existing commitments under international law as follows: Immediately permit the Swiss Ambassador unfettered, in person access to Amir as provided by Article 36 of the Vienna Convention and the bilateral agreement between the United States and Iran; Immediately grant the ICRC unfettered access to Amir. We have serious, ongoing concerns about his health. Alternatively, we would be satisfied if Iran granted access to a U.N. credentialed physician or a physician of the Swiss Ambassador’s choice with the Ambassador present."
The family also asks that Amir be granted a weekend furlough to visit his ailing grandmother in Tehran, who has offered to take his place behind bars. "We ask that in the event that Iran does not accede to these requests, that the State Department direct the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, as protecting power, to lodge a formal protest with the Iranian Government," the letter continues.
"After three and a half years, clearly greater and additional action is needed. We also would respectfully ask all Members to respect our family’s desire that Amir’s case not become a domestic U.S. partisan political football. To that end, we will be forever grateful to Rep. Kildee and his staff for the strong, bipartisan support he has garnered in support of Amir’s freedom."
Sarah adds that Amir "proudly served his country and we now feel totally helpless and without adequate support from the Administration in securing his return."
"We are deeply concerned for his safety and for his health. We implore the Congress to do everything it can to press for Amir’s immediate release."