In October, President Trump chose not to recertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, giving Congress 60 days to decide on the future of the agreement. As Congress weighs action and the administration consults with our European partners, policymakers must consider Iran’s history of holding Americans and dual-nationals hostage, including those held captive today. On the 38th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis, it’s the least we can do.
In 2016, the Obama administration admitted that the nuclear deal and hostages run along “parallel tracks.” As a candidate, President Trump came to a similar conclusion, stating “We have four people over there, prisoners that they're keeping – hostages, whatever you want to call them – that's not part of the deal. Why isn't that part of the deal?”
I myself have lived through the harrowing reality that hostages in Iran face. I first visited Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1960s and later returned to the country to work at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. On November 4, 1979, a day forever ingrained in my memory, Iranian militants, backed by the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, took over the embassy, and I became one of 52 American hostages held at their mercy. For 444 days, I faced the crippling anxiety of not knowing when I would next see my wife and children or if I would even live to see them again.
Decades later, the memories of my time as a hostage remain fresh in mind. I remember having a gun put to my head on multiple occasions and being threatened with death if I did not count backward from ten to one. I remember being wrongly accused of being a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency. I remember being thrown into Evin prison “synonymous with political repression, mass hangings and torture.”
I was one of the first victims of Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism, and I have not been the last. For four and one-half years, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati was imprisoned and tortured by Iran, before eventually being released early last year. In September 2017, a U.S. judge ordered the government of Iran to pay $63 million to account for the pain, suffering, and economic loss Hekmati suffered. But no amount of money can fully compensate for the brutality suffered at the hands of Iran.
Today, seven American citizens or green card holders are missing or imprisoned in Iran. Former FBI operative Robert Levinson disappeared in the country more than 10 years ago. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has insisted the government does not know of Levinson’s whereabouts, but the U.S. government has not backed down from the claim that the Iranian government is holding Levinson or knows who is.
Iranian-American businessmen Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak are currently serving 20-year prison sentences on fabricated espionage charges. Baquer Namazi was recently rushed to a Tehran hospital due to his reportedly poor health, but Evin prison guards advocated for bringing Namazi back to prison, arguing that he did not need urgent care. Siamak Namazi has faced merciless beatings and torture via stun gun and his family fears that this torture will lead Siamak to end his own life. The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has stated that the Namazis’ imprisonment violates international law and has called for their immediate release, but the regime has refused to listen.
And the list goes on. Last September, Iran sentenced Nizar Zaaka to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million dollar fine for alleged spying. Karan Vadafari and his wife Afarin Niasari were arrested for hosting a mixed-gender party with alcohol. Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison for alleged espionage.
It’s not just Washington that the mullahs target in their scheme, but also the capitals of Europe. Consider the fate of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish permanent resident, who was sentenced to death this month on trumped-up charges of providing information to Israeli officials leading to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. This is happening all while the Swedish government and businesses have inked lucrative business deals with Tehran — enabling the regime’s state policy of hostage taking.
Iran’s actions demonstrate that it will continue to flout human rights, concoct charges with little or no proof, and take hostages as a form of international extortion until the U.S. and its allies stand up to this deplorable behavior. These individuals must not be forgotten. The time for them to come home and to hold Tehran accountable for its non-nuclear misdeeds is now.
Barry Rosen is a survivor of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and a senior advisor to United Against Nuclear Iran.
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