Despite the progress that the US has made in negotiations with Iran surrounding the country’s nuclear program, critics from around the world have chastised the Obama administration for what they perceive as a gentle approach to dealing with Iran. Most recently, several organizations have called on the State Department to use its favorable bargaining position to call for the release of American prisoners held by Iran, the majority of whom have been detained for questionable reasons.
One of these organizations is the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which is asking that the State Department highly prioritize the release of a former US marine, Amir Hekmati, as well as other prisoners in his position. Hekmati was arrested in 2011 when he went to Iran to visit his family; Iran claimed that Hekmati was a spy working with the CIA.
In a statement to the US government, VFW National Commander John Stroud said, “I am demanding that the U.S. government make his release a nonnegotiable part of whatever deal is cut with Iran… his Iranian captors are torturing a former Marine and a fellow VFW member.” Stroud’s claim that Hekmati is being tortured echoes other similar allegations against Iran and its maltreatment of prisoners, like those originating from people close to Jason Rezaian.
Rezaian is the Washington Post Tehran bureau chief that was arrested in 2014, along with his wife, for espionage and other related charges that a State Department official close to the matter has dismissed as â€śpatently absurd.â€ť He is being held at Iran’s Evin Prison, a detainment facility that is infamous for its role in persecuting intellectuals that attempt to contradict Iranian propaganda.
When asked why the State Department cannot just demand the release of prisoners like Rezaian and Hekmati, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted that negotiations are â€ścomplicated,â€ť and that each aspect of the framework must be carefully considered before they are put into place. Earnest’s remarks seem to cast doubt on the government’s previous assertion that negotiations with Iran would exclusively deal with issues related to the country’s nuclear ambitions, and nothing else.
The Obama camp agrees that these prisoners should be released, with Obama stating in a March 20th address commemorating the Persian New Year that â€śI reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home and call on the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and to work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible.” However, the Obama administration has made it clear that they do not want to encourage other powers to kidnap American citizens for use as bargaining chips by setting a precedent with Iran.