Freed American exposes Iran’s “vile path to profit” of holding foreigners hostage

By | September 18, 2023

An American citizen freed in a complex swap deal after being imprisoned for nearly eight years in Iran has urged the Biden administration to launch a “game-changing global effort” to end the Islamic regime’s long-standing practice of hostage-taking Foreign citizens.

Siamak Namazi, 51, was one of five U.S. citizens released Monday under the terms of a deal that would grant clemency to five Iranians indicted in the United States and give Iran access to $6 billion in oil revenues previously frozen.

Related: Five Americans return home following a $6 billion prisoner swap deal between the United States and Iran

The release of the prisoners was welcomed by President Joe Biden, who immediately announced new sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s powerful intelligence ministry over the still undetermined fate of Robert Levinson, an FBI agent retired man disappeared after visiting an island off the southern coast of Iran in 2007.

Biden also called on Americans – including those with dual US-Iranian nationality – to avoid visiting Iran, which has been at loggerheads with Washington since 52 US embassy employees were held hostage in Tehran for 444 days ‘after the Islamic revolution of 1979.

However, Namazi – himself a dual national and the longest-serving prisoner of the five prisoners after being jailed for 2,898 days, most of them in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison – in a statement called for a radically different approach to deterring state-sponsored hostage taking.

“For the past 44 years, the Iranian regime has mastered the ugly game of caging innocent Americans and other foreign citizens and commercializing their freedom,” he said after flying from Tehran to Doha, calling Evin Prison a “dystopian “United Nations Hostage Organisation”. .

“We must urgently channel the excruciating pain of the victims of this wickedness into the kind of measures that could reverse the cost-benefit calculation of Tehran’s immoral dealings. Because if we maintain this vile path to risk-free and payable profit, this venal regime will continue to follow it. Again and again.

“Only if the free world finally agrees to collectively impose draconian consequences on those who use human lives as mere bargaining chips will the Iranian regime and its ilk be forced to make different choices. Unfortunately, until then, we can expect more and more Americans and others to fall victim to state hostage-taking.”

Namazi’s comments are likely to be seized upon by Republicans who argue that Iran is likely to use the unfrozen $6 billion to finance terrorist activities.

US officials have insisted that the money will be limited to “humanitarian transactions” involving food, medicine, medical supplies and agricultural products.

“This is not a payment of any kind,” a senior administration official said in a released statement. “No funds enter Iran, nor are they paid to Iranian companies or entities. Ultimately, these are Iranian funds – payments made by South Korea to Iran for oil purchases years ago, including during the last administration – moved from an escrow account in Korea to another escrow account in Qatar.”

The funds were frozen in 2019 following escalating sanctions imposed by the Trump administration as part of its “maximum pressure” policy on Tehran. They were referring to oil Iran purchased from South Korea the previous year under a sanctions waiver program.

Biden, meanwhile, has sought to shift the spotlight back to Iran by raising the plight of Levinson, whose fate has been the subject of speculation since he was reported missing in 2007, during Ahmadinejad’s turbulent presidency. His family announced that he was presumed dead in March 2020, after concluding, on the advice of US officials, that he had died in Iranian custody.

Iranian officials have never admitted to detaining Levinson, while U.S. officials believe he was held and interrogated by the country’s intelligence agency as a possible bargaining chip.

A retired FBI officer, he initially reportedly visited Kish – an island popular with tourists and not requiring visas for entry – in March 2007 during a freelance investigation into illicit cigarette smuggling.

Interviewed by the late Charlie Rose on CBS five years later, Ahmadinejad did not deny that Levinson was detained and implied that there had been talk of a prisoner exchange.

An Associated Press investigation published in 2013 reported that Levinson was working for the CIA in an unauthorized intelligence-gathering operation at the time of his disappearance.

Biden declared the hostage-taking of US citizens a “national emergency” in an executive order issued in July last year.

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