Kildee Amir
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) pushing for the release of his constituent, Amir Hekmati. Photo via Politico

Washington, DC – On Tuesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs heard testimony from family members of Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, and Robert Levinson before advancing a resolution sponsored by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) calling for the release of Americans detained in Iran.

All of the witnesses expressed dismay over the treatment of their relatives under Iranian detention, emphasizing their concerns about the psychological wellbeing of the prisoners. Witness testimony described the opaque nature of the Iranian justice system, routine physical and emotional torture, as well as inadequate access to legal counsel. All of the witnesses, with the exception of Sara Hekmati, had not spoken to their relatives in over a year.

The detentions are widely believed to be part of an effort by hardline elements inside Iran who oppose rapprochement with the West and seek to undermine the nuclear negotiations. Some legislators were careful to not take the bait. Kildee, who represents the family of Amir Hekmati, an Iranian American who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than four years, has led intensive efforts to condemn the detention and demand the former Marine’s release. “The release of Amir and the other American prisoners should be unilateral and separate of any agreement,” Kildee said at the hearing. 

Kildee warned that Iran could never achieve its place as a serious member of the global community if it persisted with the unjustified detentions. But he also cautioned his colleagues, “we should not conflate the freedom of these Americans with the items that are being negotiated regarding the nuclear capabilities of Iran.”

However, many lawmakers in attendance argued otherwise. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) pointed out that Congress recently passed a law giving it the right to review any agreement reached during the nuclear negotiations. “Any deal with Iran is dead on arrival that doesn’t include the release of these prisoners,” he said. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), along with many of his Republican colleagues on the committee, said that negotiations on the nuclear issue should be stopped until these prisoners are released.

“While our focus this morning is the release of these Americans, these cases do call into question the integrity of the diplomacy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the committee chairman. 

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) went even further. “I would like to propose legislation that would suggest that if the mullah regime continues to hold these hostages, that any representative of the mullah regime that goes outside the borders of Iran would be susceptible of being taken into custody and held until the hostages are free,” he said.

Following the testimony the committee unanimously passed House Resolution 233, which calls for the immediate release of all Americans currently detained in Iran, and for the Iranian government to cooperate in providing information in regards to the whereabouts of any Americans who have gone missing within its borders. The resolution is co-sponsored by more than 160 members of the House and is expected to pass easily barring controversial changes. The Senate passed a similar resolution last month.

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