We would like to take a moment and offer out sincere thanks to those members of Congress who came together in a bipartisan effort to tell the world to #FreeAmir. We thank you for your continued to effort to raise awareness of Amir's imprisonment in Iran's Evin prison and we thank you for telling the world that Amir is not forgotten, that Amir is missed, and that Amir needs to be released and returned home.
Those standing with us as we stand together to #FreeAmir are:
Congressman Al Green
Congressman Alan Grayson
Congressman Alan Lowenthal
Congressman Andre Carson
Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Congressman Beto O’Rourke
Congressman Bill Foster
Congressman Bill Pascrell
Congressman Brad Schneider
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter
Congressman Chris Van Hollen
Congressman Dan Benishek
Congressman Dan Kildee
Congressman Darrell Issa
Congressman David Cicilline
Congressman David Joyce
Senator Debbie Stabenown
Congressman Denny Heck
Congressman Derek Kilmer
Congressman Donald Payne, Jr.
Congresswoman Donna M.C. Christensen
Congresswoman Doris Matsui
Congressman Eliot Engel
Congressman Eric Swalwell
Congressman Gary Peters
Congresswoman Grace Napolitano
Congressman Hank Johnson
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Congressswoman Jackie Speier
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky
Congressman Jared Huffman
Congressman Jeff Miller
Congressman Jerrold Nadler
Congressman Jim Himes
Congressman Jim McDermott
Congressman Joaquin Castro
Congressman Joe Garcia
Congressman Joe Kennedy
Congressman John Lewis
Congressman John Tierney
Congressman John Conyers
Congressman Joseph Crowley
Congressman Juan Vargas
Congresswoman Julia Brownley
Congressman Keith Ellison
Congressman Keith Rothfus
Congressman Kerry Bentivolio
Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema
Congressman Lloyd Dogget
Congresswoman Lois Capps
Congresswoman Lois Frankel
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard
Congressman Luke Messer
Congressman Mark Pocan
Congressman Matt Cartwright
Congressman Michael Grimm
Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham
Congressman Patrick Murphy
Congressman Paul Broun
Congressman Paul Gosar
Congressman Randy Weber
Congressman Rodney Davis
Congressman Ron Barber
Congressman Ron Kind
Congressman Rush Holt
Congressman Sander Levin
Congressman Scott Perry
Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee
Congressman Steve Stivers
Congressman Steve Stockman
Congressman Steve Pearce
Congressman Steven Horsford
Congressman Ted Yoho
Senator Ted Cruz
Congressman Tony Cardenas
Congressman Trey Radel
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard
Congressman Walter Jones
Congressman Xavier Becerra
By MARIA SANMINIATELLI Associated Press, Linked through ABC News
The ailing father of a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Iran is pleading for the release of his son in a letter delivered Wednesday to Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, in New York to attend a meeting of world leaders.
Ali Hekmati is asking Rouhani to order the release of his son, Amir, who was arrested in Iran in 2011. The family says Amir Hekmati, who has dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, was visiting his grandmother. Iran accused him of being a CIA spy and convicted him.
"I long more than ever to see Amir's face. I am now very sick with a brain tumor," Ali Hekmati wrote in the letter, which was delivered to Rouhani's delegation by an Islamic religious official from Michigan who has a personal relationship with the Iranian president, according to a representative for the family.
"I ask that you let me see him again, one more time, and so that he may lead our family when I am gone," Hekmati wrote in his letter. "Amir is a good man. An honorable man. He is not a spy, I can assure you of that."
A spokesman at the Iranian Mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The family has cause for hope: Rouhani's moderate tone could signal a warming of relations with the United States. Iran freed dozens of political prisoners in the last week, just as Rouhani was headed to New York for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
Earlier this month, Hekmati wrote a letter to Kerry describing his "miserable prison conditions" and his belief that Tehran wanted to use him in a possible prisoner exchange.
Hekmati's letter was smuggled out of prison. His sister authenticated the handwriting. The State Department said it was trying to determine Hekmati's condition through Swiss diplomats in Tehran. The Swiss represent U.S. interests in Iran because no U.S. officials are based there. The two countries severed diplomatic relations in 1979.
Two other American citizens are believed to be detained in Iran: Retir
ed FBI agent Robert Levinson and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini.
By Azmat Khan, Al-Jazeera America
Also watch parts two and three of "Jailed in Iran," the story of Amir Hekmati, the 30-year-old Iranian-American and former Marine who has been imprisoned in Tehran for more than two years, and his family's intense struggle to bring him home.
It was Amir’s first trip to Iran, motivated, his family says, by a love of travel and a desire to see his aging grandmothers. That day, two weeks into his trip, Amir called up his mother Behnaz back in Flint, Mich., to tell her how excited he was to be in Tehran. He hung up promising to call again later to tell her how it went.
But Amir never showed up at the gathering.
The next day, worried family members went to the family home where he was staying and found muddy footprints but no sign of Amir.
“They find out that his computer, cell phone and all his IDs, wallet, everything was gone,” said his mother, Behnaz.
That day would mark the beginning of more than two turbulent years for the Hekmati family. Within months of disappearing, an Iranian court would sentence Amir to death on charges of spying for the CIA.
An all-American upbringing
Amir’s parents, Ali and Behnaz, left Iran for the U.S. in 1979, just as the Islamic Revolution broke out. In fact, Behnaz said she was on the last airplane out of Tehran before its airport closed.
The family settled in Flagstaff, Ariz., where Ali completed his Ph.D. in microbiology and Amir, his twin sister Leila and their older sister Sarah were born.
Amir and Leila were “surprise” twins. Out of fear that an ultrasound could pose risks, doctors and family didn’t realize Behnaz was carrying two children, until after Amir was born.
“My brother always says, ‘I’m your big brother by nine minutes,’” said Leila.
Soon, Ali’s job as a professor of microbiology moved the family to Lincoln, Neb.
“We were the only ethnic, non-white people in our community there, and my parents still made an effort for us to learn about our culture and our heritage,” Leila told America Tonight. “But it wasn’t until our grandmother, my mother’s mother, started visiting when we really learned about the culture. She was a real bridge to our Iranian heritage.”
When the family moved to Flint, Mich., Amir’s grandmother visited from Iran more often, for sometimes six months at a time. She did not speak English, and so the Hekmati children started learning Farsi to communicate with her.
“Amir was really her favorite,” Leila said.
The close-knit family remembers Amir as an athletic boy with a keen curiosity about the world.
“He was a lot of fun, a lot of energy,” his elder sister Sarah said. “He played a lot of soccer, hockey, was on the swim team, tennis, karate. You name it, he’s tried it.”
He was also a family man.
As the only boy in the family until his younger brother was born 12 years later, Sarah joked about how she and Leila would force their brother to play dress up and wear make-up with them.
“We fought all of the time, but he really embraced that big brother by nine minutes thing,” his sister Leila added. “He was always there to back me no matter what. It was unconditional love.”
When they both turned 18 in 2001, Amir and Leila took different paths. She followed her sister Sarah to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and he joined the Marines to offset the cost of college for their parents.
“He never wanted to impose anything on my family,” Sarah said. “He loved traveling and he loved learning languages, and he felt like this was a good opportunity to experience that.”
His parents were proud of his decision to serve his country and gave their blessing.
Amir was selected to study Arabic at the prestigious Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., and not long after the Iraq War began, he was deployed there as an infantryman.
“He was for the most part an interpreter in Iraq, because his Arabic is perfect,” Ali said.
“He was saying he was building schools, mosques, roads, and was in charge of translating for the people making the buildings,” Behnaz added. “He just said, he was proud because he was doing good.”
Amir was in the Marines from 2001 to 2005, spending 2003 and 2004 in Iraq.
“We were worried about him a lot when he was in Iraq,” Behnaz said. “But he was free. He wasn’t in prison. We worry now because I can’t talk to him. I'm more worried now, more than when he was in military.”
Within a week of Amir’s August 2011 disappearance, his uncle in Iran received a phone call from Amir, who said he was in Evin prison.
Amir’s family in Iran went to the prison, in northwestern Tehran, and the prison guards denied that he was there. “They said, ‘I don’t know any name Amir Hekmati,’” said Behnaz.
For the next three months, the family desperately tried to find out where and why Amir was being held.
They tried Iranian channels first. Since the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran, they went through the Pakistani Embassy, which has an Iranian Interests Section, to see if there had been a problem in the way Amir’s paperwork had been processed. They received few answers.
Then, they tried reaching out to the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York. Though they didn’t get a clear response, the family said they were given the impression that Amir would be home soon.
“We were given this promise that he was just being investigated because he was American and they were looking into the fact that he had served in the military for the U.S., but that he would be released,” Sarah said. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”
Despite the assurances, the family hired attorney Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues who had worked to secure the 2010 release of Reza Taghavi, a California businessman arrested in Iran and accused of financing anti-government terrorists there.
The Hekmatis kept Amir’s detention out of the spotlight, fearing that publicizing his case could also politicize it, and make it all the harder to get him home
“That was part of our strategy. We wanted to discreetly work with Iran,” said Prosper, who was hired by the family in November 2011. “We wanted to allow them the room to hopefully come to the right decision.”
But in December 2011, after months of hearing almost nothing, the family was confronted with an unexpected and devastating blow. Iranian state TV broadcast this video “confession” from Amir.
In the choppily-edited package, interspersed with scenes from Hollywood spy thrillers, photos taken off of Amir’s laptop and his own words, a gaunt Amir tells the camera that he was recruited into the CIA and sent to Iran on a mission to infiltrate Iranian intelligence as a double agent.
“My name is Amir Mirza Hekmati,” he said in English. Later, he continued in Persian: “They told me to learn some information on the websites and internal information systems of the CIA, NSA, DIA and NGA that might allure Iranians. I memorized them and wrote that information down on my laptop.”
In voiceover narration and statements from Amir, the video claimed that after his military service ended in 2005, Amir had been recruited into a web of companies that ultimately brought him to his CIA mission in Iran, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), contractor BAE Systems and the gaming company Kuma Games.
Amir’s family says the allegations are baseless.
“I barely recognized him,” Leila said of the video. “He looked like he lost 50 to 60 pounds, easily. And it seemed very forced and scripted. He was using words that I knew he didn’t know,” she added.
“I know it was forced and I know it was lie,” Behnaz said. “His face shows everything. His face shows that he was under pressure and dangers.”
They are not the only ones who think so.
“The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told the press about the video.
But within a month of its broadcast, Amir was sentenced to death in a January 2012 closed-door trial that lasted only three hours.
“It was sickening,” Sarah said of the time. “We couldn’t believe that it really got to this point. We tried and tried to have advocacy for him. Where was the transparency? Where was the trial that he got to defend himself to show that he was innocent? And who was there to defend him, beside himself?”
In February, Behnaz was granted permission to visit him. She said she was stunned by his frail state.
“He was in very bad shape. He was tiny. He was crying all the time. His face was like chalk: it was white, and long beard,” she said. “From that day he told me, ‘Mom, don’t believe anything. I'm innocent. I didn’t do anything.”
In March 2012, Amir’s sentence was repealed due to shortcomings in the case, and a new trial was ordered. It has been more than a year and half since then, and a new trial has yet to take place.
Life after the Marines
Upon returning from service in 2005, Amir moved back to Michigan, where he lived for a brief period with his sister Sarah and her husband, Ramy Kurdi.
It was at that time that he also reconnected with his friend Arash Ansari. The two had been family friends growing up, but after Amir returned, they became closer, living together in the suburbs of Detroit and turning to one another for business advice.
“I think going through the effects of war has a big impact on any soldier. It takes time to transition back to civilian life. And I know there was a lot of things that had affected him,” Arash told America Tonight. “His personality had been a little different than prior to him leaving, but after I would say a good year, year and half of spending a lot of time together, fun activities and social settings, he was back to the Amir I knew, and maybe even better.”
When he first returned, Amir began working as a mortgage broker for a firm in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “He was very successful at that,” noted Ansari. “He’s the kind of guy that perfects what he’s working on, and learns every aspect of it, and was very thorough. In no time, he was one of the most successful guys in that office.”
Amir was also entrepreneurial. In 2006, he built on his language skills and began his own translation consulting company, Lucid Linguistics.
“Amir appreciated the organization and the discipline he was able to obtain from being in the military, and it really set him on the right foot to start his own business and establish himself and put his stamp in the world,” said his sister Sarah. “He loved the idea of investing. He loved the idea of being able to travel and utilize his language skills, so he really did a good job of doing that through his business.”
The translation work brought him new opportunities, including work on a five-year, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-financed study of two-way translation systems in tactical military situations.
“That was as basic as reading papers and translating it over to another language, and that being recorded so that they could develop a software device or a digital device that someone who only speaks the one language could easily translate over,” said Ansari.
Ansari described it like the iPhone’s Siri, except to translate. Speak to it in English, get Arabic out. And vice versa.
DARPA told America Tonight it had "no record of employment for Amir Hekmati."
Intelligence experts say that Amir’s language skills and Marine background make him a strong candidate for government work, but an unlikely spy.
According to a 2009 Pentagon contract, Amir worked on a similar language-training project with Kuma Games, a New York-based company that develops reality-based games. The document lists Amir as a point of contact on a project to develop “an effective, cost-efficient, rapidly-deployable and easily updatable language retention toolset for trainers and Soldiers deployed around the world.” Kuma Games did not respond to requests for comment about Amir’s role with the company.
Analysts say Amir’s work with DARPA and Kuma may have aroused Iranian suspicions. In one game developed by Kuma, titled “Assault on Iran,” the player’s mission is to infiltrate a nuclear facility in Iran.
But intelligence experts say that Amir’s language skills and Marine background make him a strong candidate for government work, but an unlikely spy.
In addition to his language-consulting work, Amir also earned a degree in international business from the University of Phoenix.
After three years in Michigan, he left for a new opportunity in Wilmington, N.C., where Leila said he was training new Marine recruits on increasing their knowledge of language and culture.
That work was likely with the U.S. military’s “human terrain system.” HTS, as it’s known, is comprised of teams that use social science researchers to conduct primary interviews and secondary research about local populations, Dr. Christopher King, a former senior social scientist at HTS told America Tonight.
That information is then used by the military and other government agencies to better understand the social dynamics, political issues and other cultural factors about a given population on the ground. King added that HTS does not use its resources to aid the search or capture of terrorists or other “nefarious” individuals.
Gregory Mueller, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, told America Tonight that Amir graduated from HTS training in August 2010, and began serving as a civilian cultural adviser to the military in Iraq a few months later.
Joshua Foust, a former research analyst in the human terrain system’s research center program, says someone who has specialized language skills on a human terrain team, like Amir did, would most certainly be out in the field to a varying degree, talking to the local population and finding out what is happening on the ground in order to relay that information back to the team lead or unit commander.
Amir resigned from the human terrain program in June 2011, according to Mueller. That same month, Amir’s siblings visited Iran, but Amir was working and unable to join.
“He said that really stung,” his sister Leila remembered. Amir had always wanted to visit, but had never been able to while deployed overseas.
So, he made up his mind. Before starting a master’s degree in economics and business management at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, Amir would finally make the trip and meet his extended family in Tehran.
“I can’t wait to see grandma’s smile,” he told Leila before going.
He went to the Iranian Interests Section of the Pakistani Embassy to process the paperwork he needed. Because his parents were from Iran, Amir had to travel to the country on his Iranian passport, obtaining a special visa to exempt him from Iranian military service. According to his family, he also disclosed his military background to the authorities there.
“I can’t wait to see grandma’s smile,” he told Leila before going.
For two weeks, everything was fine.
“He was going to dinner parties. He was calling every day, like, ‘Mom, can you believe it? Can you believe I saw your great uncle?’” Leila said.
Inside Evin Prison
Iran’s Evin prison, where Amir has been held for more than two years now, is well-known in the country for Ward 209, the area where political prisoners are kept -- and where human rights groups say they are often maltreated.
Few outsiders ever get a real look in, but those who have been released from the prison tell harrowing stories about their imprisonment.
Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American academic and the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, was held in solitary confinement in the women’s section of Ward 209 for 105 days in 2007, accused of conspiring with the U.S. to bring about a “velvet revolution” in Iran.
“Solitary is very tough,” Esfandiari said of the experience. “You don’t get to see anyone except your interrogator.”
Esfandiari said she would be blindfolded, taken to a room and interrogated for eight to nine hours a day. She would sit and face the wall, unable to see the face of the person questioning her.
At times her interrogators hinted at a tradeoff, she said, raising the idea that her release could come in exchange for the release of Iranian diplomats held abroad. “I made it clear to them immediately that I’m not important enough for the American government to trade me,” she said. “They find all sorts of reasons to give you a bit of hope as a prisoner.”
Esfandiari’s mother was her lone visitor during her time at Evin. Not once was Esfandiari able to meet her lawyer, famed Nobel prize-winning human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.
“I’m a student of Iran. I work on Iran all the time. I was quite aware of the setup, of what it means to be in solitary,” she said. “No matter how much you know, when faced with it, it was 10 times worse. But I think in Amir’s case, everything must have come as a shock to him.”
Evin took its toll on her. She said she had dropped to 85 pounds. But Esfandiari said she assumes the treatment of male prisoners must be different, and worse.
Omid Memarian, an Iranian journalist and blogger, was held in Evin for 55 days in 2004, accused of conveying a negative image of Iran through posts on his blog.
For 35 of those days, he said he was held in a safe house run by Iranian intelligence, where he was subjected to “tremendous physical and psychological pressure to agree to confess” to fabricated crimes.
“They are masters of that,” he said, describing beatings, sleep deprivation, constant light and threats.
“Finally, I gave up,” Memarian said. “Psychologically I was afraid they would push me to a point that was irreversible.”
Like Amir, Memarian’s confession was published in the media.
It is hard to know exactly how Amir is being treated on a daily basis in Evin. His conditions have changed over time. On occasion, he has been allowed books and family visits. But his family said that he had been kept in solitary confinement for months on end. They also say he took part in a hunger strike in September 2012, passing out at one point.
Earlier this month, a possible window into his world at Evin appeared.
On Sept. 11, the Guardian published a handwritten letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry that the Hekmati family believes was written by Amir based on the handwriting and his voice.
“I have been held on false charges based solely on confessions obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement,” the letter reads. It goes on to make a bold claim: “Iranian intelligence has suggested through my court-appointed lawyer Mr. Hussein Yazdi Samadi that I be released in exchange for 2 Iranians being held abroad.”
It is unclear who those two Iranians might be.
Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, says there are intelligence and security agents in the country who believe that holding Iranian-Americans gives them some kind of leverage in cases in which Iranians are held in America. Most of them, he said, are accused of breaking sanctions through the transfer of technology or military goods.
What makes it so complicated, he added, is that the Iranian government has never been transparent about which Iranian prisoners held abroad it wants released.
Still, the letter has not been independently verified and Iran has not responded to its release.
"We are aware that Amir Hekmati reportedly drafted a letter, and that his family believes he is the author,” State Department spokesperson Beth Gosselin told America Tonight. “We have not had any communication with Iran on the issue of a prisoner exchange.”
One part of the letter especially stands out to Amir’s family:
“[I] see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition. I do not wish to set a precedent for others that may be unlawfully (obtained) for political gain in the future. While my family and I have suffered greatly I will accept nothing but my unconditional release.”
“That’s Amir,” said Kurdi, Amir’s brother-in-law, about the passage. “You can take Amir’s freedom, but you can’t take his nobility and you can’t take his pride. He’s there in prison, and he cares about other Americans traveling. … He’s not going to get his freedom at the expense of anyone else.”
His sister Leila said the passage makes her proud. “I feel he’s very courageous, but I’m scared of the implications.”
The family said it has not received news about Amir’s condition since the letter was published.
“My biggest worry is the isolation that he’s endured,” Amir’s best friend Arash Ansari told America Tonight. “He’s a very happy, fun-spirited, positive, family-oriented kind of guy. To know that he’s been in isolation with no social interaction for such a long period of time is probably worse than physical torture in some ways. I’m just worried that when he comes back, it’s going to be this transition again, and it’s going to be so hard for him.”
Over the last two years, the Hekmati family has suffered immensely.
Last fall, Amir’s father Ali got sick. His speech began to slur and he had a stroke. Ali had developed a brain tumor. He had surgery to remove it, but the chemotherapy and radiation treatments have prevented him from going to Iran to see his son.
“Mostly emotionally, it hurts him more than chemotherapy,” Behnaz said. “He’s under chemotherapy, but thinking about Amir.”
“Every day he’s in my mind,” said Ali. “Every day, every night.”
Sarah says she struggles to explain to her two children where their uncle is. “Amir embraced his role as the uncle to my two kids so much,” she said. “My son remembers Amir so vividly and always asks about him. He says, ‘Where’s uncle Amir and why have they taken him?’ It’s really emotional for us to have to explain to a five-year-old what’s going on. We just have to keep holding on to hope that we can tell him your uncle is going come home and we’re going to keep fighting for him to come home.”
The family's main goal is to raise awareness. They have put on fundraisers, benefit dinners and art exhibitions in cities like Detroit and Chicago, while running social media campaigns and theFreeAmir.org website.
One photo project, titled “Jailed Humanity,” took place at a former prison in Detroit, where family and friends of Amir gathered in cells to reenact the pain Amir is going through, and their own feelings of imprisonment.
“It was the most emotional and moving photo shoot that I have done to date,” said Ashley Block, the Michigan photographer who took their photos. “Just seeing the emotion, with his friends involved from across the state, hearing different stories and seeing just how Amir’s friendship has affected so many people on so many different levels.”
Sarah, Amir’s older sister, says the response the family has been getting leaves them speechless.
“Whenever we have our moments of feeling down – like, ‘How much longer are we going to be able to deal with this? How much more of this can we take?’ -- we get lifted up by some stranger.”
Beyond community support, the Hekmati family also has allies in government.
Their congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), in addition to writing letters to Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations representative Samantha Power, started a bipartisan campaign to collectphotos of members of Congress calling for Amir’s release ahead of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech this week at the UN General Assembly. Currently, there are 75 photos of members of Congress (and counting), but the campaign will not end with Rouhani’s visit. Kildee said he will not stop until Amir is home.
“The hope is that we can make Amir’s case public enough so that Iran knows the world is watching and he’ll be safe,” Kildee told America Tonight.
And Prosper said he is working the diplomatic channels behind-the-scenes.
"The diplomatic activity associated with a case like this, as you can imagine, is intense and it's wide,” he told America Tonight. "We've reached out to governments in the Middle East to help us. We've reached out to the United Nations, not only in New York but also branches in Geneva, so what we're trying to do is have a full circle on the issue to really work and talk with the Iranians and try to impress upon them that the right thing to do is to release Amir."
Prosper and the family sees hope in the election of President Rouhani, who has expressed his desire for Iran to have better relations with the U.S.
“We think that if he stays true to his words, and has the opportunity examine this matter, he will understand that the right thing to do is to release Amir, and he'll also understand that it will be a great way to bring meaning to his platform,” Prosper said.
The State Department has repeatedly called for Hekmati’s release, and that of two other U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran, Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor, and Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent.
“We again ask Iranian authorities to permit a visit by officials of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to determine the well-being of Mr. Hekmati and to release him,” State Department spokesperson Gosselin told America Tonight.
These efforts are complicated by the fact that Iran does not recognize Amir’s American citizenship because he traveled to the country on his Iranian passport.
“If you are a dual national, the Iranian regime treats you as one of its own,” said Gissou Nia, the director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. “There’s very different treatment than someone who only holds American or Canadian citizenship.”
Yesterday, just ahead of President Rouhani’s UN visit, Iran announced the release of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, an Iranian-Canadian sentenced to death on espionage charges. Nia said the move came as a real surprise to her, but was encouraging for other dual nationals being held in Iran. Ghassemi-Shall’s arrest in 2008 prompted an international outcry, including a letter-writing campaign by Amnesty International.
“Personally I always believe that the more pressure the international community can bring, the more it will affect the Iranian authorities,” said Esfandiari, who credits the international response for her own release in 2007. “They don’t like an international outcry. They don’t like to be pointed at.”
Neither the Iranian Interest Section nor the Iranian Mission to the UN returned requests for comment. President Rouhani has not yet addressed Amir’s case publicly.
Meanwhile, the Hekmati family soldiers on.
“His voice is always in our ears. Always. He would always call me every night in Persian and say, 'Mama jaan, mama jaan, [mother dear], I love you,'” his mother Behnaz said. “I suffer a lot. It’s too much. Every day. Every day. When is he coming home?”
Asked what it would mean for him to be able to see his son again, Ali replied, “Oh that would mean the whole world. I pray every day to have both of his hands in my hands. That I will be able to hug him. And kiss him. And tell him how much I love him and how much I miss him.”
By Scott Bronstein and Drew Griffin, CNN Investigations
The video that accompanies this article can be found in our News -> video section.
(CNN) -- The family of former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati has a message for Iran's new president: Their American son is not a spy, has never been one, and he should be released immediately from prison in Iran.
"I just ask -- I just want the president to consider us as an Iranian family, and that my husband is sick, and me as a mother I've suffered a lot, more than two years," said Behnaz Hekmati, Amir's mother, speaking in halting English.
The family made a plea in an exclusive interview to CNN on the eve of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's first visit to the United States, where he will attend the U.N. General Assembly.
Amir Hekmati's father, Ali, is ailing with brain cancer, and the family is imploring the Iranian government to release their son before time runs out for the elder Hekmati.
"Please just let Amir come home," said Behnaz Hekmati. "Amir didn't do any crime, he didn't do anything. Just let him to come home and make his family happy again."
This month, Amir Hekmati, 30, wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry saying a confession he made to the spying charges leveled by Iran were "false" and "based solely on confessions obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement."
Hekmati's family said he had gone to Iran to visit his grandmother when he was arrested in August 2011, accused by Iran's Intelligence Ministry of working as a CIA agent.
Amir Hekmati was born in Arizona and raised in Flint, Michigan, after his parents emigrated from Iran.
Born in Flagstaff, Arizona, then raised in Flint, Michigan, Hekmati graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Marines, where he served four years, becoming a rifleman and also serving in Iraq.
His parents came to the United States in 1979 as the Islamic revolution spread across Iran.
Two years ago Hekmati surprised his parents by telling them he wanted to visit Iran for the first time, to meet relatives he had never seen -- including his ailing grandmother -- and find his roots.
"We know there is a risk involved," Behnaz Hekmati said. "We were always cautioning. And me, as a mother, because I know, I grew up in that country, I always cautioned about, you know, if something happened. But my kids, they said, 'Mom, my friend, they went, they came back, you know. And nothing's gonna happen.' And they never believe me, you know ... that it's very dangerous."
In August 2011, Amir Hekmati called his mother from Iran to say he was having the time of his life and he would be coming home soon. He told them he would leave two days after a final farewell party his Iranian relatives were having on August 29.
That party came and went; Hekmati never showed up.
For three months, no one in his family knew anything about Hekmati's whereabouts. Then one day in December 2011, Iranian state television aired Hekmati's purported confession he was a CIA spy, and announced that he was imprisoned.U.S. seeks to block Iranian nukesObama-Rouhani meeting still possibleFareed Zakaria: U.S.-Iran relationshipIran's charm offensive
The suspect was "tasked with carrying out a complex intelligence operation and infiltrating the Iranian intelligence apparatus," Iran's Press TV reported at the time.
The family described being in total shock.
"That day we saw his face. And he was confessing ... he's a CIA spy, and I said, 'Wow,' " his mother said.
Behnaz Hekmati has said all along that her son's confession was fabricated and forced by his Iranian captors, a position the U.S. State Department supports.
"They had three months to make this story," his mother said. "They knew from beginning this is a good catch, you know. ... He's a Marine."
She said she believes that's why the family was not initially allowed to talk to her son.
"That's why they didn't want us to talk to him. Because he's going to tell us the truth, what happened," Behnaz Hekmati said. "And they just come up with this story. And an attorney told us same thing. He said, 'He didn't do anything.' "
Asked why it happened to his son, Ali Hekmati offered some thought.
"Naturally, we have some speculations that someone got jealous of him and didn't like the idea that he lives in America, and they are living over there in Iran," his father said. "(That person) probably came up with some lies about him, called him a CIA spy, (because) that was his original charge."
The initial charge and detention has stretched to a two-year ordeal. Weeks after his on-air confession broadcast on Iranian television,Amir Hekmati was tried in an Iranian court and sentenced to death. Months later, Iran's Supreme Court overturned his death sentenceand ordered a retrial. During his imprisonment, Hekmati spent 16 months in solitary confinement and went on a monthlong hunger strike.
The Hekmati family has tried to bring public attention to Amir's plight, hoping to secure his release. Letter after letter, plea after plea, Amir's sister Sarah has struggled to get political support to intervene.
"We just hope that we are reaching the ears -- especially now with this new transition in government in Iran -- the ears of the right people," Sarah Hekmati said.
The State Department has said Amir Hekmati's imprisonment follows a pattern by the Iranian regime, which it says "has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent foreigners for political reason."
Hekmati is the latest in a series of Americans -- most of them Iranian-Americans -- to face arrest in the country in recent years:
• In 2007, Iran arrested several Iranian-Americans -- including Kian Tajbakhsh, Ali Shakeri and Haleh Esfandiari, who were all later released. (That same year retired FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing after last being seen on Iran's Kish Island. Despite photos from his captors, his whereabouts are still unknown.)
• In May 2008, retired Iranian-American businessman Reza Taghavi was arrested on suspicion of supporting an anti-regime group. He was released more than two years later.
• In 2009, three U.S. hikers, also accused of spying, were arrested and ultimately released.
• Tajbakhsh was re-arrested in July 2009 amid post-election protests and a massive government crackdown. In March 2010, he was allowed a temporary release that was later extended, according to the website freekian09.org. The Iranian-American scholar is not allowed to leave the country, the website says.
• Journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested in January 2009 and convicted of espionage in a one-day trial that was closed to the public. She was freed in May that year.
• Literary translator Mohammad Soleimani Nia was detained in January 2012
• Christian pastor Saeed Abedini was reportedly detained in September 2012
Last week, Iran released at least a dozen other political prisoners,including one prominent human rights lawyer. Then, on Monday, the government released dozens more prisoners.
"My wishful thinking was praying and hoping that Amir's name was among that list of people that were released," his sister Sarah said. "It wasn't. But we're not going to give up."
Behnaz Hekmati made a tearful plea to Iran's new president, in English and Farsi, parent to parent, she says, to let her son come home.
"It's more than two years," she said, "Just let Amir come home. ... Amir didn't do any crime, he didn't do anything. Just let him to come home and make his family happy again."
By Associated Press, linked to Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Dozens of U.S. lawmakers are welcoming Iran’s new president to the United States with a simple message: “Free Amir.”
Holding aloft the two-word sign, more than 60 Republican and Democratic lawmakers have contributed photographs to a collection they hope President Hasan Rouhani will see after arriving for the U.N. General Assembly. Their goal is for Rouhani to order the release of Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than two years.
Hekmati’s family, who live in Michigan, may have cause for optimism. Rouhani’s moderate tone has raised hopes for the first time in years of a significant thawing of relations between Iran and the United States. Rouhani and President Barack Obama will both address the U.N. on Tuesday.
American officials also haven’t ruled out meeting face-to-face with their Iranian counterparts to discuss disputes ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to human rights and Syria’s civil war. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister will participate in a seven-nation meeting later this week about Iran’s uranium enrichment activity. The U.S. and its allies fear Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, but the Islamic republic says its program is for peaceful energy production.
Hekmati’s supporters are trying to ensure the 30-year-old’s ordeal is included in the agenda of any potential U.S.-Iran contacts held this week in New York.
“We’re just trying to do everything we can,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., the leader of the campaign, told The Associated Press. “If Rouhani is looking for a tangible step to demonstrate to the world his seriousness, this would be one.”
Just hours after Rouhani’s departure for New York, Iran declared Monday it freed 80 prisoners arrested in political crackdowns. The announcement appeared timed to boost the diplomatic potential of Rouhani’s trip and promote his talk of outreach with the West.
But there was no news about Hekmati, or about two other Americans believed detained in Iran: Retired FBI agent Robert Levinson and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini.
Earlier this month, Hekmati wrote a letter to Kerry describing his “miserable prison conditions” and his belief that Tehran wanted to use him in a possible prisoner exchange.
Hekmati’s letter was smuggled out of prison. His sister authenticated the handwriting. The State Department said it was trying to determine Hekmati’s condition through Swiss diplomats in Tehran. No U.S. officials are based in the Iranian capital because the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations.
Hekmati was born in Arizona and grew up in Michigan. He carries U.S. and Iranian passports.
His family says he traveled to Iran to visit his grandmothers when he was arrested in 2011.
Iran accused him of being a CIA spy, then tried, convicted and sentenced him to death. Iran’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial last year, but he remains imprisoned.
Associated Press writer Jeff Karoub in Detroit contributed to this report.
By Nick Kalman, FoxNews.com
WASHINGTON – Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., marched onto the House floor Thursday night, earnestly seeking support from as many colleagues as he could find on an issue beholden to no party line.
Armed with a one-paged pamphlet slightly larger than a post card, Kildee passed out information on an American from his district who has been held prisoner in Iran for the past two years.
That prisoner, Amir Hekmati, a 29-year-old former Marine, was arrested in Iran in 2011 while visiting his grandmother.
He was detained on charges of spying for the CIA and sentenced to death.
Hekmati's confession was aired on state-run TV in Iran, a confession his family says was clearly coerced. The death sentence has since been annulled but Hekmati remains locked up, imprisoned now for more than 640 days without access to a lawyer or consular officials.
"What if this was your son, all alone," Kildee pleaded with his colleagues. "There's a lot of frustration here about gridlock, but saving this life, that's something we can all rally behind."
The congressman's plan is simple. He's asking his colleagues to take a picture holding a "Free Amir" sign in front of them.
On Monday the pictures will be posted on Twitter accompanied with #FreeAmir.
"The response has been overwhelming," a Kildee spokesman told Fox News. "We've just started and we already have pictures from 75 Members spanning the political spectrum."
Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Darrel Issa, R-Calif., were two of the first to join the campaign.
Kildee's office says they are now getting about 10 pictures an hour.
This is not the first time Kildee has pushed for Hekmati's freedom.
In July, he sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry that was signed by more than 100 members of Congress. In it, Kildee asked the State Department to raise the profile of the case and "explore all options to secure Hekmati's release."
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has also been asked to help
. In response, she tweeted, "Those missing or unjustly detained, including Amir Hekmati...must be returned home. #Iran."
The timing of the new "Free Amir" social media campaign is not coincidental.
On Thursday, the White House signaled a meeting between President Obama an Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani may take place at next week when the United Nations General Assembly convenes in New York.
It would be the first between U.S. and Iranian presidents since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and comes on the heels of Rouhani calling for "constructive" dialogue to end "unhealthy rivalries."
"The world is watching," Kildee said. "If Iran wants to take a productive step toward re-engaging with the international community - this is it."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Ahead of U.N. General Assembly, Congressman Dan Kildee Writes Ambassador Samantha Power on Release of U.S. Prisoner in Iran
Amir Hekmati, Flint Native, Held in Iran Now for Over Two Years
WASHINGTON – Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) today wrote a letter to Samantha Power, the Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations, urging the Ambassador to engage her diplomatic colleagues at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting on the release of Flint-native Amir Hekmati. Hekmati, a constituent of Congressman Kildee’s, has been imprisoned in Iran since August 2011 and been accused of being a U.S. spy, allegations the U.S. vehemently denies.
“During the proceedings, I ask that you explore all available opportunities to raise Mr. Hekmati’s case with your colleagues at the U.N.,” Congressman Kildee said in his letter. “I am optimistic that we can facilitate a humanitarian resolution and reunite Mr. Hekmati with his father, mother and sisters soon.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, recently elected on a moderate platform, is scheduled to visit the United Nations General Assembly next week. While the U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations with Iran, Congressman Kildee in his letter asked Ambassador Power to engage U.N. colleagues who have diplomatic relations with Iran to “examine all opportunities to facilitate Mr. Hekmati’s release.”
“It is imperative that Mr. Hekmati be reunited with his family so that as the eldest son, he can return to Michigan to care for his ailing father, mother and sisters,” Congressman Kildee said in his letter.
Amir’s father, Ali Hekmati, a professor at Mott Community College in Flint, was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and has been hospitalized.
Since being elected to Congress, Congressman Kildee has pushed for Hekmati’s release. In addition to writing to Ambassador Power, Congressman Kildee sent a letter in July to Secretary Kerry calling on the U.S. Department of State to prioritize attaining the release of Hekmati. The letter, signed and supported by 112 Members of Congress, urged the State Department to explore all options to secure Hekmati’s release so he can be reunited with his family.
Following Congressman Kildee’s letter, on Aug. 28, 2013, Secretary Kerry released a statement calling for the Iranian government to release Mr. Hekmati.
A copy of Congressman Kildee’s letter to Ambassador Power can be viewed here and is also below.
September 17, 2013
Ambassador Samantha Power
Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Dear Ambassador Power:
Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine and one of my constituents, has been imprisoned in Iran for now over two years. President Hassan Rouhani and an Iranian delegation are scheduled to visit the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly later in the month. During their visit, I ask that you engage your colleagues that have diplomatic relations with Iran to examine allopportunities to facilitate Mr. Hekmati’s release.
After serving honorably in the military, Mr. Hekmati traveled to Iran in August of 2011 to visit his grandmother for the first time. During this visit, he was detained and accused of being a U.S. spy, allegations the U.S. vehemently denies. Moreover, Mr. Hekmati’s father, who lives in Flint, Mich., was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Thus, it is imperative that Mr. Hekmati be reunited with his family so that as the eldest son, he can return to Michigan to care for his ailing father, mother and sisters during this difficult time.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is aware of Mr. Hekmati’s detention and many members of Congress have been following the situation closely. In July, I sent a letter to Secretary Kerry regarding Mr. Hekmati that was signed by 111 other Members of Congress. We were pleased when Secretary Kerry issued a statement in August calling for Mr. Hekmati’s release, and it appears that the upcoming U.N. General Assembly meeting presents a particularly auspicious opportunity.
During the proceedings, I ask that you explore all available opportunities to raise Mr. Hekmati’s case with your colleagues at the U.N. that maintain diplomatic relations with Iran. I am optimistic that we can facilitate a humanitarian resolution and reunite Mr. Hekmati with his father, mother and sisters soon.
cc: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
By Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian
Amir Hekmati, a US citizen accused of espionage and jailed in Iran, has said his televised confession was forced and asserted that he is in fact being held hostage for use in a prisoner exchange and mistreated.
In a letter smuggled out of jail and obtained by the Guardian, the 29-year-old former US marine, who was arrested in Tehran two years ago for his alleged links to the CIA, said his confession aired on Iranian state television was made under duress and was used to implicate him in trial.
"For over two years I have been held on false charges based solely on confessions obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions and prolonged periods of solitary confinement," he wrote earlier this month.
The letter, which has been authenticated by Hekmati's family, is addressed to US secretary of state, John Kerry. Kerry urged Tehran leaders to release him from prison on the second anniversary of his arrest last month, saying Washington was "deeply concerned" about his detention.
Hekmati was picked up by Iranian security officials in August 2011, two weeks after arriving in Tehran from Dubai on a family visit. He holds both Iranian and American citizenship and served as a US marine between 2001 and 2005, at some point translating Persian and Arabic in Iraq.
In his letter, Hekmati accuses the Iranian authorities of employing "unlawful tactics" to keep him in prison with a view to swapping him for Iranian prisoners held in US custody.
"This is part of a propaganda and hostage-taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges," the letter says.
Hekmati's state-appointed Iranian lawyer was told by the authorities that he will be released only if two Iranians held in foreign jails are freed, he writes.
"I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the US government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition," he writes, but does not reveal the names of the Iranian prisoners concerned.
Hekmati goes on to implore Kerry not to buckle under the pressure of Iran's demands.
"I do not wish to set a precedent for others that may be unlawfully (obtained) for political gain in the future," he writes.
Hekmati's letter compares his case to that of three Americans detained in Iran in 2009, accused by Tehran of spying but who insist they were simply hiking innocently along an unmarked Iranian border.
Prior to his arrival in Tehran, Hekmati reportedly checked in with the Iranian interest section in Washington to ensure that his past work with the US military would not create problems for him during his stay.
In December 2011, Hekmati confessed on Iran's state-run TV: "They told me: 'You will become a source of military and intelligence information for the Iranians for three weeks and we will give you money for this and then you will return.'"
In January 2012, an Iranian court sentenced him to death – a verdict later quashed by a higher court. Hekmati is still waiting for retrial.
The new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani's moderate mandate has raised hopes for the former marine's release.
"My hope is that those individuals within the Iranian government who respect rule of law and international ethics will intervene in my case," Hekmati writes.
Hekmati's family, who were made aware of the letter's existence ahead of publication, also released a statement. "The Hekmati family is deeply concerned about our son and brother Amir," it said.
"More than two years in detention, much of which was spent in solitary confinement, is far too long. He is not a US spy. He has never been a spy for any country or entity or person. Even if one accepts the assertions by the Iranian officials as true, which we do not, Amir has served enough time and they have punished him enough."
The Hekmati family has repeatedly pleaded with the Iranian authorities to release him, arguing that he needs to be with his father, who has cancer.
"We hope President Rouhani and his new government recognise this point. We urge his immediate release."
Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and considers Hekmati Iranian. Tehran and Washington have not maintained diplomatic relations since the hostage crisis after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
To: Mr. John Kerry, Secretary of State, US State Department
From: Amir Hekmati
SSN: --- -- ----
Dear Mr. Kerry
I first of all would like to thank you and your department for your sincere efforts in supporting me and securing my release. My family and I are extremely grateful and appreciate the value the State Department places on U.S. citizens. For over 2 years I have been held on false charges based solely on confessions obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement. This is part of a propaganda and hostage taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges. Iranian intelligence has suggested through my court-appointed lawyer Mr. Hussein Yazdi Samadi that I be released in exchange for 2 Iranians being held abroad. I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition. I do not wish to set a precedent for others that may be unlawfully (obtained) for political gain in the future. While my family and I have suffered greatly I will accept nothing but my unconditional release. The very same suffering that the 3 American hikers have recently suffered and many others by these unlawful tactics. My hope is that those individuals within the Iranian government who respect rule of law and international ethics will intervene in my case. As someone of Iranian heritage, I hope that the Iranian people will also support me and call on their government to respect my
By Rick Gladstone, New York Times
A former Marine incarcerated in Iran for more than two years on espionage charges has smuggled a letter out of prison addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, asserting that he has been falsely accused, mistreated and denied his legal rights, his family said Wednesday.
Text of Letter From Hekmati to Kerry (September 12, 2013)
The handwritten letter from the former Marine, Amir Hekmati, 30, an American of Iranian descent, also asserted that he had been told by his Iran-appointed lawyer that the authorities might release him in exchange for two Iranians held abroad. He did not identify them or their whereabouts, but he urged Mr. Kerry to reject such an exchange.
“I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition,” Mr. Hekmati wrote. He added: “While my family and I have suffered greatly, I will accept nothing but my unconditional release.”
The letter was first posted on the Web site of The Guardian, and a link to it was later posted on FreeAmir.org, a Web site dedicated to publicizing Mr. Hekmati’s imprisonment. Family members said the letter was authentic.
The State Department has received a copy of the letter from the family, a spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters. Asked if the United States had been contacted by Iran about trading Mr. Hekmati, she said, “We have not had any communication with Iran on the issue of a prisoner exchange,” and reiterated the Obama administration’s call for his release.
In tone and substance, the letter was significantly more pessimistic than a series of letters Mr. Hekmati had been allowed to send his family in recent months from Evin Prison in Tehran. Mr. Hekmati’s sister, Sarah, said in July that he had written that prison life had improved for him, that he had received visits from two uncles and an aunt, and that he had been permitted to exercise, study Persian and read books.
In a letter to Mr. Hekmati from his mother, Behnaz, dated Aug. 29 — the second anniversary of his captivity — she expressed gratitude that his prison conditions were better. “We are so proud of you for remaining optimistic,” she wrote in the letter, which was posted at FreeAmir.org.
It was unclear why Mr. Hekmati sent the letter to Mr. Kerry, but it may have reflected some frustration or impatience that there had been no apparent movement in his case. Mr. Hekmati’s family has expressed hope that with the election of a new president in Iran, Hassan Rouhani, who has promised to improve relations with the United States, Mr. Hekmati might be released in a good-will gesture.
“For over two years I have been held on false charges based solely on confessions obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions and prolonged periods of solitary confinement,” the letter stated. “This is part of a propaganda and hostage-taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges.”
He drew an analogy between his case and that of three American hikers who were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border in 2009 and charged with espionage, asserting that all of them had suffered from what he called Iran’s “unlawful tactics.” One of the hikers was released in 2010, and the others in 2011, after officials from Iraq and Oman intervened and payments of $500,000 for each hiker were made.
In a statement released later on Wednesday, Sarah Hekmati described the letter to Mr. Kerry as “a plea for help from my brother,” and reiterated the family’s contention that he had committed no crime. “They have punished him enough,” she said. “We hope Iran’s new President Rouhani and his government recognize this point. We urge his immediate release.”
Mr. Hekmati, whose family lives in Flint, Mich., spent four years in the Marines. He was arrested in August 2011 while visiting his grandmothers in Iran. The Iranian authorities accused him of spying for the C.I.A. and broadcast what they said was his voluntary confession.
He was tried and sentenced to be executed, but the verdict was overturned. A new trial was ordered in March 2012, but it has yet to be scheduled, and the nature of the charges against him have never been explained.