Thursday, May 31, 2012

Americans Imprisoned Abroad

These are the stories of three Americans in prison in foreign countries that every American should know.

Bowe Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl is a US soldier who is being held captive by the Taliban.

Bowe Bergdahl went missing from his base in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.  The Taliban posted a video of Bergdahl on July 18, 2009 that made it clear that he was their prisoner. This was the first of five videos showing Bergedahl that were released by the Taliban. The Daily Beast reported that sometime in late August or early September 2011, Bergdahl attempted an unsuccessful escape.  

Berghdahl has now been in Taliban custody for almost three years. 

Amir Mirza Hekmati

Amir Hekmati is a former Marine who has been convicted of espionage in Iran.

Hekmati was born in Arizona to parents of Iranian decent. He served in the US Marines from 2001 to 2004. He was arrested in Iran in August 2011. His family says that he was visiting his grandmother and other relatives at the time.  

In December 2011 Iranian state TV aired a report that alleged that Hekmati was a spy for the CIA and that he had planned to provide Iran false intelligence. The report also contained a video confession from Hekmati.

Hekmati’s confession may have been coerced. In 2009 Maziar Bahari, a Canadian-Iranian journalist, was arrested in Iran. He gave a forced confession that was subsequently played on Press TV, Iran’s English-language state-funded news channel. Bahari was eventually released.

In January 2012 an Iranian court sentenced Hekmati to death. According to Iranian media, Hekmati was found guilty of, “cooperating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA, and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism.” The court also declared that he was, “corrupt on earth and waging war on god.”

In March 2012 the Iranian Supreme Court overturned Hekmati’s conviction and ordered a retrial. Amir Hekmati remains in prison after 9 months of detention.

Iran has a long history of imprisoning Americans. Following the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Iranian government held members of the American embassy hostage, 52 of which were held hostage for 444 days.

In 2009 Iran arrested three American hikers and subsequently charged them with espionage. Two of the hikers were held for nearly 26 months. The New York Times reported that the Iranian government never publicly provided evidence that supported the contention that the hikers were spies.

It is not unreasonable to think that the US is spying on Iran, however. In December 2011 the Iranian government announced that they had captured a US spy drone that was monitoring Iran. This allegation has been confirmed by anonymous US officials.

James Risen, a New York Times journalist, described Operation Merlin in his 2006 book “State of War.” Risen alleges that the CIA gave flawed designs for a nuclear bomb triggering devise to a Russian scientist who passed it on to the Iranians. The designs were supposed to put back Iran’s nuclear program but, according to Risen, the scientist pointed out the flaws to the Iranians and they were able to extract valuable information from them. The CIA claims that Risen’s account of the operation is inaccurate.

Alan Phillip Gross

Alan Gross worked to set up uncensored satellite internet service for Cuba’s Jewish community. He was working for the US Agency for International Development in order to break the Cuban government’s “information blockade.” As Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, the government controls all media outlets in Cuba. HRW goes on to say that limited internet access in Cuba means that only a few Cubans can read independently published articles and blogs.

Alan Gross is a US citizen. While he was in Cuba he claimed that he was working for a Jewish humanitarian group rather than the US government. Alan Gross was arrested on December 3, 2009. He was charged with “acts against the independence and integrity” of Cuba.

In March 2011 Alan Gross was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. After his conviction, the Cuban News Agency stated that Gross participated in, “a subversive project of the US government to try to destroy the Revolution, by way of the use of info-communication systems out of the control of the authorities, in order to promote destabilizing plans against various social sectors.”

In August 2011 the Cuban Supreme Court upheld his sentence.

Alan Gross has been imprisoned in Cuba for almost 30 months.

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