National Security & Defense

What About the Other Five Americans Iran Is Still Holding?

(Alex Wong/Getty)

To paraphrase Michelle Obama, after seven years of her husband’s being in office, I can safely say many of us are, for the first time in our lives, ashamed to be Americans.

His disingenuous State of the Union speech last night was one reminder of this; the seizing of two Navy riverine vessels by Iranian Revolutionary Guards yesterday was another.

The ten sailors on board those boats are lucky. News agencies have announced that they have just been released. According to CNN, “the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and U.S. officials appear to be at odds over whether the U.S. apologized for the incident before their release.” The release came after Iran had inspected the boats and decided they weren’t engaged in espionage but had simply broken down and then drifted into Iranian waters. Disturbing video of the sailors’ capture shows them disarmed, on their knees and with hands behind their heads.​

It’s not clear which is more pathetic: that Iran apparently demanded an apology from the United States for what was clearly an accident, or that these vessels suffered a mechanical failure in a critical situation and then lost communication with their command ship. It’s a painful reminder that our armed forces have been starved of funds to maintain and repair equipment during Obama’s watch as commander-in-chief, and they’ve also watched their numbers steadily shrink.

RELATED: Iran’s Propaganda Victory in One Illegal Image

Even worse, this incident comes weeks after Iran taunted us by suddenly test-firing a missile less than 1,500 yards away from American ships that were patrolling the Hormuz Straits. We of course did nothing, just as we will do nothing to retaliate against Iran for seizing our Navy personnel this time. Next time, the test-firing might be only 500 yards away, or 500 feet. Next time, American sailors might not be released. And why not? Tehran clearly views America with contempt, pegging us as a feeble former superpower trapped in death-spiral decline. Our own president sees us the same way, so why shouldn’t one of our leading enemies?

#share#Now, a real commander-in-chief would have demanded not only the immediate and unconditional release of our sailors, but the release as well of the other five Americans being held hostage in Iran even as you read this post.

They are:

‐Jason Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post who is being held on charges of subverting the Islamic Republic;

‐Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor who converted from Islam and was in Iran working on an approved orphanage project until he was arrested, charged, and sentenced to eight years in prison as a “threat to Iran’s national security”;

‐Amir Hekmati, a former Marine who was on a visit to Iran, his parents’ homeland, when he was arrested and sentenced to death as a spy;

‐Robert Levinson, a retired FBI and DEA agent who was kidnapped in March 2007 and has been in prison ever since. He has been held in Iranian captivity longer than any American in history, even longer than the U.S. Embassy hostages in 1979–80; and

‐Siamak Namazi, an American-born businessman who has dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship, and who was seized and held without trial sometime in October 2015. He is now held in solitary confinement in the notoriously brutal Evin prison.

#related#It might be too much to expect a president preoccupied with getting terrorists released from Gitmo to worry about five Americans being held on trumped-up charges in Iran. But getting them released will be a worthy mission for our next president, as will confronting the true nature of Iran’s revolutionary Islamist regime and the threat it poses to the entire world, nuclear weapon or no nuclear weapon.

Last night, Obama reminded us that “the United States is still the most powerful nation on earth.” But he has let the initiative in world affairs fall into the hands of some of the most evil regimes on the planet, including Iran, ISIS, and North Korea. In the president’s remaining months in office, we can expect more incidents like the seizing of our sailors, and not just in the Middle East. We can only hope they all turn out as well as yesterday’s did — and without American sailors being forced to their knees.

Arthur Herman is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the author of, most recently, The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World (Houghton Mifflin, 2021).


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