Header photo: Mass rally for the Grand Ayatollah in Tehran circa 1980. Photo above left is Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in exile in France with his followers, circa 1978. Behind him in the 2nd row, 2nd from left wearing white is Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s current President. Photo right is the Ayatollah returning from exile to Tehran on February 1, 1979 via an Air France jetliner. Iran annually marks the founding of the Islamic Revolution with an 11-day celebration.
It took another 10 months and 4 days for the Ayatollah’s followers to act on their conviction that western nations and especially the United States, the Great Satan, as the enemy of the Islamic faith. The U.S. was particularly hated as it was seen as the protector and funder of the hated Shah of Iran who was deposed in mid-January, 1979 and later received medical treatment in the U.S. and other countries. Pictured here are ‘students’ storming the gates of the U.S. Embassy on November 4, 1979. Locks and chains were broken and the Embassy was under their control with minimal resistance. Inside the diplomats and U.S. armed services members made efforts to destroy confidential documents and equipment. A few escaped and hid, some were released earlier than others due to illnesses, but a core of 52 hostages were held for 444 days.
Initially the hostages were paraded around blindfolded which infuriated the American public. The U.S. was helpless to intervene. The Regime released several ‘minorities’ after a short detention: people of color and women, but not until they paraded them too for PR purposes in front of cameras.. The remaining hostages were referred to as ‘guests.’
A woman walks past a wall with the message: “We have America under our foot.” This was a slogan the Ayatollah used frequently in his speeches adding, “and there is nothing they can do about it. Death to America!” They understood well that America valued the lives of the hostages and did not want to risk further injuries or deaths. It was later revealed that all of the men suffered frequent beatings, mock executions in the middle of the night, solitary confinement for months and years, malnutrition and poor medical care – all of which is contrary to international conventions. They were denied visits by the U.S. and Red Cross.
At the beginning of the November 1979 Embassy takeover, the Iran hostage crisis was expected to be resolved in a matter of days. It was believed that demands would be made, then there would be a negotiated release. But it was not clear what the ‘students’ wanted. Many in the U.S. concluded the Regime simply wanted the West and especially the U.S. out of Iran and humiliated. If not, that’s what they achieved! This was widely reported on all of the networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and there were several late evening news specials. NBC delayed Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show by 15-30 minutes in the beginning of the crisis. As it dragged on, ABC decided to air an evening news program hosted by one of its young reporters, Ted Koppel. It was originally an hour-long evening news program titled, “The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage: ‘Day XXX’.” It actually competed with Johnny Carson since this was before VCRs or DVRs. After the 444-day crisis was over, ABC’s nightly news program caught on with people and was renamed “Nightline” which continues to the present day as a half-hour show. To see how a typical program began back in 1979: follow this YouTube link: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/iran-crisis-america-held-hostage-9049607
At the beginning and throughout the show, the number of days the hostages was held was changed daily. The image of a blindfolded hostage, an outline of the map of Iran and a bright red number indicating how long the hostages were held became a source, over time, of national anger, and renewed patriotism. The ABC program became a fixture of late night TV, The images and increasing number of days caused many Americans to feel angry, insulted and helpless. The Iran crisis itself became a symbol of the weakness of Jimmy Carter’s Presidency. The economy was sputtering, unemployment was high and Mideast oil exports were reduced causing higher gasoline prices. Carter infamously sat in front of fireplace for a ‘the more you know’ message wearing a thick sweater and encouraging the nation to turn down their thermostats to save energy, He ordered all Federal buildings to set thermostats no higher than 65. Secretaries and typists wore gloves or mittens with the fingertip areas cut off! Bridges and other non-essential lighting were darkened increasing the pessimistic outlook people had. The terms ‘malaise’ and ‘feckless’ entered people’s vocabularies when talking about the Carter Presidency.
Initially there was very little that was done, or could be done. Since diplomatic ties were cut off, the U.S. had to rely on other countries, such as the Swiss and Algeria as intermediaries. The movie ‘Argo’ depicted a small group of six that escaped. They were never actual hostages, since they were in hiding and exited Iran with the help of Canada and fake passports. Thirteen American ‘minorities’ (blacks, Hispanics and women) were released.
After six months, a bold, large-scale, complicated U.S. military rescue was attempted. It literally crashed and burned in the Iranian desert. Operation ‘Eagles Claw’ involved a C-130 refueling plane and several helicopters. Some helicopters became inoperable at low levels due to a sandstorm. One helicopter and the C-130 while attempting to refuel crashed killing 8 service members. The mission was aborted and the remaining helicopters turned back.
The 52 hostages were then spread out across the country making a future rescue attempt impossible. Carter’s popularity declined for a variety of reasons, but the Iran crisis and Desert One crash was at the top. He lost his re-election bid to the ‘tough-talking’ (by comparison) Ronald Reagan in November,1980.
The hostages in left photo were still in Germany; prior to a press conference; military personnel were fitted for new uniforms. The other photo is our favorite! After the hostages finally touched down in the USA, they could hardly contain themselves. This is what Freedom looks like! Following is a link to a YouTube video showing the former hostages’ family reunions at Andrews Air Force base near Washington DC. It’s guaranteed to make you smile, and perhaps shed a tear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rs01R9MxMA&feature=player_detailpage
Many surmised it was because Iran was not certain what Ronald Reagan would do as President that they agreed to the prisoner releases. He was already speaking out against Russia’s power and negative influences in the world. So Iran through intermediaries signaled an interest in releasing the hostages and not testing Reagan. To be fair negotiations through Algeria were started under Carter several months earlier. Eventually it was agreed that $8 Billion of frozen assets in U.S. banks would be released to Iran.
During the weeks prior to Reagan’s January 20, 1981 inauguration, it was decided that the 52 men would be released to an intermediary who would fly them out of Iran to Algeria. Then after a change to an American military plane, they went on to a military base in Germany for medical checkups and care. The timing of the release was at the exact moment Reagan was sworn in. He was still delivering a 20-minute inaugural speech when the hostages were released. This was Iran’s final insult to Carter. The freed hostages still had to run the gauntlet of jeers and insults as they made their way across the tarmac onto the airplane. But the important thing was. ‘The hostages were free after 444 days!’
As a courtesy to Jimmy Carter, President Reagan granted him the privilege of escorting the Americans from germany to NY’s West Point Academy. After further care and rest, the much-anticipated family reunions was next (see video tape of arrival above). Besides receiving several medals and rewards from Washington, The 52 freed hostages returned to New York to be honored with a ‘ticker-tape parade.’
For those who are not familiar with this, ‘ticker-tape’ refers to long spools of paper about an inch wide that stock market investors used. A special machine continually printed the latest stock prices, much of it became waste paper. During a parade for astronauts, sports figures, and the American hostages, huge quantities of ticker-tape streams would be thrown out of high-rise office windows causing a virtual blizzard of paper below. (You can Google ‘ticker tape parade’ to see examples if desired.) Nowadays such a parade, which is rare, would use confetti and colorful streamers like om New Year’s eve celebrations.
Iran converted the U.S. Embassy, above, into The Museum of the Islamic Revolution. Several murals depicting hatred toward the U.S. can be found on its external walls as well as the lobby staircase walls. Humiliation and mockery of the United States is the general theme.
After Ayatollah Ruhollah’s death in 1989, the Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khomeini, has ruled over Iran. He enjoys the same public fervor and adoration from what the west refers to as ‘hardliners,’ the true believers. An ‘Islamic Spring’ revolt was attempted in 2009 and was brutally crushed. The west saw pictures of young people dying in the streets including one lady named “Nadia” which galvanized public opinion against Iran and perhaps within Iran itself. However, it went dark when Iran’s communication links were cut off. Only smuggled cellphone videos made their way out. The west, and notably the U.S., did nothing to support the freedom fighters except to provide words of encouragement and hope. The President did not believe it was within his authority to overtly aid the overthrow of a duly elected government, but he wished the rebels success.
Iran’s Presidents are elected by the people, but their choice of candidates are pre-approved by the Ayatollah. Many suggest the outcome is known in advance. Iranian Presidents may never get ahead of the Ayatollah by making agreements he will not support. The Ayatollah was not reluctant to reverse some decisions of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The west prefers the new smiling Rouhani over his scowling predecessor, but everyone should know that it’s the Supreme Leader who decides all major issues.
The Iran Revolutionary Guard (IRG) is a dedicated armed force that protects the Ayatollah and carries out his orders independent of any other military or police official. The IRG is seen here in a frame-grab during the recent 35th Anniversary celebrations in Tehran.
To say that Iran has had close relations with Russia over the past few decades is an understatement. Iran could not have carried out what it has militarily in the region without Russia’s supply of arms. Russia has also blocked nearly every effort by the U.S., Europe and the U.N. to curb Iran’s nuclear program. In fact Russia helps build the Iranian reactors and furnishes ‘advisers’ to run them. The symbolism of the two flags intertwined cannot be mistaken.
During the decades of diplomatic silence, the U.S. tried to work through Russia to make inroads with Iran on a number of issues. This included Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the funding, training and arming of militias throughout the Middle East (e.g. destabilizing Iraq to counter U.S. efforts, also in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza). Iran’s nuclear program is not only a major concern to Israel, but also to Saudi Arabia and other nations within striking distance of Iran’s missiles.
The Fall of 2013 saw a burst of diplomatic activity. As a side-note FreeAllThree.com was begun in late 2013 as a way of focusing attention on the plight of the three Americans held against their wills in Iran today. Since the world powers established a six-month Interim nuclear agreement (also called phase 1), to be followed by a Final Agreement (phase 2), we thought there should also be a SIX-MONTH ‘Countdown to Freedom!’
The Iran map above indicates 184 days remaining as of January 1, 2014 until July 4th. The ‘Fourth’ in America is our day to celebrate Freedom. This map was a prototype and used for only one day.
As controversial as the six-month interim agreement (phase 1) was and still is, we see this as the best opportunity America has to obtain the release of all three U.S. Citizens. The future relationship with Iran is in doubt. The hostages release MUST be a pre-condition to any future treaty agreement with Iran.
The election of President Rouhani last summer was seen as a sign of encouragement. The west, including the U.S., believed, or hoped, “We can work with that man.” President Obama made a historic telephone call to President Rouhani in late September when the latter was at the UN in New York. It was the first official conversation between the leaders of the two nations in 34 years! It was reported by the White House press office that Obama mentioned all three men by name to Rouhani.
Later, in TV interviews, Rouhani said he raised the subject also indicating there were also several Iranians in American prisons. This is true; by one estimate more than 20 Iranians are imprisoned in the U.S. for spying or attempting to purchase banned items under the sanctions. Included were sophisticated electronics and airplane spare parts. We know of 12-15 specific cases within the past 7 years per Dept. of Justice reports. We also know that four Iranians were quietly released in the dead of night between August 2012 and April 2013. Two were freed in each year!. The last was a high-value nuclear scientist that Iran wanted. America in turn obtained the release of the final two of the original group of three hikers in 2012. They allegedly strayed past Iran’s northern border and were arrested as spies.
Rouhani was careful not to shake hands with Obama while he was in the U.S., but he still had shoes thrown at him by some hardliners due to the phone call when he returned home. Shortly after the September U.N. meetings were over, it was announced that the EU High Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton would head up negotiations with Iran regarding the illegal nuclear weapons program. It is dubbed in Europe as the ‘EU + 3 and Iran,’ while the U.S. refers to the group as the ‘P5 + 1 and Iran.’ Regardless of the diplomatic jargon, it includes under the EU’s coordination: the U.K., France, the U.S., Russia, China and Germany, with Iran. In November 2013 the U.S. met face-to-face with Iran officially for the first time in 34 years.
However several secret direct talks had been held in recent years, both multi-laterally and bi-laterally. (FreeAllThree.com documented a series of secret talks conducted in part by John Kerry while he was still a U.S. Senator from 2009-2013. To see this timeline of secret talks resulting in the prisoner swaps go to: http://wp.me/s49SUn-1688 or go to the ‘Countdown to Freedom” page and you will find the timeline also.
The fact that Iran and the U.S. are now talking to each other – allegedly about nuclear issues only – after more than 3 decades with no direct communications, offers a glimmer of hope that the three American hostages might be freed. At a minimum we now have open negotiations, instead of secret talks in far off obscure places.
At left is the ‘front door’ of the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. The other photo shows the expansive network of buildings, pathways and tunnels that house some 15,000 prisoners. You should be able to click on the photos to enlarge. You can see the city of Tehran just past the mountain ridge. Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati is now held in Evin. Pastor Saeed Abedini was there for most of his incarceration. But suddenly, without notice he was moved on or about November 1, 2013 to an even worse prison. Rajaee prison is in Karaj about 90 minutes northwest of Tehran. Ironically, and sadly, this was after the phone call between the countries’ two Presidents.
Regarding Robert Levinson, officially no one knows for sure where he is being held at this time. He undoubtedly has been moved around since his kidnapping and disappearance in March 2007 from Kish island off Iran’s SW coast. The IRG operates its own network of prisons that answers to no one except the Ayatollah. There is also an unsubstantiated report from Britain that a prisoner who was released from Evin said he saw the name ‘R Levinson’ scratched into the metal door frame of his cell. It was followed by what he assumed were English words appealing for help. He did not know anything about the name, but Googled it after he was released. Repeating, this is not confirmed.
Many theories about Levinson’s whereabouts have surfaced. Proof of life photos and videos were sent to the family in Florida. However, there was never any follow-up by the person(s) who sent them. Three years passed since the last proof of life was received; so on December 12, 2013 the AP and Washington Post published similar articles that the U.S. and Iran had been playing a dangerous game of denial over the past 6 1/2 years. The U.S. pretended Levinson was not working for the U.S. government in any capacity when he disappeared, which was proved to be false.
Still however, no public admission by the White House or CIA followed. In fact the WH press secretary denied the story and called the newspapers ‘reckless.’ And FL’s senior Senator Bill Nelson was also angry that the stories were published. Turns out he knew the truth for several years because a committee he serves on was involved with oversight of the CIA and ordered that its operations be overhauled due to the mishandling of Bob Levinson as a paid independent contractor. About 10 CIA officers were fired or demoted due to the Levinson matter.
Iran also pretended that since he was a private citizen and Kish island requires no visa to enter, they had no record or knowledge of him. That is highly disputed based on eye witnesses at the hotel where he checked into for one night. The story goes that he got in a taxi to take him to the airport and disappeared. The man he met with at the hotel, the CIA and FBI believe otherwise. But there was no public information released in part to protect Bob’s ‘cover.’ Initially that was reasonable, but not after 61/2 years have passed!
It appears the United States has some explaining to do to Iran. The Levinson family attorney said publicly last month in an interview that it’s time for the FBI and CIA to “come clean” and say what they need to in order to obtain the release of Levinson and put this matter behind us. Mrs. Levinson and their eldest son have also announced plans to return to Iran to make a humanitarian appeal in Tehran.
FreeAllThree.com has written complete background stories on all three hostages. At the top of the Home Page of this website you will see links to their pages. Why call them hostages?
“When a nation unjustly detains, tries and convicts Americans without real due process in order to obtain a future negotiating advantage, they are holding Hostages, not prisoners.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama are to be applauded for recent mentions of the three hostages in various settings, often by name. Although Congressmen, Senators, families and supporters requested a mention of the three hostages in the annual State of the Union Address, January 20, there was none. However, just a few days later at a National Prayer Breakfast, the President did mention Saeed Abedini’s name, as well as Kenneth Bae who is held in North Korea. Of course, there is a Christian, religious aspect with Pastors Abedini and Bae and we are grateful for that. And we hasten to say there is an American factor as well for all three hostages held in Iran today.
Iran’s leaders and negotiators with the P5+1 have taken a tough stance against having to make any concessions regarding their nuclear program, which is the reason why the talks and loosened sanctions exist in the first place! Most objective observers have concluded that so far, Iran is the only beneficiary of the ‘eased sanctions regime.’ Supporters of Abedini, Hekmati and Levinson must push all the harder if they want to see a successful outcome within the confines of the current six-month nuclear talks. Time extensions may be mutually agreed to. However, Iran has signaled they want to reach an on-time agreement, of sorts, and move on. Billions of dollars and precious metals are already flowing into Iran at this very moment. Iran appears to be ‘open for business’ despite official U.S. denials and tough talk. However, allies and enemies of the U.S. are standing in line to make trade deals and negotiate oil-for-goods barter programs even now. This includes a $1.5 billion per month deal with Russia alone.
After six-months, or whenever the nuclear talks are finalized, will Iran remain incentivized to comply with any U.N. or U.S. dictates? Russia and China can veto any measures put forth by the U.S.
Did the U.S. agree to its first official face-to-face talks with Iran in 34 years before receiving any goodwill gestures from Iran? The answer is an emphatic yes! We were like the ugly duckling who got asked to the prom and didn’t want to ask too many questions or insist that her date would bring her a corsage, pick her up at the front door to meet her parents and bring her home before midnight! She just said “Yes!”
Now looking forward we must ask if Iran will 1) obtain all the business and world trade they can handle without major U.S. business and banking participation, and 2) will Iran keep their nuclear program as well as the United States’ hostages in place as is?
We must not allow this to happen.
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Daniel @ FreeAllThree . com