Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Trevor is free, Paul was left behind | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

May 04, 2022 SenseOfDuty Media Episode 35
Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Trevor is free, Paul was left behind | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

One week ago on Wednesday 27th April, Trevor Reed – an innocent American citizen and former US Marine who had been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia for 985 days – was freed. Trevor was released in a prisoner swap deal between the United States and Russia. 

Trevor is now back home in the United States getting the medical attention he needs and surrounded by his loving family – his father, Joey – his mother, Paula – and his sister, Taylor. We have interviewed Trevor’s parents twice on Pod Hostage Diplomacy and we are very happy for them. We are also truly grateful for the efforts of President Biden, the US State Department, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Roger Carstens and his team, the Richardson Center as well as everyone else involved in securing Trevor’s release.

With all that being said – the US government should have done better. They left a man behind. They left fellow American and former US Marine, Paul Whelan behind. We have interviewed the Whelan family twice as well. Last Wednesday was a day of mixed-emotions for Paul Whelan and his family when they found out that Trevor was being released and Paul was being left behind.

On this episode, we are joined once again by Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan. She tells us what Trevor’s release and Paul being left behind was like for her, for Paul and for the rest of the Whelan family. Elizabeth also talks to us about potentially changing her approach to campaigning, Brittney Griner and what President Biden, the State Department, journalists and the public can do to free Paul Whelan.

After our interview with Elizabeth, you’ll also hear voice messages from the loved ones of other Americans held hostage or wrongfully imprisoned overseas specifically Majd Kamalmaz held in Syria, Tomeu Vadell held in Venezuela, Kai Li held in China, Paul Rusesabagina held in Rwanda and Jamshid Sharmahd held in Iran. They tell us their thoughts on Trevor’s release and talk about what President Biden now needs to do to bring their loved ones home too.

Follow Pod Hostage Diplomacy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with our work.

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Trevor is free, Paul was left behind | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

SPEAKERS

Daren Nair, Carine Kanimba, Harrison Li, Elizabeth Whelan, Maryam Kamalmaz, Veronica Vadell Weggeman, Gazelle Sharmahd

 

Daren Nair  00:05

Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories every week, and let you know how you can help bring them home. I'm Daren Nair, and I've had the honour of campaigning with many of these families for years. These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us. People who have never given up hope, people who will never stop working to reunite their families. And we will be right there by their side until their loved ones are back home. Thank you for joining us. And now, let's meet this week's guest. Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. One week ago on Wednesday 27th April, Trevor Reed, an innocent American citizen and former US Marine, who had been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia for 985 days, was finally freed. Trevor was released in a prisoner swap deal between the United States and Russia. For those of you who haven't watched the video of the prisoner swap itself, the swap took place in an airfield in Turkey. The American plane carrying the Russian prisoner and the Russian plane carrying Trevor landed around the same time and a prisoner swap took place on the tarmac. Trevor is now back home in the United States getting the medical attention he needs and surrounded by his loving family. His father Joey, his mother, Paula, and his sister, Taylor. We've interviewed Trevor's parents, Joey and Paula Reed, twice on this podcast. In fact, the Reeds were the first American family we interviewed on Pod Hostage Diplomacy. I have been campaigning to free hostages and the wrongfully imprisoned around the world for six years. And I am very, very happy for the Reed family. Joey Reed is a former US Marine himself and a former firefighter. Joey, Paula and Taylor's campaigning to reunite their family was simply phenomenal. But no American family should have to go to those lengths to bring their loved one wrongfully imprisoned overseas back home. Trevor was held by the Russians because he was an American, and because he was a former US Marine. He was used as a bargaining chip by the Russian government to extract a concession from the United States government, which in this case, was the prisoner swap. This was state sponsored hostage-taking, also known as hostage diplomacy. Just to be very clear here, we are truly grateful for the efforts of President Biden, the US State Department, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Roger Carstens, and his team, the Richardson Center, as well as everyone else involved in securing Trevor's release. We are also aware that in hostage diplomacy cases like this, there are rarely, if any, ideal solutions to this growing problem, to this growing crisis. We also have the humility to acknowledge that we were not in the room where the decisions were made. We don't know what other negotiations were going on. And it's always easier to point out areas for improvement from the sidelines. But with all that being said, the US government should have done better. The American military has a very well known saying that goes, "leave no man behind." Unfortunately, that saying didn't seem to apply to the US government on this occasion. Why? Well, the US government left another American citizen and former US Marine by the name of Paul Whelan behind. Paul has also been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia. In fact, Paul was detained almost eight months before Trevor. Now we don't know what was being done to bring Paul home. There may have been ongoing negotiations to free Paul as well that fell through at the last moment. We don't know. As the Whelan family have said publicly, that's part of the problem. Better communication is needed. Better expectation management is needed from the US government. Just like the Reed family, I've interviewed the Whelan family twice on this podcast. If you haven't already, please do check out these episodes on our website, podhostagediplomacy.com, or look up Pod Hostage Diplomacy on your podcast app. As you can imagine, last Wednesday was a day of mixed emotions for the Whelan family when they found out that Trevor was being released. And yet at the same time, Paul was being left behind. Today, we are joined once again by Paul Whelan's sister, Elizabeth Whelan. Elizabeth, we said this on our two previous episodes, and we meant it. We will be campaigning right by your side until Paul comes home, no matter how long it takes. Thank you for joining us today.

 

Elizabeth Whelan  04:56

Thank you so much, Daren. It's really wonderful to be able to be here speaking with you again. And thank you for all that you do with Pod Hostage Diplomacy. I think it has created a real community. I know I certainly have listened to everyone's podcasts and you just find out a level of, I think, fellow feeling that you perhaps don't just from reading the media reports and tweets and that sort of thing. So, thank you so much.

 

Daren Nair  05:21

You're very welcome. It's an honour to help. Now, Elizabeth, can you please walk us through what last Wednesday was like for you?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  05:29

Yes. And first, let me start off by saying the thing I would have wanted to say on Wednesday, instead of what I did, which was: "Welcome home, Trevor Reed." I mean, just amazing, amazing that, you know, with... with Russia doing what they're doing that this diplomacy effort was able to... to come through to... to complete successfully. That was wonderful. But what wasn't wonderful was what went on at our end. And so, there I am, you know, getting ready to make a cup of tea, 7:10 in the morning, I get a phone call from a State Department official, you know, basically saying, you know, "before you see it on the news, we want to let you know that Trevor Reed's on a plane home, but Paul isn't." And I lost it. I mean, I was rude, very, very rude in response, and basically said, "I'll talk to you guys later, I've got to, you know, hop off the phone and tell my parents," and you know, and I was trying to process this information. You know, I'm barely awake, I have not had my tea yet. So, that wasn't good. And I've got to call them and make sure my parents are awake and tell them to be ready, because it's going to be not only, probably media, but also questions from friends and relatives and all that sort of thing. I had to wake up my brother, David, out in California at four in the morning and say, "you need to get up and write a statement because you know, you're the family spokesperson. And I'm sure you're going to be asked questions." And by eight o'clock, we were already seeing it was on the news on CNN. We were getting pinged on our phones by, you know, reporters who wanted to talk to us. And we had... we barely knew what to think. And all we could think was: "why hasn't...? Why didn't someone tell us this earlier?" It was such a shock.

 

Daren Nair  07:20

Again, I'm so sorry. Now, your parents spoke to Paul on Wednesday, right? What was that conversation like? What was Paul's response?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  07:31

Well, it seemed as if that day lasted a week. And so, you know, my... I told my parents, I said, "if you see it on the news, you can tell Paul about it. If you... if you can't, that buys us a... If you don't see it, that buys us a little time when we can figure out what to say." But of course, it was all over the news. So, by the time they spoke to him, which was about midday, right now, he's able to have pretty regular 15-minute phone calls almost every day with them, which is, you know, quite something... hasn't always happened. So, they sort of were steeling themselves for that. By this time, David had already done massive handload of interviews, you know, it... we were all trying to figure out, you know, what to say, what to even think. We were trying to think of how we should be reacting, and what we should be saying at the same time. It was just very difficult. So, when my parents got on that call, they were expecting to have to give him the bad news. But it was even worse, because he had already found out. He had seen it on the Russian television. And he didn't understand it. The inmates there in the prison... at the prison camp had to translate and tell him that Trevor Reed had been released and, you know, obviously, Paul hadn't. And his first... his first words, were, you know, why was I left behind? He was just, I mean, it just you... you probably could have hit him with a sandbag. I mean, it was that sort of, you know, forceful feeling, you know. What? Why? You know, what? I can't even imagine what he was going through. So, my parents, they said, it just broke their hearts. He, you know, I mean, Paul is 52. He's not a kid. But my mother said that it doesn't matter how old you are, when you hear that kind of pain in your child's voice, it's... it's just so very difficult to take. So, his first reaction was that... was just this overwhelming sadness. And we asked him, could you please, you know, tell... just give us a quick statement we can share? And... and he did, and it was exactly that, you know, just that first gut reaction. And the same with us, so we're... we're reacting to Paul, you know, because our empathy for him, and just not even knowing what that must possibly feel like, trying to speak about it on national television and to various different reporters. I think that, you know, even then, we were starting to try to sort out, you know, what... what are our feelings here? And our feelings were very much that we were... we were blindsided by something that we actually knew could happen. I mean, we've been bundling Paul and Trevor, you know, lots of people have, the government talking about them together, that sort of thing. But we have all known from the time Trevor was arrested that there was a possibility he could come home soon. You know, he was arrested by different people in Russia, went through a different court system, different charges, all of that. So, it's not as if we thought that, you know, first in first out, but, um, just to even have known that in advance, just to have some preparation. And I think, you know, it's the shock of that, and having that play out on national television and for us going, you know, first Wednesday, and then Thursday, and then Friday, through all the various different changes. You know, by... by Thursday, Paul was angry. He, you know, and we were all angry. And then by Friday, he'd calmed down, we don't... you know, we're sort of all going through this process. It's sort of like, you know, the five stages of grief that they talk about with death. I mean, it's the same sort of thing. But I kept thinking the whole time this is so unnecessary, so painful, so disruptive, you know, to all of us, you know, having to stop work, stop what we're doing, process this emotion, my elderly parents having to go through all this, Paul having to go through this. There has got to be a better way to do this.

 

Daren Nair  11:16

Absolutely. But I mean, this is not a day-to-day occurrence, right? We saw that prisoner swap on the tarmac, you know. Like Joey Reed himself said, Trevor's father, it was like a scene from the movies. It's not something you see every day. And absolutely, that there needs to be better communication with the families from the State Department. There needs to be better expectations management. Now, I read many of the articles. I watched the news clips. A lot of them said the reason why they decided to act now is because Trevor's health was deteriorating, which is... which is true. 

 

Elizabeth Whelan  12:01

Absolutely. 

 

Daren Nair  12:02

When I last spoke to Joey and Paula Reed, he had come into contact with someone who had tuberculosis. He was coughing blood. He was still recovering from the effects of COVID-19. And, absolutely, Trevor needed the medical attention he is getting right now. He wasn't getting it when he was in prison in Russia. And, absolutely, he should have been brought home because of this. But what confuses me is there are many Americans held hostage or wrongfully imprisoned overseas with serious health conditions. Even Paul himself had emergency hernia surgery in prison, in Russia. Jose Pereira, who is an American, he's one of the Citgo 6, wrongfully imprisoned in Venezuela since November 2017. Towards the end of last year, he literally had a heart attack in his cell, and he was taken to the hospital. He was revived and, shortly after, he was put back in his cell. Man, he got COVID after that he got the heart attack as well. And, thankfully, he survived. There are many other hostages, or wrongful detainees with similar stories. Why were they not brought home? Why did that not become a priority to bring them home? What are your thoughts?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  13:24

Well, I agree completely. I mean, you know, I'm always afraid that people are going to think it's sour grapes. I am... I mean, absolutely, Trevor had to come home. I mean, anyone watching him walk over the tarmac, you know, if... we all... all knew that he was likely to be sick. I mean, we don't know exactly what the prison conditions were, but they sounded terrible from what Paul has told us. And, you know, I mean, gosh knows, of course, he had to come home. But, as you mentioned, you know, I think that one of the problems is there we were back in, you know, 2019, the whole... the... all of 2019, the whole time that Paul was in prison that first year, he knew he needed hernia surgery. He had needed it before he even left Michigan. And it got to the point where right before his trial, it became an emergency situation, and he had to have, in the middle of the night, be taken to have surgery. We still don't know the details of that. He was never able to tell us about it. In fact, there's an awful lot we don't know about the entire circumstances, even though Paul can talk on the phone. There are lots and lots of subjects we still can't speak about. So, we don't know anything really about that whole process, what he went through, apart from what he was able to release in letters to us. But, you know, Congress knew about that. They... they had a resolution mentioning about how sick he was. It just didn't seem to rise to the level with the administration in 2019 and 2020 to actually do something about it. You know, I'm thrilled if that's what it took to get Trevor home. Well, I'm very sorry it had to be that, but I'm glad he's back. It... it does seem, however, that there are... there's an uneven distribution of... of, you know, how we get people back. For example, Yaroshenko was the trade. Well, we've known Yaroshenko was a potential trade since, what, a few weeks after Paul was arrested. He was mentioned back then as a possible trade for Paul. So, why, if he was going to be let back, why couldn't he have been let back then? And you know, here's the other thing, if Paul had been released, if we had done something to get Paul back early in 2019, Trevor Reed might never have been arrested. I mean, I think about this all the time, going that, you know, there was sort of this cause and effect. "Oh, maybe we can get something, oh, maybe we need an extra pawn to get more," that happened because the situation wasn't dealt with right away. And I often wonder if Trevor Reed would have remained free if somebody had intervened and relea... and got Paul released early on in this process.

 

Daren Nair  15:57

That's actually a very good point. Trevor was taken in August 2019, right?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  16:01

Exactly.

 

Daren Nair  16:04

Another thing I noticed is the Reeds were basically the loudest voice in the room. Don't get me wrong. Their campaigning was phenomenal. And if I was in their position, I would have done exactly the same thing. Their... their campaigning was simply phenomenal. They campaigned. I mean, they held the protests outside the White House with media coverage, demanding that they get a meeting with President Biden. And within a couple of days, they did. Now they, I mean, it wasn't the first time they held a protest outside, close to President Biden. They did it at another event, shortly before that, and they got a phone call. This time they went to the White House, and they campaigned outside with media coverage. And they eventually got to meet the President himself. And Joey Reed said that the meeting with President Biden was probably one of the main reasons Trevor is back home now. So, do families have to be the loudest voice in the room to get their loved ones home?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  17:12

Well, I think that's exactly the question that every single family is asking now. I mean, each one of us, depending on our resources, and time availability, and... and perhaps personality, choose different ways to go about advocating for our loved one. So, of course, all of us tried to get to see the President. I've written what, four letters now. I've made four requests. I've sent a personal email to Ron Klain, his Chief of Staff. I've not heard back. I will be sending in on Monday yet another request to see the President. And one wonders, you know, gosh, I mean, not to be facetious, but do I have to set myself on fire in front of the White House to get someone to pay some attention? Because what I've done instead is put, apart from writing those letters, is... is likewise put time into, you know, trying to speak with Secretary Blinken, which I have. Speak with... with National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, which I have. As of last Wednesday, three resolutions on Paul's behalf have gone through Congress, thanks to Representative Stevens, and also just sort of, you know, getting that groundswell of going from from door to door through Congress and getting their support. I thought I had a good network within the State Department and within the National Security Council. I've done the rounds over at Department of Justice over and over again through, and all of this through two different administrations, so had to meet a whole new round of people twice. And I'm thinking to myself, you know, I don't have every single moment of the day to be able to cover every single base, every single media outlet, likewise, my brother, you know, take part in every potential possible stunt that could be done to get someone's attention. And I don't think I should have to. You know, some people can't even come to Washington DC once. You know, I luckily work for myself, you know. Unfortunately, this puts my personal career in a bind for the last three years to have to, you know, keep... keep doing all of this advocacy, but I'm lucky, I'm fortunate. Some people can't do any of this at all. You know, what are they thinking when they're looking at this going, "wow, you know, Trevor Reed got back because the Reeds were able to do these things and power to them." I mean, power to them and power to Jonathan Franks for... for making that all happen. But it does make me go: "okay, great. I guess I'm going to... instead of trying to be, you know, an ally and a strategic partner with the US government, SPEHA and NSC and everybody else, I guess I've got to just, you know, change my tactics and do something completely different." And that's uncomfortable for me because I'm... that's not the way I think this ought to go. I've been trying to help with the smooth implementation of the Robert Levinson Act, which is supposed to, you know, provide this support. And quite frankly, it's not my job. It's not my job to get Paul out of Russia. Paul is, you know, has been jailed along with all of the other American citizens and permanent residents because of the government's problems with the US government. And so, our family members are just pawns being used in this, and we can't get them out. I can't sort of come up with an amount of money. I can't go over and just unlock a jail and let someone free and do this deal myself. I'm completely 100%... Paul is 100% dependent on the US government doing what they need to do. So, what the message is that we're getting right now is A: trades are possible when we've been told trades aren't possible. And that the only way to do this is to get in and see the President. And so now, 50-plus families are going to be lining up to get in to see the President. And I'm sitting here going, like you said, you know, we've got people who are sick, who've had illness in jail. We've got, you know, Paul's being held by Russia. We see what Russia is like, you know. At what point do all of these people...? I mean, you know, we've got people held in China, people held in Iran who've been there for years and years. At what point do we start to see some parity, where these hostage and detainee cases are treated as importantly as each other? And, if it's going to take presidential decisions, that it... that those decisions are made and not put off. I get the feeling, and I've said this before, that it's almost as if people in the US government deal with these hostages and detainees as if they're just sort of waiting on a shelf to be taken down one at a time. But in the meantime, these people are sitting in prisons, they're hearing the news. They know what's going on. They're having communication back and forth. It's not as if they're not. And they're wondering, "why... why am I not important enough? You know, I'm... I'm an American citizen or permanent resident or whatever happens to be, why am I not important enough, particularly in those cases where we know what it is that the foreign government wants?" Now, I don't know if this is true for... for Paul with Russia? I actually don't know exactly. I mean, we've heard various different names mentioned and, you know, various different irritants that could possibly be used. Oh, you know, one of the things that Whelan family hasn't done is insist that this or that particular option be taken because we're trying to leave the field open for Paul. But now Yaroshenko has gone home. And Yaroshenko, a convicted criminal in the US, has been traded for only one American citizen, an innocent American citizen. And I do question why it wasn't for two innocent American citizens. I... I... this is a question that the US government can be expecting me to ask them.

 

Daren Nair  23:00

Absolutely. So, when I interviewed Joey and Paula Reed, Trevor's parents, they specifically said, "it's our understanding that the Russians want a prisoner swap in return for Trevor's... Trevor's release." And I think they mentioned Paul's release as well. So, I believe the other person was, I don't know his name. Yeah, it was the guy in the movie "Lord of War," played by Nicolas Cage.

 

Elizabeth Whelan  23:28

Probably would be an easier person to trade if Nicolas Cage had not done that movie. Everybody knows who he is. Yeah, that's the other, and I don't necessarily even know that the Reeds and the Whelans have been told the same information about what's on the table and what isn't. I'm not sure that I've been told that specifically that those are just the only two options. And so this is the sort of information that, you know, now I've got to go, "okay. you know, I thought something was going on. And I thought it was going on for Paul and Trevor." And it's a huge surprise to know that it was not going on for both of them, or that only one of them was going to get released first. Now I am hoping, I am certainly hoping that something has been going on behind the scenes for Paul, and you can bet that I am going to be talking to as many people as I possibly can and trying to find out what the heck is going on.

 

Daren Nair  24:24

Absolutely. If I was you I'd be doing the exact same thing. Now, Paul is not the only American still held in Russia. WNBA player, Brittney Griner, is also being held in Russia. Can you talk to us a bit about her case?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  24:39

Yes. And unfortunately, of course, like everyone else, we don't know that much about her case. It's... there's a huge possibility that she has been set up in some way or falsely accused. I'm not going to give the Russians the benefit of the doubt on that one, having seen what Paul and Trevor have gone through. The... the family and supporters are choosing to, you know, deal with the case differently because she is a celebrity. And I completely understand that. I just want to give a shout out though, you know, to her family, to her wife and say, you know, if you ever need someone to talk to about this whole process, you know, the Whelan family is always here for you. And so is the larger community of hostages and detainees, because I remember those early weeks, or days even, when Paul was taken, where we kept figuring, "okay, this is going to end soon. He's got a hearing coming up, surely this whole thing is going to be discounted. Paul will be coming home." And it... it wasn't. Not only did the Russians keep putting the hearings off over and over and over again for 18 months, you know, at that point, we started to realise it was only going to be a sham trial. There was no way Paul wasn't getting convicted, etc, etc. And the process of going through all of that, you know, if I can make anybody's journey any easier, I absolutely want to do so.

 

Daren Nair  26:01

I'm sure Brittany's wife, Cherelle, would appreciate that. Now, on the same day Trevor Reed was being released, the US House of Representatives passed the resolution calling for Paul's release. Can you just talk to us a bit about that?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  26:17

That was part of this crazy day. So, we just find out, right, that, you know, Paul already knows about the exchange. We get his statement, you know, we're putting that out. Everybody's going crazy. All of a sudden on C-SPAN, there is Representative Haley Stevens, who is Paul's representative, along with other members of Congress, including Tim Walberg, who is my parents' representative, and some other members of Congress standing up and speaking out for Paul and getting the resolution on his behalf passed. And so that was extraordinary, because that's something that's been, oh, a year and a half in the making what with one thing and another. It's a very comprehensive resolution that quotes, you know, Ambassador Sullivan and Ambassador Huntsman and all sorts of people, including even the FSB-appointed lawyer, Zherebenkov. So, it was a big deal, a big deal to have that, a real, I guess, point in the history of this entire detention for Paul. Also, when he comes back to see that now three Congressional resolutions were passed on his behalf, it was really important. And also, Congresswoman Stevens, she has been such a champion for Paul. She gave a really wonderful, impassioned speech. And we just can't thank her enough, actually, all of the members of Congress who have been helping us, for everything that they've been doing.

 

Daren Nair  27:45

Now, what must President Biden do to bring Paul Whelan back home?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  27:51

Anything that's necessary. I don't care what he does to bring him home. I just think it's time. I mean, really, isn't it time? You see what the Russians are doing. You know, why do you think Paul is safe sitting in Prison Camp IK-17 in Mordovia? You know, so far, so good. Paul has figured out a way to deal with the bribery and corruption there, you know, with the... with the prison mafia, the murderers and cutthroats that he is in prison with, because it's a high, you know, high security. You know, harsh, harsh regime, I think they call it forced labour camp. You know, he doesn't deserve to be there. He has not committed a crime, but a crime certainly is being committed against him right now. And if it's going to take the President making the decision, then please, President Biden, do what's needed to bring Paul home, it's really important.

 

Daren Nair  28:48

What should the US State Department be doing better?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  28:51

Well, that's what I've been thinking about a lot. You know, part of the problem with this, you know, our initial, you know, fury, and upset and... and despair on Wednesday, you know, in all of that, it's hard to separate all the skeins of this problem. I mean, this has been going on three-something years. We have literally a list of over 100 people to thank, when Paul does get released, and those are just the top level people. That's not even talking about all the staffers and helpers and everybody else we've encountered. There are an extraordinary number of people within the US government, whether it's the Embassy in Moscow, American Citizen Services in DC, you know, the SPEHA group, NSC, all I mean, I can't even name all of the places who are really good, committed people, really sharp people who have been working on this the entire time. Not all of them happy with what just happened on Wednesday, either, I might add. And it does sound like sour grapes when we're like, you know, why wasn't Paul brought home, da da dada da? But I think this is... this is what... I'm the kind of person who wants to present a solution as well as the problem, and I've been trying to think of what that solution is. So, I think what's important, I don't necessarily know the exact answer, but what's important is for people within the hostage enterprise, who work with these hostage in detainee issues, to remember that for the family, this is the first time that we have gone through this. You know, you guys may have made numerous calls to families, numerous... dealt with numerous hostages and detainees coming home, understand the issues and their reactions, you know, have your own way of dealing with this, of... of shielding the emotion. But we were totally unprepared. We have never, ever even had to think about something like... like that scenario. And what were we going to do? We didn't have a statement ready or any of those things, you know, we got this onslaught of media. And we just had to do it, we just had to dive in there and do it. Because not only did we have the problem of our emotions playing out in the public sphere, but we also had to take advantage of every opportunity for Paul, because he was still... he's still there. He's still there in Russia; he's still in prison. And it's... I can't even describe, by the time we got to Friday night, it felt like a month had passed in just three days. There has to be a way, even if the government does not want to share the details of negotiations with us, to at least say, look, here's the possibility, you know, this... these... this is what might happen. So, you need to be ready for this, this and this to go on. Because even though each case is different, each country is different, the solution is different, there are some things that happen repeatedly. And one of them is sometimes someone comes home, and sometimes others are left behind. And so, we're talking Venezuela, Iran, China, people have been left behind. We're not the first person to go through it. But this, for the Whelan family, was the first time, and I think that's where... I think that's where I would start to solve the problem is better preparation for families.

 

Daren Nair  32:09

Absolutely. When Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was brought home from Iran, she was freed in March, British-American citizen, Morad Tahbaz, was left behind and their family were just as upset. In terms of the Citgo 6 in Venezuela, Gustavo Cardenas was released, I believe, also in March. The... his other five colleagues were left behind. But they were all unanimously ecstatic for Gustavo, because they, at this point, they were like family. They've been held for over four years. But yes, this is happening too often. Some people are coming home and others are getting left behind. So, absolutely, this... I mean, there needs to be better communication. There needs to be better support for the families. Now...

 

Elizabeth Whelan  33:02

I will say also that... I'm sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to make sure that everyone understood that Paul is extremely happy Trevor has gone home. I mean, in his statement, even on Wednesday, he made sure he was really clear to say that they have a great deal of fellow feeling that developed over time. We're able to somehow get messages, you know, either via us... more than once a message would come from me, sorry, from Paul to me to give to Trevor's parents to give to Trevor and back and forth like that. So, I mean, over the time, they developed a good deal of fellow feeling, and Paul was very, you know, pleased that at least somebody was going home. But, you know, doesn't this really all speak to this bigger problem of hostage diplomacy? You know, why are... why are we cherry picking? And I don't mean that in a mean way, but we are picking, you know, this is an easier case than that to solve. So, let's just go ahead and do this one. That's all fabulous. But it doesn't solve the problem of hostage diplomacy. So, what we are in is a situation that no administration, no government has been able to solve. And in fact, let me share with you a little interesting tidbit that I discovered the other day. So, the Babylonian ruler, Hammurabi, back in the fourth century, sorry, fourth millennium BC, there's a letter that he wrote to one of his people in... in the city... of the town of Lhasa. Actually, I can't remember exactly how he phrased it, but he was saying, you know, you can go ahead and pay this amount of silver so that we can get so and so released. And it was a large amount for that day, meaning that this was a person of some import, perhaps somebody who was connected to the court or something like that. But this amount had to be paid in order for him to get this guy back. So, you know, we've been paying people... human beings have been taking each other hostage and paying ransom of some sort or another, probably from the dawn of time, you know, Hammurabi's case is one of the first ones that is actually recorded. But, you know, if we... if we've been doing it for 6,000 years, surely we can get our people out of these other countries and quit acting as if it's the very first time anyone's asked the government to do it. And I'm sure the other families probably feel exactly the same way about this.

 

Daren Nair  35:34

So, I understand the Richardson Center was involved in negotiating Trevor and Paul's release. So, according to media reports, they travelled to Russia before the war started. Were you aware of what the Richardson Center were doing? And I appreciate a lot of this may be confidential. And even if you do know about it, you won't be able to share. But do you have any thoughts about the Richardson Center? And would you be able to share them with us?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  36:05

Well, we had asked for the Richardson Center's help back in 2019, when we couldn't get any traction with the US government. Nobody seemed to want to actually, you know, take on the case of getting Paul home. I did know that they went to Moscow. The details and exactly what happened thereafter, obviously, I don't know. There's quite a lot I don't know that's happened in the last four months. I thought I was being clued in, and I don't really feel now that I was being clued in, which leaves me with some very uncomfortable residual feelings, I hope, that can be repaired over the, you know, weeks and months ahead. But we're always thankful if it takes a third party interlocutor to make something happen, you know, that's great. What I am always afraid of is that the efforts of a third party might somehow, in the effort to bring one person home, you know, actually damage the ability to get another person home. But at the same time, at the end of the day, if it's going to have to be the President that makes the call on how that trade works, there is then always that opportunity to enlarge a negotiation. But as I'm always told, you know, the other side gets a say. So, we don't know what Russia did and did not agree to. I don't know what Russia did and didn't agree to. I don't know anything at all about where we are in terms of Paul's release. All I can hope is that the fact that Trevor did come home will spur people on to get Paul out of there as quickly as possible, and also work out what to do about Brittney Griner. Because one thing that we all know, we've spoken about this before the longer these scenarios go on, the harder it becomes to get Americans home. And so, this sort of brings up that... that whole question of, you know, do you make a fuss or do you not? And I can't answer that for any other family. You know, we were thrust in the... in the situation of being public from the start. We had really no choice but to do so. But what I am concerned about is that she ends up getting stuck there, gets put on that conveyor belt of quote unquote, you know, Russian justice, which... which it absolutely isn't, and that... that makes it more difficult for her to get out. So, you know, and likewise, you know, Paul, he's been there over, you know, what, three and a quarter years now? Is he expected...? Does the US government expect that he's going to have to serve out the sentence? You know, are we being shielded from a hard truth, that they're... they don't have the ability to get him out? We don't know the answers to that. And I'm hoping that we get told. I think one of the... so, we've had this wonderful, I know, I'm going off on a tangent here. But we've had this wonderful bit of legislation come along, the Robert Levinson Act, and I'm just such a fan of it. But I think... and it's created family engagement and the ability to have meetings and this, that and the other. But what it doesn't do, it doesn't mandate the return of American citizens and permanent residents. It doesn't say they must be brought home as soon as possible. What it does instead is it's created the structure by which support can happen and information can flow in this, that and the other, but it doesn't... it doesn't really say, "and do it soon. Do it quickly. Do it as quickly as you possibly can." And I think there is an expectation in families that it is going to be done as quickly as it possibly can. It... it's all very difficult, you know, to... to unwind. I think, you know, once you're in the middle of this process, trying to figure out whether you're getting information or not, how much of it is there? Are you just being patted on the head? Is somebody telling you that hard truth? You know, It's difficult. I mean, if you take the Venn diagram of the US government and the family, there is only the tiniest, tiniest bit of overlap. It's really pretty small.

 

Daren Nair  40:11

So, I interviewed Diane Foley, perhaps a month or two ago, and we discussed the Levinson Act. And she mentioned that there is no post-captivity funding, currently in the Levinson Act. And in, I think the example she gave me was one poor person had to pay for their flight home. So, you are classified either as a hostage or a wrongful detainee. If you are a hostage, there is post-captivity funding. The US government will pay for your flight home. If you were classified as wrongfully detained like Trevor, like Paul, there isn't such post-captivity funding. What are your thoughts on that?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  40:58

Well, it's... it's even worse than that. And I think Diane Foley spoke to this, that actually, the whole SPEHA department is actually, I mean, their whole existence is an unfunded federal mandate, you know, there really isn't, there's... they don't have a real proper budget, if I... if I'm not mistaken. So, it's not just the post, you know, release support part, it's also paying all the salaries of the people that they need right now, to do the job. It's also... what other things? Oh, for example, if Paul was a hostage, quote, unquote, there would be funds available to help the family go down to DC and... and meet with officials and get the information that they need to. And for us, you know, for wrongful detainee families, there's none of that. We pay our own way. Luckily, you know, organisations like Hostage US and such are trying to help out, but, you know, there are 50-plus families. That's a lot of money to be able to do that. I mean, my first year, you know, advocating for Paul, I went down to DC thirteen times. I'm about to go down again, probably twice this month, you know, that, you know, there's... there's an enormous amount of cost there, and families are bearing all of it. People are giving up their retirement, you know, some people are taking on other jobs, some people are just spending everything that they have. So, that's a huge, huge burden right there. And then there are other... other factors like that, you know, where money doesn't come. Now, I will say the SPEHA people are really dedicated to... to finding money. You know, they will go to the Department of Defense, or they will go to whomever and say, you know, "can you spare up some of that budget that you use for, you know, perhaps not the same budget, but in... in the same way that you use it for hostages? You know, can you do that here?" But it means that they're constantly going with a cap in hand, and they don't know that the funding is going to come. And so, here's... this leads me to another part of the problem, that so much to do with solving hostage diplomacy happens at the political level. So, you've got all these, you know, career and political... politically appointed people working in host... in the hostage environment, trying to help everyone out. Now, say another political party comes into power that doesn't feel it's so important to support all of these people, you know, in the way that... that we have the support happening now. What goes on then? And that's why Diane mentioned, I think, you know, or what I'm referring to is Robert Levinson, 2.0, where we go back to that piece of legislation, and Congress goes back and says, "okay, let's add in that funding component, you know, let's tighten up some things that aren't working in terms of implementation, so that we can make sure that the government can respond to hostage diplomacy and hostage-taking, regardless of political party, regardless of who happens to be in charge." And we're not... we're not there yet. You know, we're just fortunate that we have had a couple of presidents in a row who do care about Americans being held overseas, you know, have been trying to bring them home. But it's a piecemeal effort, as far as I can see, as a person outside, a family member trying to deal with this.

 

Daren Nair  44:15

What can journalists and the news media do to help?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  44:19

Well, first, let me say thank you very much. Thank you very much for covering not only Trevor's homecoming, and I hope he gets even more press, especially when he gets back on his feet, because I'm sure he's got a story to tell. But also, you know, your empathy for Paul's situation this past week. You know, Paul's a strong fellow, he's coming round, you know, to a certain extent we're where we were two weeks ago, you know. Unfortunately, nothing has changed but he's... he's okay. You know, he is... he is well, he is handling things. Disappointed for sure. But you know, you made things better, all of you journalists and media people. because he has the comfort back in Russia, even though he can't see any of it on the Russian television, especially not now. He has the comfort of knowing that, you know, all the major stations, the top level papers, you know, his local radio and television stations, all of that, that all of you cared and covered and put repeated stories out there. Thank you so much. I hope you keep up your interest in his situation. In the weeks ahead, you know, let's do all we can together to keep the spotlight on this situation and help get Paul Whelan home.

 

Daren Nair  45:34

Finally, what can the public do to help?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  45:40

You know, it's hard to say in general. I mean, obviously, you know, calling your Congressman, all of that sort of thing is always helpful. You know, anything you can do to amplify any of our messages and tweets on social media or, you know, anything the Congressman says about Paul Whelan is always helpful. But I think it's most to have some understanding, you know. This last week, we had people commenting saying, "oh, you're ungrateful," you know... you know, "didn't you... did you want Trevor left behind? Because he was sick, you know;" "you should come home last," you know, that very unhelpful kind of trolling. And, you know, some people just do it because they're nasty people. And, but some people do it, because they really think that we have a lack of gratitude, which we don't. We don't have a lack of gratitude at all. We're people who never ever wanted to be in the spotlight. Paul did not want to be arrested and held for three plus years in a prison. We were just going about our lives. The Russians came in and screwed everything up. You know, if you want to direct your ire at someone, direct it at Russia. Gosh knows they deserve it. And, you know, and let your members of Congress know, your representatives and senators that you do care about Paul Whelan and you want to see him come home. Because it'll take a group effort. It really will. And, you know, the public, it's always wonderful to have your... your support. We all need it. Not just for Paul Whelan and the Whelan family, but all of the people whose loved ones have been taken for no fault of their own through hostage diplomacy.

 

Daren Nair  47:15

Elizabeth, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

 

Elizabeth Whelan  47:20

No, just, you know, thank you, Daren, and... and thank you to all the other families of hostages and detainees who have reached out to me this past week. And, actually, through the course of this whole thing, you know, our lives become woven together in an odd way. I remember the very first phone call I had with Veronica Vadell, you know, three years ago. I was sitting in a parking lot, you know, waiting to go and get some fast food or something. And we were having this conversation. It was my first real conversation with somebody who was in the situation that I was, you know, as we spoke. I had talked already to a few people who had, you know, their loved ones had already come home, and they'd given me some input. But Veronica and I were both there in it together. And that was my first clue that there was a community out there, that we could help each other, that we could work together. We are, unfortunately, also in competition with each other for the same resources. But I think that, you know, we do rise above that. And... and we pulled together, because we want all of these folks home. And thank you, Daren, thank you for all you're doing to help make that happen.

 

Daren Nair  48:27

You're very welcome, Elizabeth. And like you said, there is a community of hostage and wrongful detainee families out there and people who work with them like myself. You're not alone. We're always here to help. And after this... shortly after this interview, you will hear messages from many of these families, including Veronica herself. Elizabeth, as long as it takes, we'll be right here campaigning with you to bring Paul back home. Thank you for taking time to speak to us.

 

Elizabeth Whelan  48:58

Thank you so much. Hashtag #FreePaulWhelan.

 

Daren Nair  49:04

This is the 35th episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. I've interviewed the families of multiple Americans held hostage or wrongfully imprisoned overseas. You can listen to all these episodes on podhostagediplomacy.com or wherever you get your podcasts. On the day of Trevor's release. I got in contact with these families and asked if they would share their thoughts on his release and what the US government needs to do to bring their loved ones home. Here are some of these messages. Majd Kamalaz is an American psychotherapist and a humanitarian who has been held hostage in Syria since February 2017. He was apparently detained at a Syrian government checkpoint. More than four years later, Majd's family have not spoken to him, heard from him or seen him since he was taken. This is his daughter, Maryam Kamalmaz.

 

Maryam Kamalmaz  49:59

On behalf of the Kamalmaz family, I'd like to say congratulations to Trevor Reed and his family. Welcome home, Trevor Reed. We're super excited you're back home with your family. And we're praying for all those that were left behind. We pray that they'll make it back home safely to their families as soon as possible. It is, although, disappointing that President Biden did not take an interest in this case until things between Russia and Ukraine became extremely heated. And we don't know what it will take for President Biden to take interest in Syria's cases. Our father is an unacknowledged detainee. We don't know anything about him. It's been over five years now. And President Biden does not seem to show any interest in his case. Had it probably not been for what's happening between Russia and Ukraine, we don't know if Trevor would have made it out at this time as well. Luckily, and very thankfully, that he is back home with his family. But for us to have my father back, and to get the President's attention is way more difficult than we had thought.

 

Daren Nair  51:01

Tomeu Vadell from Lake Charles, Louisiana. Here's his daughter, Veronica Vadell Weggeman.

 

Veronica Vadell Weggeman  51:09

Hey, Daren, this is Veronica Vadell Weggeman, daughter of Tomeu Vadell, American-Venezuelan who has been unjustly detained in Venezuela for over 1,621 days. Today, we're starting year five without him. And it's really, really disheartening that he's not home yet. I want to thank you for giving us the space to all these different families who are struggling with having a loved one detained overseas. You know, I want to comment and say that, you know, congratulate the US government for bringing two Americans back from Venezuela last month. And I want to, you know, congratulate them on the latest with Trevor Reed, really happy for his family. He needed to come home. They needed to be reunited, no doubt about it. However, you know, it's always mixed feelings when another one comes home and yours are continued left behind. My dad continues to be strong mentally, spiritually and physically. But, you know, the body, like we always say, has physical limitations. And I just don't understand, for example, part of our frustration is... is that we... every solution that we come up with, we're always told no, by different members of the US government. And we've been very patient. And we've been very diplomatic. And I believe we've been very nice in our meetings that have been public or made private with certain people and entities. And we're just really tired of being told now that "swaps are off the table that no, we can't do this. No, we can't do that." But we're able to do that with Russia. To me, that's really disheartening. And I don't understand how Trevor's case is different from anyone else's case, Paul Whelan's, my father's, Majd's, etc, you know. I don't... I just don't understand why... how those decisions are made. And I just continue to plea and beg our President to just stand up and do what's right and bring these Americans home. I know that he cares, I've been told, and I've heard the messages that he's given about the criticism that he's received. And, frankly, I'm very proud of him for him not caring about the criticism, because it is important for him, for Americans to come home. What I don't understand is why it's taking so long. Just like Trevor Reed, my father also has extreme, you know, ailments. He's the eldest out of the group in Venezuela, sixty... he is going to be 63. He has cardiovascular issues; he has some other problems. And obviously, there... I would like to keep them personal, private, but he also has latent tuberculosis. So, you know, in any moment, that can be activated. I don't understand why we have to wait, for example, for these Americans to get so sick overseas, to then decide to bring them home, to that's when we're going to take action. Because, obviously, it's... and I hate to say it so frankly, but it's almost like a covering their ass type of thing. That's what we do. We're gonna... we're going to cover our ass and we gonna bring them home, because we don't want a problem. But in reality, the more they wait, yeah, the longer this is going to be a liability. And I just don't understand why we have to...  we're on year five of a solution that can be solved so easily and quickly. That's pretty much my frustration as far as our case. You know, it's... it's really disheartening and I know that we have a lot of people that are working on our side. I'm very grateful for Ambassador Roger Carstens for working with us and for the SPEHA team. Their job goes, you know, unthanked for, and very proud of the team that has been created over there. Because in these past four years, we have seen SPEHA grow into what they are now. And that's great, but I do believe that they need more support in bringing these... these people home. So... I'm very thankful for you, Daren, for having this place, this safe... safe place for us to, as family members, to comment on this. It's really hard for the families left behind, and, frankly, for just the people themselves, you know, it creates a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty and unknown as to when will my time come? When will that when will it be our chance? And it's just... it's just really, really nerve wracking times, but also very hopeful, because you see that things can be done. And seeing that the swap happened with Trevor, that's fantastic. And I'm so happy, but I don't understand what those things that can be so quickly done, are not being done for others cases. So with that, I leave you with that. And I really want to, you know, again, pretty much beg the US government to set aside politics, because these are human lives that we're talking about. These are over 50-something family members that are struggling, that are sad, that are anxious, they can't sleep, that just can... can't continue their lives because we're waiting on our family members to come home. Please think about us. You know, we are... it's not just another number. It's not just another person. It's a family member. It's a wife, children, grandparents, cousins, kids, etc, that are waiting for this family member to come home. Every day is too much. And it's another day that does not need to pass by. I... I appreciate everything that's going... that's going for us and that people are doing for all of us. But we need more action, and we need our family members home now. Thank you so much.

 

Daren Nair  57:20

Kai Li, from New York, has been wrongfully imprisoned in China since September 2016. Here's his son, Harrison Li.

 

Harrison Li  57:30

On the one hand, Trevor Reed's release is an encouraging sign that the administration takes the issue of wrongful detention of Americans overseas seriously and is willing to act to resolve those cases. But my father, Kai Li, is a US citizen wrongfully detained in China for over 2,000 days now. And he's now being forced to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a tiny cell with 11 other prisoners and has no ability to make any phone calls or receive any consular visits. Nobody has heard from him since March. We have no way of being assured of his health and well being. And we urge President Biden not to forget about my father, and to jumpstart the necessary coordinated interagency efforts to bring my father, along with all the Americans unjustly detained in China, back home to the US as soon as possible. 

 

Daren Nair  58:30

Paul Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US permanent resident, is a recipient of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been credited with saving 1,200 lives during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Paul's acts of extraordinary courage inspired the Hollywood movie, "Hotel Rwanda." Paul left Rwanda in 1996, fearing for his safety, and later became increasingly critical of the Rwandan government's human rights violations. He then founded an opposition political party called the Party of Democracy in Rwanda, and in 2018, co-founded the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, a coalition of opposition groups. In August 2020, Paul Rusesabagina was kidnapped in Dubai and taken to Rwanda, where he is detained to this day. Here's a message from his daughter, Carine Kanimba.

 

Carine Kanimba  59:30

Our family was so pleased to see that Trevor Reed was finally reunited with his family. We can only imagine the joy that his mom and dad feel being able to see him, being able to get near him and squeeze him. We are overjoyed for them. And we also are happy to see that the US government can, in fact, put action behind the words and... and do all the necessary things to bring the families of hostages and wrongful detainees back home. Our father, Paul Rusesabagina, has now been detained for over 600 days in Rwanda. The United Nation also called for... his detention arbitrary and called for his immediate release. And... and we know that many people around the world are praying and working hard to try to get him home. So, we hope that the pressure will continue, and that Paul Kagame will let our father go. But we know that the US government can do it now, and we will continue to... to work and do all the possible things that we can do to make sure that this... that our father comes home and that all other wrongful detainees and hostages are allowed to come home.

 

Daren Nair  1:00:46

Jamshid Sharmahd is a German citizen and US resident. He and his family have lived in California for the last 17 years. In July 2020, Jamshid was kidnapped in Dubai by agents of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and taken to Iran, where he is still being held today. Here's a message from his daughter, Gazelle Sharmahd.

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  1:01:11

Anytime we hear about the release of a hostage back home, it's so exciting. I mean, just this week, we were talking to all the other hostage families... we have our little support system with mostly the European hostages. And it was all about Trevor Reed this... this week, that he's free and seeing how he... he got released and the statements of his family. I mean, it's all so so, so exciting for us, because it feels like it's your family. Even though you don't know these other hostages, you don't know them personally, you read about their stories, and some of them we talk to on a regular basis, but it feels the same. Because all of the stories are pretty much the same hostage diplomacy, it's always the same. Some totalitarian regime captures a foreign or dual national, and starts spreading propaganda and makes up charges and places the hostages into an unbearable situation, be it through torture or isolation or solitary confinement, taking away their lawyers, taking away their phone calls and all of that stuff. So... so... so, that creates the same situation for all the families, because the families are also struggling. They're also like hostages during their time, this time. For years or months, we have to fight with the anxiety and the worry about our loved one. And we... we have to fight two governments, actually, like one is the government of the captors, that are... that are taking your loved one and breaking all their human rights, of course, and the other government is the one back home. In my dad's case, it's three governments. It's... it's the Islamic regime, of course, of Iran, that kidnapped my dad. Then it's the German government, because we're German citizens. too, and then also the US government where we've lived for decades now. And I'm a US citizen, too. So... so, you're left with fighting all of these governments on your own. And I mean, at least two of these governments we freely elected, and their job is to protect their citizens. And you think they would... they would just do it and you don't have to do anything for it. But that's that's, unfortunately not the case. You have to fight. And you have to fight long and hard. And you have to fight for media attention, for politicians to even care about you, for human rights organisations to support you, to support your loved one, to support the hostage. You, everyday, you have to dance and perform and rattle on all these cages all day long, for months and years to get any support until someone decides: "okay, it's your lucky day." And your father, or your brother, or your daughter, or your wife will be saved through this government, through the mercy of these governments. It's... it's nerve racking. It's not fair. And you see, all of the hostage families, all of the hostage cases have this in common. It doesn't matter which nationality they are. It doesn't matter what their backstory is. It doesn't matter if it's in China, or in Russia, or Venezuela or in Iran. Their life, their dignity, their freedom was taken away and they were made a pawn in a political game between world leaders. And meanwhile, our families are suffering every single day with the hostages. My dad, Jamshid Sharmahd, he has been kidnapped by the Iranian intelligence in July 2020. He was robbed of all his rights for 20 months now, 636 days, today, of solitary confinement in a tiny cell. And can you imagine what does that do to you psychologically, especially if you're a 67-year-old man? I can't imagine that. But I can tell you what it did physically to him, because in his last phone call, which he was allowed, after seven months of no contact. I mean, with me, he's not allowed to have any phone calls anymore, for over a year, but he was allowed a small phone call to my mom, to his wife. And the first thing that he said, is that he lost all his teeth. We can only guess why... if it was from torture, if they knocked his teeth out, if they fell out, because there is the lack of nutrients or sunlight. He lost 40 pounds of weight. He has trouble walking now, because he's in this tiny room all day, and he cannot walk there. He has high blood pressure, now all of a sudden. His blood sugar is so high that he needs medication now, to keep it in check. He's short of breath all the time. They're not giving him his medication on time. And it's Parkinson's medication, which is physical torture, because he goes into severe body aches and muscle cramps all over his body, especially his legs when he doesn't get his medication on time. And that is mental torture, that is physical torture, which breaks you. They're now getting him to sign false documents. That's what he was able to tell my mom. Everyday, they're coming in... inside his cell, and, they're giving him documents to sign. I mean, after almost two years of constant torture and pressure, it doesn't matter that you're innocent. All you wish for is for this to be over. All you wish was to even to talk to somebody, even if it is your interrogators, even if it is against you, even if it can bring about your death sentence, which is the case for my dad. They dragged him through three sham processes with a huge amount of state propaganda. And they denied him a lawyer. We're still not able to get him a lawyer on the case, which is not only against international law and human rights, it's also against the law in Iran. And it's... it's that kind of pressure that you see in all the hostage cases. I mean, you can read Trevor's case, you can read all of the other cases in Iran and all of the countries and they're all the same. Some more, some less. I think in my dad's case, it's very, very traumatising, very, very extreme what they're doing to him. But... but nevertheless, it's always the same pattern I see in the hostage families. They're fighting and they're campaigning. And I know they're feeling exactly the same pressure. They're feeling the same fears. They're crying the same tears, and they have the same pain in their heart. So, when we see the pictures of Trevor being back and the family, every time we see it, it's... it's... it's so exciting. It's a big win for hostages. It's huge. I mean, of course, it's also a slap in the face by reality, because you, again, were left behind. Again, your loved one was for some reason forgotten, especially if it's the same government. My dad, we live in California, just like Trevor, it's... it's the same government. It's... it's... it could have been the same scenario, but it's not. So, of course, you realise that in that moment, as well. But the overwhelming feeling is hope, and inspiration. Because you see what they did. It's... it's mostly people who speak up, it's mostly people who complain, it's mostly people who are loud. And that... that gives you the comfort of knowing that is the right thing that we're doing, this... this fight that we're doing everyday. It's right, because see, they did it. It was impossible. And now it's possible, because they did it. So, maybe one day, my voice will be so loud for my dad, that the US Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs and... and President Biden, and our Congressmen, and the politicians in California and the media in the US and Germany, that... that they will finally want to free Jimmy and bring my dad home. I can only tell you that we will not rest until the day that it's going to be all over the news that Jimmy Sharmahd is free. But I really hope that these governments will follow through, especially the Biden Administration and Germany. We've seen it now in Britain; we've seen it in Australia; we've seen it now in the Biden Administration. This is the right path. This is what we as citizens, we as... as hostage families, need from you to protect our citizens to bring them back home. And we will not stop until this happens for all of them.

 

Daren Nair  1:10:14

As I said at the beginning, we are truly grateful to the US government and everyone else involved in bringing Trevor Reed home. We will keep working with the families of American hostages and wrongful detainees to share their stories until they are all freed and come back home like Trevor. Until that day comes, our work continues. Thank you for listening to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We're not just a podcast, we're a community. If you're on Twitter, and would like to post a message of solidarity to the families or have any questions for us, please tweet it using the hashtag #PodHostageDiplomacy and we will get back to you. If you like what we're trying to do, please do consider supporting the show financially. You can do this using the support the show link in the description of this podcast episode. We're grateful for any contributions, no matter how small. Thanks again for listening. And we'll be back next week. Take care.

Intro
Trevor Reed’s release
What last Wednesday was like for the Whelan family
Paul Whelan’s response to Trevor’s release
Deteriorating health reason for freeing Trevor
Do families have to be the loudest voice in the room?
Potential prisoner swap for Paul Whelan
Brittney Griner
House resolution passed calling for Paul’s release
What must President Biden do to bring Paul Whelan home?
What should the US State Department be doing better?
Richardson Center
Lack of funding in Levinson Act
What can journalists do to help?
What can the public do to help?
Thank you to the hostage community for reaching out to Elizabeth
Messages from families of other American hostages/wrongful detainees