Michael White is an American citizen from Southern California. Michael served in the US Navy for 15 years and is one of 5 siblings, all of whom have served in the US Armed Forces. In 2012, Michael met his fiancé-to-be, Samaneh Abbasi on a Yahoo chatroom. He then travelled to Iran a total of three times to visit her. During Michael’s third trip to Iran in 2018, he was arrested by the Iranian authorities on false charges and wrongfully imprisoned for 683 days. In June 2020, Michael was released in a prisoner swap deal between the US and Iran.
On this week’s episode, we have the honour of speaking to Michael himself. He walks us through his arrest, being tortured in prison, being forced to write a false confession, being put through a sham trial and being sentenced to 15 years in prison on false charges, getting COVID19 in prison as a cancer survivor who was still recovering from the effects of his chemotherapy before visiting Iran, assistance from the Swiss Embassy, being granted medical furlough and eventually being released in a prisoner swap deal. Michael also talks about his depression and difficulty reintegrating into society after coming back to the United States which led him to think about taking his own life.
Michael is now suing the Iranian authorities for $1 Billion US Dollars to get compensation for what they did to him. We also discuss what the US government, news media and the public can do to prevent Iran from doing this again.
If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube.
For more information on Michael White, please check out the following:
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Michael White, American, US Navy veteran and former hostage in Iran | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Daren Nair, Michael White
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. Michael White is an American citizen from Southern California. Michael served in the US Navy for 15 years. Michael is one of five siblings, all of whom have served in the US armed forces. In fact, Michael is the only sibling who has retired from the US military. After leaving the Navy, he gained his bachelor's degree in Political Science. In 2012, Michael met his fiancee-to-be, Samaneh Abbasi, on a Yahoo chat room. He then travelled to Iran a total of three times. During Michael's third trip to Iran in 2018, he was arrested by the Iranian authorities on false charges and wrongfully imprisoned for 683 days. In June 2020, Michael was released in a prisoner swap deal between the US and Iran. Iran has a long history of arresting innocent foreign and dual nationals on false charges, putting them through sham trials and sentencing them to years in prison in order to extract concessions from their home country, in this case, the United States. This is state sponsored hostage-taking, also known as hostage diplomacy. Today, we have the honour of speaking to Michael White himself. Michael, we're so sorry for what happened to you. And we're glad that you're now back home. Thank you for joining us.
Michael White 02:17
You bet. It should be interesting to be here today. I'm happy to be able to get my perspective out.
Daren Nair 02:25
Can you please walk us through what happened to you?
Michael White 02:28
Depends on when you say what happened? Or what time frame are we talking about, so that I have clarity on this?
Daren Nair 02:34
You visited Iran in 2018. You'd been there twice before. Can you talk to us from the point that you were arrested?
Michael White 02:43
Yes. Then just a little backstory. The third time I went to Iran, Samaneh had asked me to come back there to work on our relationship. We're trying to get married before, but issues with paperwork, with the Iranian government's marriage requirements kind of stumped us, got in our way. And so we're out of contact for a while. And she got back in contact with me and asked me to come to Iran, work on our relationship, give me a chance to prove myself to her--things of that nature. And so, that was the whole purpose, to go to Iran, meet with her, talk with her about our relationship, work on it. And then meet her family and hopefully go to Turkey afterwards, get married. She wanted to go to the US to be able to study for her PhD and live, basically. And that was the whole premise of it. And I was also there to meet a few other friends, to work on business ideas and set the stage to perhaps live and work in Iran in future. That was the whole goal, the whole thing. And so, I went there in July. I think I arrived there July 11th, 2018. The meeting was on a Thursday. And that was the whole thing, purpose of that whole week. We're supposed to be meeting to work on all these things, talk about different things, that sort of thing. And unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. I mean, we did meet up a few times. But she was a lot more distanced... distant from me than she was previously. She was sort of like, sort of like, keeping a space between us and wasn't quite the same person she was before it. Yeah, I thought maybe it was just because we've been away for a while and maybe she was upset at me or something like that. I wasn't sure. And then she went into... during the times that we were able to meet up, she went into some of the problems that were going on with her family in the past, that sort of thing, and everything, and then, about halfway into my stay there, you know, I was supposed to only be there for 10 days. I was hoping we'd get things done and just go from there to Turkey. But maybe about five six days into it, she messaged me one morning, tells me she's not able to come see me anymore,. and I should get back to my country and stuff. But problem was is, I had already scheduled a flight for Sunday, July 22nd, and I couldn't really readjust that. And I'm not familiar with Mashhad, which is where I went, Mashhad, Iran, and she had my money, too. When I went to Iran, I'd probably like $4,000. And I trust her. So, I said, "do you want to hold on to my money to take care of things?" Because she knows what's going on there. I don't. I mean, yeah, I'd been there before, but only with her and stuff like, then, you know. In case people don't know it, an American citizen goes to Iran, you have to have a sort of a chaperone, tour guide, chaperone, or something like that, because they don't allow you just to go there and wander around on your own and stuff. I mean, there are security reasons, not so much because it's dangerous for you. The Iranian government wants to make sure you're not doing stuff that they consider suspicious and stuff like that. And, as you're gonna find out, it really didn't matter that I had a tour guide with me, during that time I was there going around whatever I was wanting, you know, chaperone didn't seem to matter to them about that. They were intent on apprehending me one way or another, and stuff. But Samaneh told me this stuff. And I was just really, really... I don't know the word I want to use to express my feelings. But let's just say disappointed, surprised. You know, sort of one of those cases where your heart just drops out on you. It's like, I've been doing everything she's asking me to do, and all of a sudden she tells me this, and I'm stuck at this hotel, and I really have no place to go. And she's the only reason I'm there and stuff. So, the next few days, I'm trying to persuade her to come see me say, "look, you asked me to come here, you got my money, I can't go anywhere else. You know, and I really don't want to do anything. I only came there to do stuff with you." I checked every day, and then she... she just sometimes, she wouldn't answer. Sometimes she'd repeat the same things, you know. And finally, the Friday before I was supposed to leave, she asked... she agreed to meet with me. And she said she'd meet me on that, you know, the next day or so, you know. She did put a couple of conditions. She wanted to be bring, you know, I had a bag with me, you know, with my... some documents and my cell phone. So, she wanted me to bring them so she could look at them. I was like, "Yeah, no problem. You could've just done that while we were together, wasn't a problem" But, anyway so, she tells me on that Friday before I'm supposed to leave, "hey, I'll come and meet you and I'll let you know when." And so, I'm really happy again, because you know, I really love her. I put my heart and soul into her, that sort of thing. And Sunday, July 22nd, comes rolling around and I'm all excited to meet her that morning. And I don't know how, I don't know if we're gonna meet at the hotel or what. So, I dress up really nice that morning and to meet her and I just like want to just go talk to her and kind of figure out how we're going to move forward and stuff. And then she gives me a message in the morning on WhatsApp and says that Ehsan, who is my tour guide there, is going to come meet me at the hotel, pick me up and take me over to the tour agency to make final payments. She said she'll meet me over there. And she tells me it's a good chance because she's afraid that her father, who is kind of upset at her about things, is going to follow her and she says "if he sees me just go on somewhere other than the hotel, he probably won't follow me. So good place to meet first." "Okay, whatever you want." And then my tour guide shows up at the hotel, and I asked him if Samaneh called him and asked him to come pick me up he said, "no, the tour agency manager did," and stuff, and I asked, just to kind of verify things, and see, you know, if maybe Samaneh and Ehsan were like, you know, in some kind of plot or whatever, you know. So, it's just a question to see, but he said, no, he hadn't talked to her and stuff, and it's like, "okay," and then so, he goes to do something, and then we both get, you know, go out to the parking lot, get in the car to take off from the hotel to go to this tour agency where I'm supposed to meet Samaneh. And so, we start driving down the road and then about maybe a short time later, Ehsan tells me he's real thirsty, he needs to stop somewhere to get something to drink, he says, "I'm really salty that morning or like." "Okay, whatever." So, we pulled into some... by some storefront somewhere. He gets out, takes off somewhere. I'm just sitting back on my phones trying to... trying to communicate with Samaneh, make sure everything's okay. He comes back a few minutes later. We take off and then we come up to one of those roundabouts where you have to, you know, drive around to go to the next road. And, as we're driving around, the next thing you know, some car just cuts right in front of us, right. And... and Ehsan starts to try to drive around it. But it cuts in front of us again and somebody rolls down the front passenger-side window and some man's waving his arm at us to pull over for some reason. Regular car, nothing unusual about it. And I asked Ehsan, "what do these guys want? What do you think these guys want?" And he says, "I don't know, I'm gonna pull over and find out." In my mind, I'm thinking at first, well, maybe there's something wrong with the car. And they saw, and they're just letting us know, although I didn't feel like there's anything wrong with the car, but you never know, you know. And so we pulled to the side of the road. And then another thought came to my mind was like, "you know, a short time ago, we just pulled over into some parking lot so you can go get something to drink. And maybe they spotted me in the car and recognised me as an American, they're trying to pull some kind of heist or something, I don't know." So, we pull over, the car pulls right front of us. And next thing you know, three guys exit the vehicle, two on the passenger side and one on the driver's side and the guy who was in the front passenger seat. When he comes out of the car, he's pointing a surveillance camera at me. I'm like, "Oh oh, this doesn't sound right." Next guy comes up to the door I'm in, he opens it up, he pulls me out and handcuffs me. Then they stuff me in the car in front and blindfold me and a lot of stuff after that. So, that's sort of how things got going.
Daren Nair 11:25
I'm sorry to hear that. Where did they take you after that? Which prison?
Michael White 11:30
Well, initially, they took me to, initially, a building that turned out to be the revolutionary court building. I didn't know what they were doing. They were telling me nothing, you know. I really could go more in detail. But I just, right now, I'd spend too much of my energy trying to explain all this stuff. But they took me some court building, I didn't know, and they had me blindfold the whole time until I got up there. And then they took me in front of some Commissioner who started asking me a bunch of questions about why I'm in Iran, about my income, background, my involvement with Samaneh. And then... then he makes a statement that some girls had expressed some concerns about me or something like I'm up to... they thought I was up to something suspicious, but he was really non-specific in that. And then after the end of this hearing, where, you know, it's only like maybe a half hour, he tells me I'm being detained for several days. And if nothing comes up, they'll release me. You know, I'm like, "okay, I hope so." But then they, you know, the individuals that apprehended me, who ultimately turned out to be Intel agents, blindfold me again and then they take me... took me to some facility that's referred to as the Intel facility, Intel jail actually. And they take me up there and they have me change out clothes, and then they blindfold me again and then take me down some hallway and then put me into some cell, really small cell, and that's sort of how things got started.
Daren Nair 13:08
So, you... I mean, I've interviewed the families of loved ones currently held hostage in Iran, as well as Roland Marchal, the French academic, who was a former hostage in Iran. He was held in Evin Prison. Do you know which prison you were held in?
Michael White 13:25
It was a Intel jail in Mashhad initially.
Daren Nair 13:28
Michael White 13:28
I was there for maybe two months, and then they transfer you to Mashhad Central Prison.
Daren Nair 13:33
Okay. What were the conditions of the prison?
Michael White 13:37
Well, the first one, Intel jail, the cell was a very small cell. I mean, I would say maybe 10-feet wide by six, not very big and then there was... there was... you'd come into the cell. There's no bed inside, no chairs, no tables, no TV. There was just a dirty carpet on one... the beginning part of this cell, the back-cell part of the cell is separated by a... about, like, three, four-foot high concrete partition that where, you know, would be the restroom area, really. You know, they have those... the toilet, the toilet bowl's, you know, flush with the floor, you know. Then flush, yet the there's this hose you got to use to spray it out with. And then there's a sink--really dirty, really dusty, roach-infested, in fact, because roaches would come out of that, literally come out of the toilet bowl. They didn't give me any blankets or pillows or anything the first few days I was there, nothing like that. So, that's the condition there, not very pleasant. I had to lay on the floor to sleep. And nothing. In the first three days, they didn't bring me any food or water, either. I was knocking on the door. They weren't even checking on me. I was knocking on the cell door, trying to get attention. You can't see outside. It's a metal cell door, so you can't really see outside, but they do have a sliding window, but that was shut. So, like, well, not really a sliding window. It's more like one of those, it's like, where they... they close it, the little, like, little door thing, they just close it and lock it. It's like, maybe like, like, you know, less than a foot wide or, you know, square foot, less than that even. And they opened that up to pass things through, talk to you. But I was knocking on the whole thing. Nobody would answer. It's a metal door, so, you know. I knew people... there's somebody passing by, because you can kind of slightly see shadows through the cracks of the door, but... or hear them walking. But, for the first three days, it was like that. And I'm like, "what the heck's going on? These guys just gonna lock me up and throw away the key or something?" Yeah, so that's how that... that was there.
Daren Nair 15:58
Did you go through interrogations? Or did they try to get you to sign any false confessions? Did they beat you? Did they torture you? Let me... let me rephrase that. The conditions you were kept were basically amounted to torture on its own. But did they beat you, things like that?
Michael White 16:15
Well, there were interrogation sessions, several of them. The first one or two, especially though, you know, the first one or two, they're more or less trying... I guess they... they assumed I was some kind of Intel agent or spy or something, because they're trying to offer me money to offer them information, and this and that, and just making all this stuff up. And I'm trying tell 'em, "I'm not really a spy guys, you know." But then, further interrogation sessions, they got more aggressive and were trying to make me write a, you know, false story about the reason I came to Iran. They made... they asked... they wrote a question on a piece of paper and told me explain the real purpose of me coming to Iran and not to talk about Samaneh and marriage, which was the real reason. And what they would do is, during these sessions, so they're asking me questions, not the first two, but after that, they, if I... they didn't like the question, they'd have somebody hold me back in the chair I was in and put... take a taser and put it in my face and say they would shock me if I don't write what they say and stuff and all that. That was one thing they did to me. During one particular session, the Basj, they call them Basj, and it's like, interrogator or whatever you wanna call it, didn't like what I was writing about something. And so, he came up to me and got really angry. "No, no, no, it's wrong. I told you how that you're supposed to say." He told me to say certain thing on there. I can't remember exactly what it was. But then he took this whip off the wall and swatted me in the bottom of my feet, because he didn't like what I was saying. I'm, in this chair, you know. When you're at this jail, you don't wear shoes, you wear san... open-toed sandals. And so, he hit me in, you know, my toes with this whip. And it really hurt me and, you know, I'm a cancer patient, and everything was... and I suffered neuropathy in my feet so, you just imagine how that felt to get swatted on the feet with a whip. And then later on, he still didn't like what I was saying, and he brand... He was wearing, like, a sort of like a suit without a tie and he opened up one of the suit jackets, and he had a pistol, and he pointed it, and basically said, "hey, if," you know, basically said, "if you don't want to cooperate, I can use this on you. I can take you out back and use this" on me. So, that was another incident. And, after that, same day, that same interrogation session, he obviously didn't like the things I was writing. I mean, well, what can I say? They're trying to make me make up stories here. And I'm not necessarily creative. I'm making stories about why I came to Iran, and how I'm trying to spy there and, you know, was trying to arrange funding and all kinds of crazy things and so after that, they take... when they took... took me back to the cell, you know, or that same night though, you know, they put me back in the cell, there was no blankets in there and nothing. They'd taken that. So, they gave me blankets a little while later, you know, after the first few... few days I was there and then... But after this particular session, they took the blankets out and they have an AC unit and they crank it up really high, you know, to make everything cold in that cell. It's really unpleasant. I mean, yeah, it was summertime, but they were really cranking this up and make it more like freezer-cold in there. And so, I didn't have any blankets, no pillow, nothing. So, I curled up next in the corner of a wall, facing away from the, you know, the, on the wall right in the corner of the wall where the, um, AC unit was like right above me. So, air would be blown, you know, down but not aimed directly at me. And I put... put my hands into my shirt and fell asleep in the corner. At some point in the night, one of the guards entered the cell with a bucket of cold water, ice water, and splashed it right on me while I'm in the cell. And he walked out, started laughing one of them and here I am having to get up. It startled the hell out of me. And then for the rest of the night, I'm like walking around in the cell trying to dry off, no blankets, no towel to do so, you know. And that was a pretty low point for me and stuff like that. The other thing that occurred is, sometimes they take me out of the cell and walk me around. But of course, when you walk outside the cell, they can put a blindfold on you, so you can't see where you're going and stuff like that. And they would walk me around the cell. Sometimes they tripped me. A few times, the guard would grab me in the crotch and, for no reason, they'd just have me walk around the cell, trip me, bring back to the cell. One time, one or two times, they... after I... they took me out the cell, this blindfold on my eyes, the guard grabbed me in the crotch. I don't know for what purpose, to harass me. Whatever the reason is, I don't know, then they throw me back in the cell. Another time... In the cells, they have surveillance cameras, but you can't really tell. Up the top of the wall there's this little... looks like a little hole of some sort. But apparently, it's a camera. I didn't know that. And I had a cup and I was taking some water and chucking it and saying, "what the heck is this?" Well, come to find out it was a, you know, a surveillance camera. And I guess the people watching it weren't too happy I was throwing water at it. So, they... they... a couple of guards stormed the cell, grabbed me, pushed me against the wall and start punching me in the ribs and then told me, "don't do it again." And then chuck me down to the bottom of the floor. You know, so... so, those are the kinds of things that did occur to me there and stuff like that. Then during some interrogation cells, I could hear the prisoners screaming nearby. So, they... they're clearly torturing other people. saying understanding what would happen to me and I compared to them was, you know, light, I guess you could say, you know, although, when you go through this whole situation I was going in. And not just that. When I was, you know, when I went to Iran, it was right after I'd gotten some cancer treatment. I was supposed to return to get reevaluated. So, I still had in my chest what they call a port, which is a device implanted in you to, you know, administer chemotherapy and stuff. I still had this thing in my chest that, you know, on my right side of my chest and goes in your jugular vein and stuff like that. It's supposed to be flushed out twice a month when it's not in use, or it could develop... cause development of blood clots and germs and other bad things. It's going right into your jugular. So, you have to keep it in mind and, you know, here they're doing all this stuff, and this thing's in my chest. And, you know, man, they weren't paying attention. I was trying to tell them about this. But they totally disregarded like it was nothing important to them and stuff. So, that's some of a lot of things that happened at the Intel jail.
Daren Nair 23:14
Again, and I don't know what to say apart from I'm sorry for what happened to you. As you said, you're a cancer survivor. You underwent chemotherapy recently before you were arrested. And obviously, you needed medication, health checks and sufficient food given that you're a cancer survivor. How did you cope in prison? Because you're basically a hostage. You're being used as leverage to gain a concession from the United States. You are of no use to them if you die, but at the same time, they want to force the US government to react and react faster, which is why they were torturing you. They want you to make public the fact that you're getting tortured, the fact that you are in pain, that you're in bad health, that it's urgent, so the US would react faster. I mean, they tend to do that to many of the foreign nationals held hostage. What are your thoughts?
Michael White 24:20
Well, first off, let me clarify something. From the moment they apprehended me, almost the entire time I was in the prison, in fact, even after I went to Mashhad Central Prison, they did not allow me to make any phone calls to anybody. No, no nothing. They didn't allow me to write letters to send out, use the internet for anything, no kind of... not... no visitors, things like that. They... in fact, they didn't inform anybody about my apprehension till almost five months later, when I was at the Mashhad Central Prison, they... they literally denied that I was in prison. And when I went to Mashhad Central Prison, you know, of course, that was a harrowing experience, too, that they moved me. I thought when they were taking me out of the Intel jail they would just take me to the airport and put me on a plane, so I can get out of there, but that's not what happened. They put me in at Mashshad Central Prison, and I'm... they, you know, a short time later I started realising I'm a political hostage. That's what this is. But I didn't know it at first. And so, for the first five months, nobody even knew I was there. The prisoners that was, you know, that I was in the prison cell with in Mashhad Central Prison, you know, being that... they became aware I was an American and stuff. Some of them tried to get the word out about me. One prisoner made an offer to help me out. He said, if I write a letter, he gets visitors from time to time, he said, if I write a letter, he'll discreetly try to smuggle it out, you know, get word out, because he knew that nobody was telling anything to anybody. The Iran government did not inform anybody initially about my apprehension. They didn't tell the Swiss Embassy, nobody. And at first, I didn't want to write any letter, do anything because I didn't know what Iran was going to do, that maybe, hopefully, they'd just chuck me out of here. And if they do, I'll keep it quiet about what happened, you know. I'll just say, had something to do with the passport issue or whatever. If anybody asked, like, "yeah, I was over there, they detained me temporarily." But then, after going... I went through a couple court hearings. And I became aware that this whole thing was just... I was being held as a political hostage and whatever their purpose is. And I was a little familiar with this stuff as well. Before I went to Iran, I kind of knew some of the stuff, and I just didn't think they were going to target me, because I had been, you know, fairly amiable towards them, you know, but that's not how they looked at me. They looked at me as an easy target, you know, because they knew if Samaneh asked me to do something, I'll come. So then, I wrote a letter, you know, 155-page letter, in fact, and documenting as much history as I could from before I came to Iran, how I met Samaneh, you know, a little bit about the trips, previous trips I'd came to Iran and then this current trip and trying to document as detailed as I could what had happened all the way up to like November 22nd, 2018, and stuff and that's when this fellow prisoner, his name is Farhad Abbaid, you know. Long story, he's a great friend. By the way, he's no longer in the prison, either. But he got a visitor, his cousin, came to visit him and he discreetly, carefully, took this letter and put inside of a, you know, a gift bag and was able to smuggle it out. And it had some instructions for his cousin. Once she... she, you know, Farhad's from Kuwait. When she went back to Kuwait, she went through this and... and his brother, and then they took the letter and started distributing it out. And it wasn't all that long after that, that real word about me, really started to filter out and stuff. And the other prisoners were able to discreetly get word out about me, too. I mean, so at some point, the Iranian government realised, "oh oh, we can't keep secret this American guy's in the prison anymore, so we better just..." But then they tried to deny that I had been in prison very long. They tried to say I've only been... They've apprehended me in mid-December, and said I've only been, you know, been apprehended for a few weeks. I mean, it was months.
Daren Nair 28:28
So, I mean, this is not as relevant. But I was just curious. If you had difficulty getting a blanket, getting medication getting food, how did you get enough paper to write a 155-page letter?
Michael White 28:44
Daren Nair 28:45
Michael White 28:46
Everything. Without him, I would have been in major trouble because, okay, they barely fed me anything at the Intel jail. When you go to Moshhad Central Prison, they don't really provide food, really. I mean, if you... if you have money, you know, if you have money, they allow you to buy things from a cell block store. You know, the..., I didn't have money there. Samaneh had all my money, you know, and all they do... they... they just provide some meagre rations like in the morning they'll bring some stacks of flat bread and put it inside this plastic basket in the cell. Bring few pads of butter. That's what they... And then they fill up, like, some pot with hot water and then prisoners, if they have pots and tea, they can make tea, but I had nothing really. And around lunchtime... [clears throat] Pardon me. They'll... they'll bring like... like a pot of rice and, you know, maybe some kind of topping for it. That's lunch. Then around what would be dinner, they allow us... prisoners to go use a kitchen downstairs. And so, I was like in the top cell... and then prepare things if you... if you have money to pay, and then you can prepare, you know, whatever items you got and stuff. Otherwise, all they do is the cell that trustees bring like a, you know, maybe a pot of boiled potatoes, a pot of boiled eggs once in a while. That's it. So, without that, without Farhad, I would have barely ate anything at all. And the food weren't sanitary, either. I mean, you know, my health was very impacted from the cancer treatment. Now I had recovered, and especially after what happened in the Intel jail, oh, I was suffering a lot of negative, you know, conditions as a result of stuff like that. Not a very good thing to talk about, either. I kind of hate to think about back... back towards that. But... but to answer your question, it was Farhad.
Daren Nair 30:54
And Samaneh, your fiancee-to-be, she had your money? Did she not tell the world about you? Did she not visit you?
Michael White 31:06
Nope, she was involved in the plot. She was involved in the plot. She... They, the Iranian government, approached her at some point way before I came to Iran. They were planning this before I came to Iran. They approached her. Her family's having financial difficulties. And I would love to go in the background of why this happened. But I just... I don't want to spend all day here and stuff. So, my apology on that. But they... they... they had approached her, offered to help her family out financially. But they also pressed her that if she didn't cooperate, you know, that they would, you know, do things against her family and stuff, or her. And so, they got her to cooperate, to lure me into this trap to come to Iran under the guise of working on our relationship, because that's what she told me. She was like, "I want to work on where we're going, to prove yourself to me." And just to pull me over there. And the reason would be because, you know, President Trump had withdrawn from the JCPOA and imposed a lot of new sanctions and stuff like that. Iran was looking for extra bargaining chips, basically to use as a leverage against the US. And so, they saw me as an easy target. They knew, once again, if Samaneh asked me to come, I would go, and they made it so easy. Unlike the first couple... Well, as I say, made it easy compared to the second time I went to visit Samaneh. The first time I had visited her was at Kish Island, and you don't need a visa to go to Kish Island, but you do need one to go to Mashhad or the regular bit or the... in the, you know, the regular part of Iran. And the first time I went to get a visa to go there, I had to do all sorts of stuff. And the second time, it was a little easier. And then they made it really, really everything so simple. And I was like, "wow. Nice man. He must like me." Who was I to know it was just all set up, you know, to get me there and stuff, so they can, you know, apprehend me and, if you have to ask the question, why didn't they just do it at the airport. Airports, course you have a lot of people with cameras and cell phone cameras. it's a high profile area. Clearly, doing it there, people are going to take cell phone videos, and they didn't want people to know they were there to apprehend me. They don't want to do it at the hotel I was at either, because it was a high profile hotel, one of the best in fact, in Mashhad. It's called the Pars Hotel. And everybody has cell phone cameras and stuff and people would probably videotape what's going on. And next thing I knew, they didn't want to do that. So, they waited until the last day when my tour guide, who probably was in on the plot as well, took me to supposably go visit Samaneh at the tour agency.
Daren Nair 33:46
I'm sorry, again, Michael. I think they're not many things that hurt more than being betrayed by someone you love. So, I'm sorry about that. So, the United States does not have a physical or diplomatic presence in Iran. Switzerland serves as protecting power for the United States. So, I understand you received a lot of good support from the Swiss Embassy.
Michael White 34:08
That is correct. Once they did find out about me, they were able to press the Iranian government to come visit me at the Mashhad Central Prison. The first time I saw anybody would have been in late January 2019, a person by the name of Patricia Weber. She's Ambassador at the American interest section of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. She came to visit me in person at the Mashhad Central Prison. That was the first time, you know, that anybody, you know, come to see me or acknowledge... I wasn't able to call or anything like that, but I was informed, you know, that she was going to come visit me. And they did a lot of things to try to help me and stuff. They kept advocating. They were aware of my health condition and stuff and kept pressing the Iranian government to make sure they do something about evaluating my health, which they didn't do for a very long time. They didn't do nothing. They just... they disregarded everything, in fact, that the port in my chest that I was telling you about, the whole time I was in Iran, they didn't address that at all. Not from the beginning, not till... even after I left, I had to wait till I got back to San Diego to have them address that. And that could have... that would have been a very... that could have been a very fatal situation, it really could have, and it could have been fatal after I got back, too. Fortunately, it wasn't. But when they tried to... When I finally got back to San Diego, and they tried to flush it, it was extremely difficult because the thing it clogged up and stuff, and they... they had to work on it for a while, and it's no longer in my chest now. They finally extracted it. But let's just say that there are many things that they didn't address. But the Swiss Embassy did a lot of great things for me. And they're the whole reason I was able to even go on furlough, because they really pressed and said, "look, you know, you're jeopardising life. If he dies, what good does that do you? That hurts you. And not only that, it's probably going to increase further penalties against the regime for what they did to me and stuff.
Daren Nair 36:09
Did your treatment get better once your case was known in the public?
Michael White 36:14
I would say they were still very, very... What's the word I want to say? They were still neglectful of me a lot, maybe a little less neglectful, because, obviously, once word got out, and people started realising what was going on, what was happening with me and, you know, the seriousness of the matter and [unclear] they... they did take me a few times outside the prison to... to an oncologist to get evaluated. The problem was is they never informed me what... anything about what the results or anything like that. It's like they took me out, I'd... I'd answer some questions. They did one CT scan and a few other little blood tests. They never informed me what the results were, though. So, you know, but so, in that sense, in more of a superficial sense, they tried to act like they were addressing my issues more. Not really much, though, to be honest and... And aside from a lot of the serious health issues I had, I had some serious dental issues, too. My teeth. were a bad state of being, because, you know, when you... when you go to that prison, the Intel jail and Mashhad Central, they don't provide you hygiene products. They don't give you anything. They don't give you toothbrush, toothpaste and stuff like that. And so, I couldn't mean, and then coming off a cancer treatment, you know, my bones are a little bit more, you know, vulnerable, and teeth, too. And I just... so, my teeth were real bad disrepair, and there were pieces that were chipping off and stuff. And, you know, Farhad, my cellmate, did provide me with stuff later on. You know, He... out of his kindness of his heart, he bought me a toothbrush and toothpaste and, you know, he, you know, I couldn't brush my teeth every day, because I didn't have a whole lot of stuff. So, I had to just do it whenever I took a shower. So, yeah. Yeah. So, hope that answered the question a little bit.
Daren Nair 38:16
Absolutely. You also mentioned that you were taken for sentencing twice, or taken to the courts. Now, Iran is notorious for its unfair judicial system. Can you talk to us about more about the trial? Did you have access to a lawyer, because in most cases, the lawyer only ends up seeing your case file a few minutes or the day of the trial itself. And that's if you're lucky. And in other cases, you don't get to select an independent lawyer, you... you have to choose among the quote unquote, authorised pro-regime lawyers, guys who aren't basically going to have your back. So, what was that process like, the legal process, the trial?
Michael White 39:04
Well, first off, they don't have trials in Iran. Oh, let me clarify something. They have hearings. And with these hearings, you're expected to defend yourself. They don't really have a real trial and involve, you know, counsels, both counsels giving opening statements, you know, prosecution putting on witnesses, defence being able to cross-examine those witnesses, defence being able to put motions, objections, or things like that. And, you know, one... one... one side rests case and the other side presents, theirs, they rest theirs and in full access to any evidence, to witnesses, to statements, everything like that. Nothing like that really happened. In fact, it was... it was more like, you go to a hearing, they ask you questions, you answer them, and then they tell you they'll make a decision in your case. And that was really kind of it. There were, I mean, I went through multiple hearings, and it would take me too long to explain the whole process and very exhausting. I'm actually writing about the whole thing. So, in the future, I'll present that into a book or something, you know, present to people. They can look at them and understand, but there's no real trials. But there were a couple really important court hearings, and two of them took place in March 2019, March 6th, March 9th. I went to two hearings there, they're about two hours each. And during those hearings, they, the prosecutor, put up some witnesses. They call them informed persons and stuff. It's a joke. And they... they would ask them questions, but after that, they wouldn't let me cross-examine or ask questions or anything like that. And then they... they'd ask me to come up to a podium, and they'd ask me questions and ask me to answer questions, and this and that, and once again, it wasn't a real trial, it wasn't a trial. It's just a hearing which they base that... which afterwards, they would base their decision on and stuff like that. And after those two hearings, March 11th, I returned to the court and they issued a decision, a judgement, and the judgement is they, you know, they upheld a number of charges against me and sentenced me to like 10 years. A funny thing is, is the spying charge, which was the primary thing they were claiming I did, they dismissed it, initially. They dismissed it. "You weren't really guilty of spying. But you are guilty of these other allegations where... which were supposedly personal ones that Samaneh had made against me and stuff like that. Then I appealed, you know, but I knew this whole thing was just for theatre. But... And I still had to go through the process, knowing fully well that this is a political trap, not a legal trial, you know. And as for lawyers? During probably the first six hearings that I went to, which was in front of a Commissioner, I did not have, you know, ability to talk with any lawyers and, in fact, lawyers weren't even allowed to come in the hearing with me. It was just them, me, the Commissioner, and interpreter, and that was it, asking me questions and stuff. March 6th marked the ninth hearings. There was a lawyer that they assigned. But I only saw him really inside the courtroom, and he didn't really... we didn't have a chance to... really get a chance to talk to him about the case or anything. We didn't have an in-depth discussion. He just basically said, "well, you know, I took a look at your case file. We filed a petition to bring your release," and his legal advice to me was, whenever the judge asked me questions, don't dance around in my answers, whatever that means. And then when I did appeal, the Swiss Embassy assigned two lawyers to come in, represent me at the appeals hearing. I had appeal... appeal hearing on May 9th, 2019, which is more of a show hearing. And I'd love to go into that in more detail, but it would take too long. And then I had actually another final appeal hearing on the... appealing the 10-year sentence, May... No, July 22nd, 2019, the day of my one-year anniversary, and I thought maybe they were... the reason they put it that day is they're gonna release me or something, I don't know. But that didn't happen. It just came in fast and stuff. And then in October 2019, I get... I get called down to the cellblock manager's office, and then the cellblock manager informs me they made a decision in my... the appeals court issued a decision on my case. It basically stated that they dismissed all charges against me except one. And the charge they dismissed again... the one that they didn't dismiss was one that was dismissed by the revolutionary court. It was a spying allegation. Suddenly, the appeals court says, "no, you are guilty of spying." And then they... they increased my sentence from 10 to like 15 years. I mean, that crazy appeal to try to work on the other charges that not... I'm not appealing on they dismissed. They bring this one back. So, that's how it all worked down, stuff like that.
Daren Nair 44:33
So, I heard about your case, your detention from... from Twitter, really. There was a Free Michael White Twitter account. And I believe your mother, Joanne, was advocating for your release from the United States. Jonathan Franks, who was your spokesperson, was communicating publicly about your case. So, that's where I heard about it. I would retweet your case. I would raise awareness of it, help as well. But were you able to, I mean, were you aware of what your mother, Joanne, was doing? Were you able to keep in contact with her? Obviously, your... your mother did a great job advocating, and I've spoken to so many families who were in her position, and there's no playbook for them. They all have to reinvent the wheel. And I think the Levinson Act is supposed to make things easier for the family. It's progress, not perfection. But can you talk about what your mother did to advocate for your release?
Michael White 45:34
Well, here's what I do know. I know she took basically the lead on that I... I didn't have contact with her pretty much the whole time. But there... there's a little caveat. I'll explain it in a minute. The reason I know that she was doing things is Swiss Embassy, Patricia Weber, visited me. She kind of explained that my mom was, you know, concerned about me, and she was, you know, trying to do what she could do to help. I didn't know anything about this Jonathan Franks guy for a very long time, in fact, I'd never even heard of him. What I do know about it, of course, now is the way she got in contact with him was through a former hostage as well. And apparently, Jonathan Franks had some previous experience, and so he had, you know, agreed to assist her in this matter and raise awareness in my case. I did the through the Swiss Embassy, and they'd ask me if there was anything I'd ever want to say to my mom. I'd tell 'em, you know, simply, you know, a few messages here and there, the few times they visited me. And then eventually I gave my mom power of attorney to help me with all my personal matters at home and, actually, I had another reason for doing that as well. I'll explain that some other time. But the only time I really had a chance to talk to her directly when I was... I was in prison was, it would be December 2019. The cellblock manager and Intel... because they have an Intel department inside the prison right by this cellblock I'm in. In fact, they have an office. They take... they had me come out, they had a trustee bring me downstairs to the office, and then they basically, through a translator, told me that they were gonna let me make a phone call to my mom, and they gave me a phone, punched her number in, which I didn't know and then I was able to talk to her for a few minutes on the phone about things and stuff like that. Explaining what had happened. And she... then she told me kind of a lot of things he'd been doing, which really surprised me. "Wow, you really have been actually trying to do a lot of things and, and everything." And then she brought up this Jonathan Franks for the first time. But when she brought him up, I thought, this may sound funny, I thought she was referring to my sister, Mandy's, husband, like he was doing some things on me. You know? Because I didn 't know who this guy... Like I said, I thought she was referring to my sister's husband for some reason. You know, kind of a mistake you make when you've been, you know, away for so long. You forget the names of some people, of your relatives, which has happened to me and so... And then I had another phone call, maybe like two or three weeks later with her and that one she actually recorded and stuff like that. Because I told her, "Hey, Mom, is your phone able to record our conversation?" And she did, and so she recorded and I explained a lot of things that were going on there, all kinds of human rights [abuse]. I wasn't worried that the Iranian government heard. I challenged them. I say, "hey, I'll say what I want. You guys want to kill me, do it. Okay, but that's fine with me, you know. I'll be out of this prison. What you going to do? Keep my dead body in here? But you know what this is going to do to you. You guys are gonna look really, really bad. It's going to bring a lot of hell down on you and stuff like that." And then parts of that conversation were aired on CNN as I would later find out, which was really funny because here I am talking about the human rights violations, the torture, all that stuff that happened to me. And this conversation got aired on CNN, which I'm grateful to Jonathan Franks because he was the one who approached CNN with this, you know, this telephone recording between me and my mom. I was like, good. That will show Iran.
Daren Nair 49:16
I believe Paul Whelan, an American and former US Marine, is being held in Russia, wrongfully imprisoned in Russia since December 2018, had a phone call with a CNN journalist. She recorded this, and she played it, again also on CNN. And as a result, the family believes that was the reason why he was placed in solitary confinement for over a month and... but they believe Paul thought it was worth it. So, yeah, CNN have played a message more than once, and Jonathan Franks is a crisis management consultant. He has worked with veterans, American and former US Marine, Andrew Tahmooressi, who was held in Mexico, a former US Marine, Amir Hekmati, who was held in Iran. You're a Navy veteran. And now he's advocating for the release of American and former US Marine, Trevor Reed, currently held in Russia. So, I interviewed Jonathan Franks. If you're interested, you can listen to the interview on podhostagediplomacy.com. I also interviewed the parents of Trevor Reed, so you can also listen to that interview and find out how you can help. And the same goes with Paul Whelan's sister, Elizabeth Whelan. I've spoken to her twice. And I've spoken to the Reeds twice, actually, as well. So, you can find out what's going on. They're Americans, and they're also veterans as well. So, they would appreciate any help you can give. So, please do check out those episodes as well. Right. You, after everything you went through, Michael, you caught COVID in prison.
Michael White 50:53
Daren Nair 50:53
In prison. Can you just talk to us about that?
Michael White 50:56
Yeah, so, and this would have been in March of 2020. And basically, I was aware that this corona thing was going around. I... they have TV... they had a TV in the cell that I was in in Mashhad Central Prison. And, you know, although the majority of the channels were in Persian, and they had one channel called Press TV. It's... that's an Iranian government-controlled news channel, propaganda channel more or less. But from time to time, they do report on actual things and stuff. So, I was aware that this corona thing was going around. I'd heard about what had happened with it in China, and there were cases being reported in Iran, and it's starting to really, really spread around and... and so, they were trying to make it sound like this thing won't get very far in Iran. But they clearly got in, you know, some prisoners in the... in the prison clearly contracted it, whether it be from visits from their family, or maybe they contracted it from interacts with guards or whatever. And in the cell that I'm at, that I was in, it was... so, it was a crowded cell. That one time, it was really overcrowded. There was people sleeping on the floors. I was sleeping on the floors at one time, in fact. But, towards March 2020, I had my own bunk, you know, it was still fully crowded, and there were still a few people who slept on the floors, because they weren't enough bunks, you know, it's like, not a great big cell. And you had like 29 bunks in there. And we probably had about 35 prisoners and stuff. And so you can think about the close proximity of the situation. And one particular prisoner who was below me, had been developing a kind of a cough. And he'd had some visitors recently. It seemed the next thing you know, I'm in... I'm in the bunk above him. He's like the bottom. I'm in the middle. There's a bunk above me, too. And I, one day I started developing, it was like a Thursday night, I start developing a cough, really bad one, too. And overnight, the... this thing started kind of developing worse, started getting a fever, and coughing and, you know, all other kinds of symptoms that you kind of get when you're starting to develop like a flu. And, you know, I was aware of the corona thing, and I thought, you know what? Fridays in, you know, in Iran are like the day off for everybody. So, Fridays in the cellblock are bland days, really. Although most of them... every day of the week is, but especially Friday, because nobody's going to court, nobody's getting visitors. And you know, most of the prison is shut down. A lot of times you're just isolating in your cell. But during the morning count I am developing this thing, being aware it was, you know, that it could be corona, maybe, maybe not. I brought it to the attention of our cell leader, to bring it to the attention of the guards, I mean, the officer doing the count for the morning. Yeah, I thought, well, if I let them know that... and let them know that, hey, maybe this is corona, they'll, they'll get concerned and look at things, you know. So, when the officer came to do the count, they informed him and then, you know, maybe a few hours later, they take me down to the medical department to have them look at me. You know, they didn't really do a whole lot. They just kind of... just gave me a brief examination and gave me some like, cold pills or whatever. That didn't really help. This thing started progressing a little bit worse and worse, shortness of breath and mostly coughing, fevers, and stuff like that, developing that, weakness and loss of appetite. And the trustee, one of the trustees, who's like the one for the medical department trustee, was constantly checking on me to see how I was doing. Eventually, he'd take me back down, have me do a chest X-Ray in the medical department, another follow up. Nothing's improving. It's actually getting worse. And then, finally, I guess they started really kind of paying attention and starting to get concerned that this could be corona as I was... I was really, really, really, you know, getting weak, and really so weak that I've had a hard time getting into my bunk. I was kind of laying down on the floor I was so weak, and then they had me go back to the medical department and took me to a hospital outside for evaluation. But they didn't actually give me a corona test, either at that time is the blood test and, you know, examination and then returned me to the prison. When they returned me to the prison from the outside hospital, though, they put me in a special cell block. I never even knew they had this other cell block in the prison, but they instead of taking me back to my cell block, they put me into the medical ward cell block and I never knew they had that in that prison. It's actually, compared to the cell I was in, this one was actually kind of nice, actually had an actual bed, not a bunk. I was like, "okay, cool. I can... this is a lot better than being in that other cell." And it's not so... it's not really crowded, and I have room," and, you know, for me, I was, "here I am in the prison." That's not a good place to be in. I could tell you all this, how a total hopeless environment it is, and everything like that. Then they put me in this other cell block. It's a medical ward cell block, and it feels so much comfortable. I'm like, you imagine it. I was actually feeling grateful. It's like, "yeah, keep me here until you guys let me go, at least. Don't put me back in that other cell and stuff," because... But as regarding my condition, it was still pretty bad. It wasn't really getting any better. But fortunately, the Swiss Embassy had pressed Iran about allowing me to be released on what they call medical furlough, and concern for the Coronavirus and my health and everything else and anything you know, and this thing was really degrading me. So, maybe like three days later or four after I had been put in this medical ward cellblock, one of the trustees came to get me and had me get some of my stuff and took me to the front of the prison cell. And that's where I met Mark Laettner, who was the Ambassador at the Swiss Embassy, and him and his assistant were there to pick me up and take me to Tehran and stuff. And that was good. I was like, "good, get me out of this junk-hole prison." And that was a, believe me, that was a major, major release of tension. I mean, you know, I could just tell you how my mind wanted to explode and stuff in this place and how it was just making me go crazy. And just... there's no words to describe it. And then they took me out of prison, took me to the airport, flew me to Tehran, and they rented an apartment for me. It was like a two-bedroom. It's nice. And one of the doctors, they had a doctor come up, to visit me there. Did the corona test. And I suspected it was that because I was... just the condit... The... the symptoms were so much like what they were describing. And then a few days later, Mark Laettner calls me on the phone in the... in the apartment, tells me that, "yeah, it was positive." They needed me to stay there. And then they had me taken to a hospital in Tehran where I stayed like four days undergoing treatment for corona. And guess what they prescribed me to treat the Coronavirus?
Daren Nair 58:23
I... I don't know the names. But what did they do? What did they do?
Michael White 58:28
They prescribed me hydroxychloroquine, the same medication President Trump was talking about, and everyone was, like, trying to, you know, disavow that. But the Iranian government was prescribing it for corona patients and, in my case, it actually did kind of work, because about five or six days after I started taking this stuff, the, you know, the whole corona thing alleviated itself, and I was like, pretty much back to normal. There were some residual effects, though. I mean, my appetite had just totally collapsed over this thing. And my taste... I didn't have taste that could taste food well, and in that one... that part there, that condition, the appetite loss, the appetite and those residual effects stayed with me for almost a month later before my appetite rebounded. But yeah, that's what they did. And it did work, despite what, you know, a lot of people in the medical community say.
Daren Nair 59:17
So, you didn't have any long COVID symptoms.
Michael White 59:21
Well, you know, I... there were what you would call some of them for with me for a while. I did actually for a while suffer a degree of hair loss, too, as a result. I mean, my hair is back to mostly normal, but I mean, of course, corona... When I had the cancer, I totally lost all my hair. But when I went to Iran, after my cancer treatment, my hair kind of pretty much rebounded. But when I got that corona, it somehow caused me hair loss and thinned out a lot of my hair. I mean, seriously, yeah, in the back of my head, I had sort of a bald spot. Now I don't have that anymore. But when that took a long... and that lasted almost a year after I... up to a year after I, you know, got out of Iran and stuff, got over the corona, so there was some in that sense, I guess, you know, most of... I'm pretty balanced back to normal. I would say.
Daren Nair 1:00:13
Can you talk to us about the day you were released? Can you describe it?
Michael White 1:00:18
Daren Nair 1:00:18
Michael White 1:00:20
Well, of course, there's two releases. One was release on medical furlough, which to me was the real freedom, even though I was still in Iran, and the day that I actually was allowed to return to the US. Swiss Ambassador, Patricia Weber, called... called me the day before and told me she wanted to meet me, you know, the next day. I think that would have been like June 3rd or 4th to have me go over things and stuff like that. She told me also, to go to a store and buy me some new clothes and stuff, because I really didn't have any good clothes in fact. [Coughing] Pardon my cough. When I talk a long time, my throat's very sensitive. She asked me to go to some store to get some new clothes. But, you see, here's the thing. When I went to Iran, I had a suitcase full of clothes and stuff. And that suitcase, I don't know whatever happened to it. It was taken with me to prison, but they never could find it. So, I don't know if somebody stole or misplaced it, or whatever. So, I really only had the prison-issue stuff. They never really issued the clothes that Farhad had bought me, and they weren't really exactly the best. I did have one set of clothes that was leftover, that was a good set of clothes, from the time that I came to Iran, and dress clothes. I still had those, fortunately, but they're not the kind you want to, like, wear every day, like for special occasions and stuff. So, she had me go to get some clothes in a store, and they paid for it through a credit card or something. And then the next day, and I forget the exact day of the week that was, she came to meet me at the hotel and explained that they'd made an agreement to get me released, and they were going to take me to the airport. And from there, they would fly me to Zurich. And then I'd be met by members of the State Department there, who would continue the flight back to the US and stuff like that. You know, it was a bittersweet moment for me. And I'll tell you why. Because I had friends in Iran, and specifically Tehran that I'd actually reconnected with, and who were really people that I really loved and anyhow, one side of me didn't really want to go. I wanted to stay with them, because they were... they treated me like a family and... and even though I couldn't contact Samaneh because I was told not to, I still kind of hoped to kind of stick around to try to maybe get back in contact, you know. But still, these other friends, you know, that I had there, one of them in particular, he's an English teacher there. And I've met his family, and we were going to do so many things. And one half-side of me didn't really actually want to go because I, you know, and one side of me said, "Geez," and I was looking at all the problems back in the US and all this and that, and it's like, "do I really want to go back to that?" I mean, you would think I'd be elated? But I wasn't really as elated as you would think, and I was like, "okay, cool," but you know. But at the other end of the spectrum, I, you know, President Trump had went through a lot of effort to press Iran to release me and make this agreement which actually wasn't much of an agreement at all, to be honest, that basically, Iran asked the US to... They're looking to finally get rid of me at this point, because of my, you know, all my, you know, health and everything else. I was a burden to them, and the US just basically, you know, released an Iranian-American earlier. They just upped the release date earlier, you know, so Iran could save face, you know. People thought prisoner swap. Not really. He was an Iranian-American. He didn't even have to go back to Iran. He could've stayed in the US like, "hey, thanks, Iran. Suckers! I'm just gonna..." you know. But that's what they did. And the flight back was kind of a, you know, a little exciting. They really treated me like a celebrity and stuff, so, and everything like that. And they flew me from Tehran to Zurich, and I met Brian Hook and the rest of them, and I made my statement, if you saw it, and everything, and that was heartfelt in case anybody doubts it. I made that on my own and everything about President Trump, and how I appreciate, you... you know, everything he did for me and stuff like that. That was true. And then from there, they flew me to Washington DC, and then I met with Roger Carstens and stuff like that. From there, they had me go to San Antonio, Texas, to go to, you know, like a, you know, former hostage debriefing programme and medical evaluation and stuff like that. And then from there, I met my mom at San Antonio and we drove from there after I was finished doing everything there, left with her to go back to Phoenix, Arizona. Eventually, I came back to San Diego, because I had to address a lot of the things and stuff.
Daren Nair 1:05:05
So, what was it like when you first came back home? You had the health issues as a result of COVID and your imprisonment. You had the trauma, obviously, of being held captive for that long. What was the experience like? Because, I mean, you're a veteran. You've been deployed overseas. You know what the reentry process is like. What was it like coming back home?
Michael White 1:05:29
Well, a bit surreal and a bit difficult, because once I got back on the ground, I didn't know what to do with myself. I didn't have... Unfortunately, you know, me and Jonathan Franks were supposed to meet up. And he didn't do that to talk about what... how I needed to go about things. I really needed to meet somebody in person who could do that. And so, in a lot of ways, I was left to my own devices, which ain't good, because I didn't know what to do. My head was spinning for a while. I was suffering massive depression, very bad depression. I didn't want to live anymore. To be honest, I just... everything was so, you know, having to try to start out and figure out what to do with myself and how to move forward, how to address things, and it was... it was extremely, extremely difficult. I... if I had to say one thing about the process, they probably need for people, especially like me, who've been out for a while, if you do short while, it's no big deal. But if you've been out for a while, you really need to be hooked up with somebody like a social worker, who can sit down with you and say, "okay, let's talk about where you're at, what you need, what we need to help get, and have a checklist and go over those things, whether medical, dental, financial, tax, whatever, and get you to those resources to help you get reintegrated," because I had to reintegrate myself. And it was the saddest, most depressing experience of my life. I really, really, really felt depressive. There was times I even thought about, man, I just wanted to go jump, literally thought about going and jumping off a building to kill myself. And I don't mean to say that in the open like this, but I have to be honest. It was not great, you know, the way everything came back. You know, I just, you know, I did eventually meet up with Hostage US, and they did... they did a great job. They... I probably should have hooked up with them at the very beginning. I needed help, then especially, you know. Now, I've been seeing a psychologist and stuff. They've been helping me. Of course, it's part of a... part of an effort on part of a lawyer I have for a lawsuit against Iran and stuff. But I needed that. I needed that help when I got back. In trying to do it all on my own, yeah, eventually I get... I got a lot of things addressed. But it was... it was a very depressing, sad time for me. And you know, I kind of hid some of this from a lot of people, you know. But it wasn't... it wasn't. In that sense, you'd think I should be elated. But I wasn't, because I needed somebody to take me by the hand and say, "let's go take care of this." And I didn't have that. In that sense, I'm kind of not happy.
Daren Nair 1:08:16
I'm sorry to hear that, Michael. And I'm... I mean, I'm glad you didn't do anything that was irreversible. I think when you were held captive, you had to be strong. You had to be resilient, you had to be a hero. And as the saying goes, even heroes have the right to bleed. Even heroes have the right to call for backup. So, I'm... I'm glad you... you seem to be doing a lot better now. And I'm glad you found organisations like Hostage US. You mentioned that you also got your medical treatment from Veterans Affairs.
Michael White 1:08:50
Oh yes. Mostly what I get through the Veterans Affairs is dental treatment, actually. I'm 100% rated. This is being disabled due to my service-connected disabilities and stuff like that, and so my teeth are in disrepair. But they've done a great job and, as you can see in the screen, they look okay now. If you were to see them before, if you take a look at any video, especially when I saw Trump at the White House, if you can. They... they kind of like probably did some stuff to make it less obvious. But, really, my teeth were in bad condition. VA had to extract some teeth. They had to do root canals, and my teeth are still in progress, but they look better now and stuff, and they're more functional, and I like to smile now to show them off. I couldn't smile before. When I smiled before, it was like this. Now it's like this. And it has a little shine, so I feel proud of my smile now, and I think that's helped my personality, my self-esteem a lot, you know.
Daren Nair 1:09:48
You have a great smile. So, when... when you get taken hostage, you're not the only person going through this trauma. Your loved ones go through the same trauma. Your mother would have gone through the same trauma. I know you've talked about the support you've needed, that when you came back home. How's your mother doing? Because it would have been traumatic for her as well. How's she recovering? How's she... how's she doing?
Michael White 1:10:19
She's doing all right. You know, we... Of course, I'm forever appreciative of her to taking that effort. I mean, I don't have any children. But, and I'm not a mother, obviously, but I... there's something innate, something inherent, inherent in a person, a woman who has... is a mother. And they have connections to their children that maybe we don't completely understand. And so when their children are under... suffering something, your mother, you know, the mother can feel it and she... there's something inside her that... that... that pushes her to do everything she can to help her children. And that's what happened with my mom, and she... she has this emotional connection, this... this innate inherent characteristic that made her go forward and do everything she could for me and everything like that, and push and... and not give up, and put all her energy into it and what she did and stuff. And so far, I'm forever grateful for that, because obviously, her efforts helped. And, you know, if she isn't around, you know, I still feel I would eventually got out anyways, maybe this long, but I think a lot of her pushing, helped kind of kickstart a lot of things and... and made it much smoother, pressuring the Iranian government to concede and release me and realise that holding me as a political hostage was really not gonna gain them a lot, especially a cancer patient. So, with my illness, like, how do you do that to somebody like that? Or what do you think, you know, you know.
Daren Nair 1:12:07
So, what's next for you, Michael? You mentioned that you are suing the Iranian authorities.
Michael White 1:12:13
Yeah, so basically, I'm gonna get a lawsuit against them, it's for $1 billion, my lawyer is going to press them. And for me, there's two objectives here. The first objective, of course, is to hold Iran accountable for what they did to me. And in a tangible way, not just on paper, but in reality. So, you know, I'm... I'm certain, whether Iran wants to try to fight this in court or not, I'll... I'll prevail. And what I want to do is actually, actually gain compensation directly from the government of Iran for what they did to me. The second one is also advocate for victims of Iranian terrorism and their hostage-taking enterprise. And what I mean by that is, you know, currently the... there's these negotiations going on trying to restore the JCPOA. In their zeal to do this, it seems that some of the US negotiators and the negotiators on the other side are... are making a lot of concessions that I don't agree with them. One concession or one area that they're not really looking at is to hold Iran accountable for what they've done in the past. And what they're telling, you know, what I've heard from media is, you know, there's been agreements or concessions to release assets that are frozen from Iran, to back to Iran, to unfreeze Iranian-held assets in other parts, other places and stuff. And my position is this. They should not unfreeze any assets to the Iranian regime. And, and as... at... at the very least, they should tell Iran, "well, we are going to withhold certain amount of these assets, to basically compensate the victims of what you've done, you know, your hostage-taking enterprise and your terrorism. And some of these are going to be held back no matter what. They're there for those... for those... and the purpose of these individuals and stuff like that." I don't think that, in their zeal to make these agreements, that the negotiators are thinking about victims like me. So, that's another reason, to try to bring attention to that. And hopefully, you know, the Biden Administration is aware of this and made a lot of effort. And it sends a message, "hey, we deserve compensation. Our voices deserve to be heard. It's not enough to, you know, get our freedom. That's just not enough. We need more than just our freedom. We deserve compensation, just compensation for what they've done to us." And so... so, that's kind of the two reasons behind my purpose behind this. It's not just to sue them to get money. It's to make a point about this, that our voices aren't being heard here, and we... we deserve to be compensated, and Iran deserves to be held accountable for what they've done to us and, especially for me, for families, too. We don't have a lobby, like the people that I'm aware of to bring this attention. I would love to do a deal with all...all of these other former hostages and do a class action suit against Iran, as well, you know. That's the basic premise of what I'm trying to do here with the lawsuit.
Daren Nair 1:15:27
I understand. And good luck with the lawsuit. So, you touched on one important topic here. What can the US government do to make sure this doesn't happen again?
Michael White 1:15:38
It's a... It is a tricky question. There are a number of things that, you know, we can do and should do. And some of those involve one... one aspect that Barry Rosen brought up and talked about is perhaps prohibiting US citizens from travelling to Iran. Now, there's a problem there that most US citizens won't. But if you're a dual American, or Iranian-American citizen, you can because you're gonna have a... you got your, you know, Irianian citizenship. Maybe they, because we have some dual citizen, Iranian-American citizens in prison in Iran right now, perhaps, make it clear, if you're an Iranian-American, see, you have dual citizenship, you have to, you know, surrender one of the two, you know. If you want to be a US citizen, you have to surrender your Iranian citizenship, you know, to prevent this situation from occurring. Again, that's one way. Then there are ways to hold Iran directly accountable. They can put certain sanctions and restrictions for them, for example, restrictions on the ability of officials to travel to the US in any way, form or cap... capacity, freezing assets, whenever the Iranian regime does apprehend a citizen unduly... unjustly and stating that, even if you release that person, part of that assets are going to go to compensate that citizen. "We're going to make sure that happens for whatever timeframe." So, for example, if say there's some Iranian assets in Canada, $1 million, "they apprehend a citizen, we freeze that." And even after they release that citizen, we're saying, "okay, for the timeframe, that six months in prison, we're going to deduct X amount of money to compensate that person, and the rest, you know, whatever is left over can go back to you," things like that. Because when you hit them in the pocketbook, that is going to make a point. You know, Iran can go around, and they can cry and yell and whatever, whine a little thing, then they've done something wrong. If the Iranian injustice system was truly, what's the word transparent, they would have open trials. They would have video, they would allow, you know, media, for media to go in there and observe, observe the evidence, show the whole process from the beginning and say, "here's the evidence we have, we can prove this, and this and that" and justify, because if... if there's a case where a citizen really does go to Iran and commits an actual crime, for example, and that's okay, you know. Hey, you got to have some that they, the person went over there and they did something they weren't supposed to, you know. We still expect that you ain't gonna put some disproportionate sentence on the person. But as long as they've been given the same rights and meaning like, for example, if it's a crime where normally a person would get bail, you offer them bail, you know. If they... if the... the sentence, you know, it's normally like a one-year thing, and you don't give them beyond. Things like that, you know. But once again, Iran knows they're doing something wrong. And so, that's why I advocate in these cases, you know, things like freezing assets, sanctioning judicial officials, other officials, all the way to the very top, you know, hitting them in the wallet, pocket book. Those things get their attention, you know. Those kinds of things do get their attention. And those are the kinds of things that can be helpful in kind of ending this thing, you know. If Iran wants to engage in an agreement, a treaty of sorts that says okay, the Prisoner, you know, Treatment Act is something that lists out how prisoners for... are to be treated in a just and fair manner. If they put in something like that, that would guarantee that, you know, the US citizen goes over there isn't going to be or for... other foreigners, they aren't going to be held as political hostages, and Iran concurs, and they show they're transparently agreeing, then... then there'd be no reason to seize assets, because then it's an honest system. But it's not an honest system. And so, those are some of the ideas that I have that I would implement there. There could be other ones too. I would have to go through and see what other ways, but hitting them in the pocketbook, number one way to change behaviour, because any time you take somebody's money, yeah, that gets to them.
Daren Nair 1:20:04
We've seen this with Russia and the sanctions you've placed on Russia, right? If you... if you put sanctions in place that freeze their assets, that really hurts them. Now, on the first point you mentioned, it's my understanding, though, that Iranians with Iranian citizenship aren't able to renounce their citizenship even if they want to. So, that's the problem. A lot of the dual nationals, they would love to renounce their Iranian citizenship, but they can't. They're not allowed to do that.
Michael White 1:20:34
Actually, I don't necessarily agree with that. Okay, for example, you're a Iranian-American come to US, the moment you become a US citizen, you have to surrender your passport to the, you know, State Department. Then they in turn, you know, get an affidavit from from you saying you revoke your citizenship to Iran. Hence, that's turned over to the Iranian interests section in Washington, DC, the Pakistani Embassy. And that's that. And so, if you want to travel back to Iran now, you have to go through the visa process and stuff like that. Now, I know there are some Iranian citizens, they have family back there, and they're really reluctant to do that. But I think to prevent this, we have to kind of give them the choice. Until such time as we have a different regime in place in Iran that respects human rights and judicial processes and stuff, their... their system is not internationally, you know, doesn't meet international law standards at all, you know, in all sorts of ways and manners and stuff. That is something that they can do.
Daren Nair 1:21:32
That process in place could be a... a solution, but the problem is getting Iran to comply. Why? What incentive does Iran have to listen to the US is my point. So yes, we can say that. Yes, we can say this person has renounced their Iranian citizenship. How do we make sure Iran understands and complies with that?
Michael White 1:22:01
Once again, under this proposal, for example, for Iranian-Americans who renounce their citizenship, they don't have their passport, or papers to go, you know, to go back to Iran through the normal means. So, they have to go to the... go and apply for a visa just like a US citizen. So, you know, at least in that part, they have to go through an extra process to go back there. And this time, they're going back there as an American and not as an... a dual citizen and stuff. That I think we can do. I don't see any reason why. You know, Iran may say he gave it back or whatever. But we're saying, "hey, you know, from our standpoint, this person now has to apply for a visa because they can't just get on a plane with their American passport and go into your country like normal anymore, because they'll look at this and say, "you're a US citizen, you can't. And you can't go to...." By the way, they won't let you board a plane, like if you go to Dubai, which has flights directly to Iran, they won't let you board a plane unless you have either a visa or an Iranian passport. Now for an Iranian citizen who doesn't have their passport anymore, is renouncing, all they have is their American passport, you're not going to board... be able to board a flight from, you know, from Dubai or any flights directly to Iran. You have to get that visa. If you try to cross the land ports, obviously, whatever countries which you're in, and all you have your US citizenship passport, you know, they're gonna assume you're a US citizen, even if you were previously an Iranian-American. So, in that sense, it puts that barrier right there. And from a legal standpoint, from our, you know, we recognise, "hey, they're an American, they're not an Iranian citizen anymore."
Daren Nair 1:23:42
What can journalists and the news media do to help?
Michael White 1:23:45
I think, in a lot of ways, bring attention to this whole thing. A lot of times I see a lot of stories, not totally. But I do see a lot of stories that in the media that seem to give a little bit more of a favourable, favourable viewpoint of Iran and that I don't like because they... it's as if they are committing the fallacy of omission, and they must be aware of all these human rights violations and stuff like that in Iran. Don't give them any positive viewpoints. I mean, the Iranian people are good people. It's the regime that's bad. And so, you want to make sure that you're not spinning in such a way that it's giving some positive viewpoint of, you know, being in Iran. I mean, like I said, the Iranian people are suffering and I... I know, by and large, about 70% of them would like a different government, they don't like it the way it is. And so, that... that's one thing that they can do, you know, focus on pointing out the negatives on their abuse. Bad PR isn't good for the Iranian regime and stuff, and they can help in a lot of ways by isolating the regime more to the point that, you know, if they don't want to be isolated, they'll... they'll change their behaviour. You know, that's... that's how you have the psychological stance, standpoint. You have to focus on activities and actions to isolate who they are. And in such a manner that, that the Iranian regime comes to the conclusion that "if we really want to be able to have a better quality of life, we really want to be able to, you know, do the things we want to and enjoy, we have... we have to change the way we're doing things." And that's what you want to do. You want to change the... Because inside the Iranian regime, you can... I can tell you right now, there are no such things as moderates. People will tell you, but not really. But if you can put the pressure on maybe down the line, once they realise that, "hey, we're stuck here. We're not able to go anywhere. What's... what's the point of all this? What are we achieving for ourselves? We're just causing needless suffering. Now, there's us, you know, maybe it's time for us to change courses." And that's... that's one thing that they can do, the media can just, you know, focus the spotlight on their... on the behaviour of the Iran... Iranian regime, and you know, all the negative aspects, and do the things that can bring isolation to that regime, so they may reconsider what they're doing.
Daren Nair 1:26:20
I understand what you're saying. From my perspective, I would... I agree it's important for journalists and the media to highlight the truth, what is going on in Iran and give people the full picture. So, there are lots of human rights abuses going on in Iran. It is important to highlight all of them. And I think, from my perspective, it's very important not to repeat IRGC propaganda. So, when they arrest someone like yourself, under these false spying charges, you see the headlines, "Veteran Michael White Arrested for Espionage." And in a way, they are doing the regime's work for them by... because do you see the headline "Michael White, Espionage," "Michael White, Spy?" They're kind of... they're kind of making you look guilty by repeating the propa... the false accusations of the Iranian regime. So, it's important, it's important for the media to show the readers and the viewers all the pieces on the board, make sure it is fact-based. Now, I understand media. I mean, the media is not perfect. No institution is. They do tend to focus on conflict more because it sells, it gets a lot of ratings. But I think the key thing, what we need is to show the full picture and separate the regime from the people that don't have a choice. When it comes to electing the regime, we know that their elections are pretty much a sham. And most people just want to... most Iranians are good people who just want to go about their lives. And that isn't accurately reflected in media coverage. So, it's important to tell all sides of the story. So... so, that would be my perspective on that. And like you said, you've met lots of amazing people in Iran, and people need to hear their voices as well, not just the regime, right? Now, what can the American public do to help?
Michael White 1:28:35
Well, one thing that I would. of course, encourage with the American people is, one, be aware of what's going on with especially with the JCPOA. I don't like what I'm hearing, the reports coming out. I encourage the American people to raise their voices with their elected officials and let them know, "hey, we don't think giving concessions to a terrorist regime is a good thing to do." Especially I've heard, you know, the idea of trying to delist IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Wrong answer. Wrong answer. Do not do that. Some people were trying to project... This what I mean by media. I saw a report, you know, something recently, where some general, US General, was trying to downplay this delisting thing. "Oh, it's not really anything. It's just symbolic." No, there are actual tangible actions by, you know, designating the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. There are tangible actions. I... when I returned from Iran, I talked to some intel agents about a national security matter and I'm going to disclose just a little bit. In January of 2019, I was taken downstairs out on my cell to talk to some intel agents. They're asking me a lot what's about my background. They proposed this idea. They wanted to know from me if I would be aware of this would work about sending, you know, US, not US, but Iran and Venezuela have good diplomatic relations and if an Iranian citizen wants to go to Venezuela, they don't need a passport. They just need the... they don't need a visa, they just need their passport. That's it, that... that easy. And so, that's their access to the Americas. And they asked if it was possible for Iran to send, or they never really asked, they proposed this idea, and wanted to get my thoughts if it was possible to send members of the IRGC and Hezbollah, imagine that too, to Venezuela, you know, people they trained through visa and, or to... to regular, you know, their passport, under an Iranian passport. And if it was possible for them to, you know, be smuggled by what they call coyote all the way to the Mexican border. And is it possible for them to go up to the US border and request political asylum under the guise that they're being oppressed? And then the idea was, if they were granted asylum in the US, would they be able to join the US military? And they wanted to know if these... they wanted to plant, try to bring these agents, these IRGC Hezbollah people through this process, wanted to know if it's possible for them to join the US military once they are granted asylum, and so they can infiltrate the US military. They told me this, you know, and my answer was, "I'm not sure if that works." I don't know. I know the basic requirements of entering military service. And you have to either be a US citizen, or a legal resident. I don't know about people who are here on a political asylum, if they can enlist in the military, too. I do know this much. To be an officer in the US military, you have to be a US citizen. So I know, on that premise alone, I explained, "well, you know, they can't become officers, because they're not US citizens." Whether they can. I don't know if they can do this, but they basically told me that the idea is they want to try to get IRGC and Hezbollah members to the US through this political asylum process, and attempt to get into the military to do whatever it is. They didn't explain what they wanted to do. They just told me what they wanted them to try to do. Whatever, they didn't say what they want to do when they are in, whether it be spying, sabotage, who knows. And by delisting the IRGC, what this would do is from a legal standpoint, this actually would allow those members to have an opportunity to come to the US under some visa. They apply, they may have a chance. Well, considering what I've heard, and what they wanted to try to do, is this really what we want to do, considering all the bad things they're doing? And when we've seen attacks of Iranian missiles fired by IRGC into Iraq, it could hit our own forces, could hit the Embassy, this is a really bad idea. And they should not do that. You can't trust an organisation that carries out acts of terror, not just outside, but inside against their own people, pressing the IRGC does these things, you don't want to delist it just for the sake of bringing it back to some JCPOA agreement. That's really not a good one. And, of course, my my message to the American people is, you know, make your voices heard. Because this could be a situation where, hey, IRGC, as delegates in the US somehow, they carry out now catastrophic, you know, act of terror, like 911. We don't want that, because, believe me, they don't, the Iranian government is looking to degrade the American way of life. And that's the truth, and your freedom is at stake. And whether you know it or not, you may not feel it yet, but a lot of people thought the same thing about al Qaeda before 911. Like, you know, they can never do anything, until they did do something. And it's a serious matter, and something we think about all the time. I... I love the American way of life. And, you know, although I'm disabled and stuff, if it came down to it, they needed me to go back in the service to defend it, this way of life, believe me, I would do it, because I believe in freedom and rights and protections. And that's the message to the American people. We've got to think about these things. We've got to fight for our freedom all the time. It's... It's like your own immune system. Your immune system, your body is constantly fighting off pathogens, always. And if it's not doing that, it becomes weaker. And we, you know, and it's the same thing. We've always got to be vigilant, you know, we've got to be ready. We've been vigilant, we've got to be aware, and we can't do things that would weaken our like, weaken our immune system. Delisting the IRGC as a terrorist organisation is the same thing as doing something to weaken your own immune system. Why would you want to do that?
Daren Nair 1:34:50
So, I agree that the IRGC are the bad guys, and not many people would disagree that they are terrorists. They... they intend to destabilise all their enemies, neighbouring countries, the region, their own country. They abuse their own citizens. And I have no doubt that they pose a threat to the United States and its allies. I work in security, I focus on risk assessments. A risk is the likelihood and impact of a threat exploiting a vulnerability in an asset, right? So, my point is, there is... there are varying degrees to which something poses a risk. There's a difference between what is high risk and low risk. I agree that there is a possibility with the sequence of events you just mentioned. But that also assumes there are no risk remediating controls in place, for instance, the asylum process has their screening, their checks. The military has their screening and their checks. And then, there you have... then you have Border Patrol. Sorry, you have... you have, yeah, US Border Patrol. You have intelligence agencies and law enforcement. And you served in the armed forces, right? They are good at what they do. They are good at picking up threats. Right? So, yes, the sequence of events you just mentioned, there is a possibility. But the likelihood of that actually happening, given the controls in place to detect, prevent, detect and mitigate the risks is... is less likely, but it is something that I'm sure the intelligence agencies and law enforcement are assessing to ensure these risks don't materialise. Just like you, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, all want to protect the American way of life. And there are people assessing risk like this and making sure they do not happen. I don't really have any reason. I mean, I'm not going to advocate for anyone to delist the IRGC as a terrorist organisation given what they've been doing. I interviewed many hostages held by the IRGC. I have no positive feelings for them. They are like the deep state in Iran. So, I... I don't think you're gonna get many Americans who disagree with you on that. I think when you talk about what the IRGC tells you they plan to do and what is likely that they can actually get away with, we have controls in place, Britain, United States, because we know what we're doing. So Michael, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to mention?
Michael White 1:37:57
Well, I think I've kind of talked about in general, everything. I mean, we go into more political stuff. But to be honest with you, you know, I prefer to leave some of the political stuff for another day and everything. I've said a lot of the things that I would like to say. I think that's, that's pretty sufficient and everything like that, you know, raising awareness of the situation, but also raising it so we can get tangible action taken and stuff. And once again, I... I got to be able to say some of the things important points I did want to say is regarding what we can do about this situation, and regarding the IRGC, which I, you know, the JCPOA, which I'm really concerned about and elements that it lacks. There's a lot of elements that it lacks that it needs to have in there. And, you know, the Administration should not be in the zeal to try to go back to this thing. It should be like, it should be under conditions that we feel are going to address a lot of these external issues and we have to just tell the Iranian regime, "hey, you want us to relieve, relieve anything, there's a lot of conditions, and it's not just dealing with the nuclear programme. There's... it's beyond that, you know, and if you want to walk, walk, but understand there's consequences to that." That's pretty much it. I do appreciate the time to be here.
Daren Nair 1:39:14
Thank you for that. We mentioned the other Americans still being held. So, if you want to know what you can do to help, these are the four Americans, Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi. Emad Shagi and Morad Tahbaz. Write to your Congressmen, to your Senators, to your Governors, to the White House, ask the US government to bring them home and bring them home now. Keep writing to them. Keep letting them know we're not going to leave these innocent Americans behind in Iran. Michael, thank you for your service in the US Navy. And thank you for taking the time to speak to us. We wish you all the best for the future. Thanks again.
Michael White 1:40:00
No, you're welcome.
Daren Nair 1:40:06
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.