The United States and Iran have conducted a prisoner exchange just as the historic nuclear deal took effect this weekend. The U.S. freed seven Iranian nationals convicted of violating economic sanctions. In exchange, Iran freed four Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. The other prisoners freed were Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose imprisonment had been secret until the exchange was announced. A fifth American national, student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately from the prisoner swap and has returned to the United States. The exchange coincides with the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. The U.S. and other world powers have partially lifted crippling economic sanctions after the International Atomic Energy Agency certified Iran’s compliance with the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure. We are joined by Shane Bauer, a journalist who spent 26 months in Tehran’s Evin Prison, four of them in solitary, after he and two other Americans, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, were captured in July 2009 while hiking near the unmarked Iran-Iraq border. Bauer is an award-winning senior reporter at Mother Jones and co-author of the memoir, “A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran.”
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. and Iran have conducted a prisoner exchange just as the historic nuclear deal took effect. The U.S. freed seven Iranian nationals convicted of violating economic sanctions; in exchange, Iran freed four Americans: Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. His imprisonment had been secret until the exchange was announced. Jason Rezaian’s detention was the most well known. He was arrested in July of 2014 and held on charges including espionage. Rezaian is the Tehran bureau chief of The Washington Post, which has always maintained his innocence and led an international campaign for his release. Jason Rezaian’s cousin, Reza, welcomed his freedom.
REZA REZAIAN: It’s just—it’s spectacular news. We’re just so happy. Can’t wait to see him. I mean, just hope he’s in good health, you know? And I know he’s—he’s getting flown to Switzerland to get some medical attention. So, really happy to hear that.
AMY GOODMAN: The four Americans have been flown to a U.S. base in Germany to undergo medical checkups and meet with their families. Their release was almost derailed after Iranian authorities detained Rezaian’s wife and mother at the Tehran airport. A fifth American national, student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately from the prisoner swap and has returned to the United States.
The seven prisoners released by the U.S. are Khosrow Afghahi, Tooraj Faridi, Bahram Mechanic, Nima Golestaneh, Nader Modanlou, Arash Ghahraman and Ali Saboonchi. Six of them hold dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship. All had been accused or convicted of exporting goods and services to Iran in violation of trade sanctions. The U.S. has also agreed to drop charges against 14 others.
The exchange coincides with the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. U.S. and other world powers have partially lifted crippling economic sanctions after the International Atomic Energy Agency certified Iran’s compliance with the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure. Iran can now access tens of billions of dollars of its own money frozen overseas and re-enter the global oil market and financial institutions. The U.S. continues to maintain an economic embargo that prevents U.S. companies from doing business in Iran, and has just announced new sanctions over Iranian ballistic missile tests.
Although Republican critics have wrongly claimed the U.S. is giving Iran money instead of simply letting it access its own funds, there actually will be some American money flowing to Iran. As the deal took effect, the U.S. announced it would pay Iran back for a weapons purchase that was never actually delivered. In the ’70s, the U.S. sold over $400 million in weapons to the autocratic government it backed, headed by the shah, but it never sent the weapons because the shah was overthrown. After nearly four decades, Iran is now finally getting its money back, with interest—some $1.3 billion.
The prisoner swap was negotiated separately from the Iran nuclear deal over a 14-month process. On Sunday, President Obama praised the exchange, saying it proves what’s possible with diplomacy.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But today’s progress—Americans coming home, an Iran that has rolled back its nuclear program and accepted unprecedented monitoring of that program—these things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead with strength and with wisdom, with courage and resolve and patience. America can do and has done big things when we work together. We can lead this world and make it safer and more secure for our children and our grandchildren, for generations to come.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by a guest who has firsthand experience with imprisonment in Iran. Shane Bauer spent more than two years in Tehran’s Evin Prison, four of them in solitary, after he and two other Americans—now his wife, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal—were captured in July 2009 while hiking near the unmarked Iran-Iraq border in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. Shane Bauer is an award-winning senior reporter at Mother Jones, co-author of the memoir, A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran.
Shane, welcome back to Democracy Now! Your thoughts today? You certainly were, for a long time, sitting just where these men were, who have been released.
SHANE BAUER: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Amy. I was ecstatic, you know, to hear this news. When I heard that all of them got released, you know, my mind immediately went back to that moment when I was flying out of Iran with Josh Fattal. I remembered hitting the tarmac in Oman, seeing our families. There’s nothing that has ever compared to that in my life, and I’m sure that’s going to be true for them, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the prisoner exchange and what this means?
SHANE BAUER: I mean, I think, you know, the—Iran has been arresting innocent Americans for years. It’s been detaining innocent Americans for years, and this is very much a part of Iran’s foreign policy. You know, when I was in prison, my interrogator told me a couple months into my interrogation that he knew that I was innocent, but our case was political, and that our release was dependent on political negotiations. That was clear from the beginning. This was the same with these four Americans. Iran, you know, I think, sees its detention of Americans as a way to exert pressure on the United States, whether or not that is true. It also may act as a kind of an insurance policy for Iran. You know, it always has these American citizens to kind of dangle over the U.S. government’s head. The fact that Iran released these four Americans, you know, the day that international sanctions were lifted is hugely significant. I mean, it’s a great sign of progress between, you know, the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran.