Washington Post Reporter Jason Rezaian Sues Iran for Kidnapping, Torture

Freed Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian speaks during the inauguration of the Washington Post Headquarters on January 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Rezaian was released from Iran after 18 months behind bars on spying charges. / AFP / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian filed a federal lawsuit against the government of Iran on Monday, asserting that he was taken hostage and psychologically tortured during 18 months of captivity, to extract concessions from the U.S. government in the Iranian nuclear deal.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia by Rezaian and his family against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Washington Post summarizes the suit as follows:

Iranian officials repeatedly told Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who also was detained for more than two months, that Rezaian had “value” as a bargaining chip for a prisoner swap, the suit says. The filing also links key moments in the nuclear negotiations to Rezaian’s treatment in the judicial system, from arrest to conviction to sentencing, and ultimately his releaseon the day the deal was implemented.

“For nearly eighteen months, Iran held and terrorized Jason for the purpose of gaining negotiating leverage and ultimately exchanging him with the United States for something of value to Iran,” the suit states.

Rezaian; his brother, Ali Rezaian; and their mother, Mary Rezaian, are asking for an unspecified sum for damages under the “terrorism exception” to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. That law generally bars U.S. citizens from suing foreign governments in domestic courts, but exceptions are made for terrorist acts, torture or hostage-taking by countries, including Iran, that the State Department has designated as state sponsors of terrorism. The suit accuses Iran of all three.

The Post runs through the well-known outline of the Rezaian ordeal, including a creepy arrest by “Iranian agents wearing surgical masks,” Jason’s long detention at the hideous Evin prison, and a secret trial whose details were never disclosed.

The lawsuit provides some new details, however, including the Iranians’ constant threats to “dismember or execute” Rezaian and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, driving them to the edge of suicide.

The suit also alleges Rezaian’s captors “held him in prolonged solitary confinement, deprived him of sleep, aggressively and relentlessly interrogated him,” and “denied him basic medical treatment for serious and painful illnesses and infections.”

During the course of his captivity, the reporter suffered “rapid weight loss, acute respiratory complications, sores and infections, severe anxiety, paranoia, and major depression, all without adequate medical care or treatment.”

The cell where Rezaian was kept in solitary confinement for about 50 days is described as “cold, damp, dirty, and infested with cockroaches and other insects.” For the first four months of his imprisonment, he slept on the floor with “only a scrap of rug separating him from the cold, damp concrete.” Prison officials eventually gave him tranquilizers to make him sleep. He was blindfolded during his twice-daily twenty-minute walks in the prison yard.

His captors repeatedly attempted to obtain forced confessions, which is a human rights violation under international law. They were fond of getting him to write down statements, rewrite them in Farsi, and demanding he sign the revised documents without allowing him to review the changes.

During her two and a half months of captivity, the IRGC and Iranian agents “physically mistreated” Salehi, “subjected her to extreme psychological abuse and duress, aggressively interrogated her for days and weeks on end, deprived her of sleep, and threatened to torture, dismember, and execute her.” She and her family were shadowed and harassed by Iranian agents even after she was released.

As a result, the suit says she has “suffered from severe anxiety, paranoia, and other physical and psychological problems, all of which has permanently affected her relationship with Jason and her family and friends.”

The Rezaian lawsuit goes into some detail about how Iran used his trial to manipulate the U.S. government during nuclear negotiations:

At the so-called “trial,” Iran proffered no real evidence or witnesses to support any of the charges against him. The trial proceedings were a sham, with no due process of law.

Iran denied Jason his right to counsel of his choice, gave him and his assigned counsel no time to prepare a defense, barred him from presenting any witnesses or evidence, and failed to produce a single piece of real evidence against him.

During the erratic course of the proceedings, the court held sham hearings without any notice, often conspicuously coinciding with developments in the nuclear negotiations and related talks between the United States and Iran.

The lawsuit pointedly connects Rezaian’s release with the riches showered on Iran by the Obama administration:

On January 16, 2016, Iran exchanged Jason and three other U.S. nationals in Iranian custody for seven Iranian nationals held by the United States.

Around the same time, the United States lifted longstanding economic sanctions against Iran and released approximately $100 billion of previously frozen Iranian assets under terms of the nuclear agreement among Iran, the United States, and others.

The United States also paid to Iran roughly $1.7 billion in cash for the settlement of a longstanding Iranian property claim seeking the return of funds that had been deposited by Iran in the United States prior to the 1797 revolution and then subsequently frozen by the U.S. government after Iran stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage.

According to the United States, the $1.7 billion payment was comprised of $400 million in principal, plus a negotiated compromise of $1.3 billion in interest accrued since 1979.

“For nearly eighteen months, Iran held and terrorized Jason for the purpose of gaining negotiating leverage and ultimately exchanging him with the United States for something of value to Iran,” the suit emphasizes.

“Iran’s unconscionable actions have inflicted deep and lasting wounds on The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian and his family,” said Executive Editor Martin Baron.

“This legal filing is a stark telling of Iran’s brutal and heartless treatment of an innocent journalist and his wife, and the impact on those who love him. While this legal action is being taken solely by Jason and his family, The Post continues to support the Rezaians through their long and painful recovery,” Baron declared.

The Post can only predict an uncertain future for the lawsuit, noting that Iran generally dismisses such efforts as “theft” and rarely bothers to send representation to U.S. courts. Notably, the lawsuit seeks to proceed under a terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act but does not reference the new Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) for which Congress just overrode an Obama presidential veto.

Compensation may ultimately come from the Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund created by Congress last year, but such an outcome would hardly bother the terror masters of Iran, who are still busy counting the enormous piles of cash Barack Obama gave them.


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