In swap with Iran, US releases criminals in return for American hostages; sanctions lifted on Iran


The United States released seven men, six Iranian-Americans and one Iranian, who were either convicted of or charged with violating sanctions against Iran in return for the freedom of five American hostages imprisoned in Iran on Saturday. The administration also agreed to stop seeking the arrest of 14 others, including, as Bloomberg View reported, “two of whom the U.S. government had accused of funneling weapons to the Bashar al-Assad regime and Hezbollah in Syria.” Experts have raised concerns over the move to engage in a swap with Iran. According to The New York Times, former Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman said, “‘These deals incentivize future hostage taking’ and suggest ‘that Iran can continue to engage in such behavior with impunity.’” The American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin commented, “Make no mistake: we negotiated with terrorists, and the terrorists won. There is no change of heart among the Islamic Republic leadership…Rather, what we see is a pragmatic desire in Tehran to profit and to imply moral equivalence between the American hostages held in Iran and those Iranians caught seeking to subvert the United States.” Peter Baker of The New York Times reported that even some of those inside the administration had concerns that such a deal could serve as an incentive for others to target Americans. Reuters reported Tuesday that the three U.S. citizens who went missing in Baghdad last week were abducted by an Iranian-backed militia.

Only hours after the hostages were freed, the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that the nuclear deal with Iran could be implemented, thereby lifting nuclear-related sanctions and freeing up at least $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s “most powerful economic actor” that controls 20-30% of the economy, is slated to be one of the largest beneficiaries of sanctions relief. The Iran Task Force, a group of former government officials and nuclear, legal, and sanctions experts, explained that the U.S. Treasury “has repeatedly noted that the IRGC’s economic empire ‘ultimately benefits the IRGC and its dangerous activities.’” The Iran Task Force also noted that with sanctions relief, the IRGC will gain access to dual-use technologies that it “needs to advance its missile program, military activities, and internal repression.” The IRGC, charged as the guardians of the Islamic Revolution, exports terror around the world, including to Iraq, Syria, and Yemen; has launched two ballistic missiles in defiance of international bans; and last Tuesday seized two U.S. naval boats and ten sailors. Reuters reported on Tuesday, “Tehran is not about to end these activities just because its relations with the West have thawed with the nuclear deal. On the contrary, it hopes the economy, freed from the sanctions, will create new wealth that can be used for these ends.”


The United States military said that the 10 American sailors who were seized along with their two boats by Iran last week were held at gunpoint, Reuters reported on Monday.

According to a statement released by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which is the fullest account of the incident to date, the sailors were taken at gunpoint to a port facility on Farsi Island, where they were detained for around 15 hours. The Iranians were also revealed to have confiscated SIM cards from two satellite phones that the sailors had in their possession.

The news comes in the wake of charges that Iran’s actions during the seizure of the American vessels and their crews, who U.S. authorities say wandered into Iranian waters due to a mechanical failure, violated international law.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that “under international maritime law, such innocent passage’ should have brought an instruction to leave those waters, not a seizure and detention, according to Navy manuals citing the international standards.”

Similarly, former naval officer Sen. John McCain (R – Ariz.), currently the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement last week asserting, “Under international law, sovereign immune vessels like navy ships and boats do not lose their sovereign immune status when they are in distress at sea. Under international law, sovereign immune naval vessels are exempt from detention, boarding, or search. Their crews are not subject to detention or arrest.” McCain was held as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

In addition, heavily-broadcast pictures of the detained sailors that were taken while they were kneeling with their hands behind their heads may have violated the Third Geneva Convention, which is supposed to protect prisoners “against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

Bill Luti, vice president of Hudson Institute, said on Friday, “it appears the seizure by the Iranians violates several, if two or three, well-established principles of international and maritime law. The first one being, of course, being innocent passage, where ships of all states, whether coastal or landlocked, have the right of innocent passage through territorial waters… sovereign immunity of warships…  third principle, while we’re not technically at war with Iran, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Protocol 1 and 2 of 1977, which clearly prohibit the filming, photographing or otherwise using videotaped or audio-taped confessions or apologies for propaganda purposes.”

A similar case was made after Iran captured 15 British sailors and marines in 2007, when the British government asserted that the broadcasting of their images breached the Third Geneva Convention.

American lawmakers have also voiced concern over Iran’s treatment of the sailors, with Rep. Mike Pompeo (R – Kans.) calling for an investigation into whether Iran’s actions violated the convention.

I am relieved to hear that the ten U.S. Navy sailors that Iran captured have been returned. We are thankful for the service and bravery of these nine men and one woman. We now must fully investigate Iran for possible violations of the Geneva Convention and ensure these sailors were treated properly.

“Iran’s capture of these sailors raises serious questions about the Iranian regime and what it will take for the Obama administration to understand that Iran is not a partner in peace. How many American service members does Iran would have to capture? How many U.N. resolutions does Iran have to violate? And how close do Iranian rockets have to come to U.S. ships before President Obama takes real action against Iran? Is there any limit to what the fanatical Iranian regime can get away with?

Iran seized the Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship Maersk Tigris last year, holding its crew for ten days until the company that owned the vessel agreed to pay a judgment issued by an Iranian court. Legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich wrote in The Washington Post that the seizure “clearly [violated] international law, and one might add, a branch of international law that is ordinarily well-respected, and quite fundamental for global commerce.” (via


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