Marine’s doubt faded to joy

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By The As­so­ci­ated Press

land­stuhl, ger­many» Pale but smil­ing, for­mer U.S. Marine Amir Hek­mati re­counted Tues­day how dis­be­lief turned to joy when he and three fel­low Amer­i­cans re­al­ized that they were be­ing re­leased as part of a deal with Iran and re­united with their fam­i­lies af­ter spend­ing years in Ira­nian prison.

Speak­ing pub­licly for the first time since be­ing al­lowed to leave Iran in a pris­oner swap Sun­day, Hek­mati said the sud­den end to his four-year or­deal still seemed sur­real. Con­victed by an Ira­nian court of spy­ing and sen­tenced to death in 2012, he was given a 10-year sen­tence on a lesser charge af­ter a re­trial.

“I was at a point where I had just sort of ac­cepted the fact that I was go­ing to be spend­ing 10 years in prison, so this was a sur­prise, and I just feel truly blessed to see my govern­ment do so much for me and the other Amer­i­cans,” Hek­mati told re­porters out­side the U.S. mil­i­tary’s Land­stuhl Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Ger­many, where he was taken for treat­ment.

There was no ad­vance warn­ing of his re­lease, he added. “They just came one morn­ing and said, ‘Pack your things.’ ”

“I was wor­ried that maybe the Ira­nian side was go­ing to make new de­mands at the last minute or that the deal wasn’t go­ing to work out, so up un­til the last se­cond we were all wor­ried and con­cerned,” he said.

The 32-year-old says he and his fel­low pris­on­ers en­dured re­peated de­lays un­til they were al­lowed to board a Swiss govern­ment plane. But they weren’t able to re­lax un­til the jet had left Ira­nian airspace, af­ter which “cham­pagne bot­tles were popped” and veal and choco­lates were served, he said.

Hek­mati said he felt lucky and hum­bled by the sup­port he re­ceived from those cam­paign­ing for his re­lease. He ex­pressed grat­i­tude to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the U.S. Congress and his other sup­port­ers, re­serv­ing spe­cial thanks for the Marine Corps.

Hek­mati said spend­ing 4½ years in prison in Iran “wasn’t good” but that his Marine train­ing helped sus­tain him.

“I tried my best to keep my head up and with­stand all the pres­sures that were put on me. Some of them were very in­hu­mane and un­just,” he said. “Hear­ing about some of my fel­low Marines sup­port­ing me re­ally gave me the strength to put up with over four years of some very dif­fi­cult times.”

“He has not had much of a chance to ex­er­cise, and he’s lost some weight. But he looks fit, and I think he is on the mend,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Demo­crat from Hek­mati’s home state of Michi­gan, told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “A bet­ter diet and a chance to ex­er­cise ... and I think he’ll turn out to be just fine.”

Hek­mati, Wash­ing­ton Post reporter Ja­son Reza­ian and pas­tor Saeed Abe­dini ar­rived late Sun­day at Land­stuhl for treat­ment. A fourth Amer­i­can re­leased in ex­change for the U.S. par­don­ing or drop­ping charges against seven Ira­ni­ans opted to stay in Iran, and a fifth Amer­i­can was re­leased sep­a­rately.

From left, Wash­ing­ton Post reporter Ja­son Reza­ian; his wife, Ye­ganeh Salehi; his mother, Mary Reza­ian; and brother Ali Reza­ian re­unite near the Ram­stein Air Base on Mon­day in Land­stuhl, Ger­many. Ja­son Reza­ian was freed af­ter al­most 18 months of in­car­cer­a­tion in an Ira­nian prison. Martin Baron, The Wash­ing­ton Post

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