One of the United States military’s guiding principles is that we leave no man or woman behind.
In July 2018, Michael White, a Navy veteran from Southern California, made his third trip to Iran with a lawfully issued Iranian visa to visit a woman that he’d fallen in love with in the northern city of Mashhad. Just as he was about to return to the United States, Michael was suddenly arrested and held in detention for nearly two months, where he was allegedly beaten and interrogated about his military service before being transferred to Vakilabad prison.
Michael was recently convicted of the crimes of “posting on social media” and “insulting the Supreme Leader” in a proceeding not conducted in accordance with generally accepted international norms. For these “crimes,” he was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison.
Since his arrest, Michael has largely been held incommunicado. He is not allowed any contact with the outside world, other than the occasional visit from Swiss diplomats who represent American interests in Iran. Michael is a recent cancer survivor who has multiple serious medical conditions which require the type of advanced care that isn’t available in a prison setting. Michael’s case clearly calls for a humanitarian release. He has nothing to do with the current geopolitical conflict between Iran and the United States, and the resolution of his case shouldn’t be dependent upon resolving the feud between our two countries.
It’s no secret that President Trump and I do not see eye-to-eye on many things. However, we both share the belief and strong opinion that repatriating Americans held abroad must be a critical national priority. President Trump and his administration already have made bringing home wrongfully held Americans a priority, as evidenced by multiple successes throughout his time in office. That same prioritization must extend to the Americans we know to be arbitrarily detained in Iran at this very moment, and it must also include getting answers for the family of Robert Levinson.
While I believe it’s vital for the administration to open a dialogue with Iran about recovering Michael and the other Americans that Iran wrongfully holds as bargaining chips, it goes without saying that this conversation does not need to be coupled with policy concessions. Rather, this dialog can and should focus on negotiating a resolution for this specific issue, up to and including prisoner transfers (an option in which Iranian senior leadership recently expressed interest). It is also critically important, in my view, that we avoid being drawn into a march to war with Iran.
Michael White served his country honorably and his family has disproportionately borne the burden of service. They are currently trying to crowdfund Michael’s defense, and I’d encourage all who can to join me in that effort to give what they can or simply to share his story. His mother, Joanne, has not been able to speak to her son since his arrest last August. This military family didn’t ask to be put in the middle of one of the world’s most complicated geopolitical problems, and they’re absolutely right to call on their government to take every reasonable step to secure his release.
President Trump and I have known each other for a long time, and I know that he cares deeply about the plight of Americans held abroad. When President Obama was in office, both he and I called on the previous administration to act under very similar circumstances. Now, the time has come for the families of the Americans arbitrarily detained in Iran to hear from their president. This isn’t about the left or right – it’s not even about politics. It’s about standing up for what we believe in. It’s about doing the right thing.
Mr. President, it’s time to open a new dialogue with the Iranians and bring our people home. I stand ready and willing to assist however I can.