Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and the man who negotiated his release from an Iranian prison, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, lauded the principle of bringing Americans in trouble home, no matter how hard the task, as they shared a stage Thursday at the opening of The Post’s new headquarters.
Rezaian, who was released with four other U.S. citizens Jan. 16, and Kerry both choked up with emotion while addressing senior Post executives and invited guests in the main conference room at The Post’s K Street offices in Northwest Washington.
Rezaian occasionally stopped to regain his composure as he recalled his 18 months in captivity and trial on espionage and other charges. His family and The Post had called the charges trumped-up accusations leveled against a journalist just doing his job.
“For much of the 18 months I was in prison, my Iranian interrogators told me The Washington Post did not exist, that no one knew of my plight, that the U.S. government would not lift a finger for my release,” said Rezaian, who was accompanied by his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, his brother Ali, and the men’s mother, Mary Rezaian. “Today I am in this room with the very people who helped prove the Iranians wrong.”
In a long list of thank-yous to his family and Post editors who worked to keep his case in the spotlight, Rezaian thanked Kerry and Brett McGurk, currently a special presidential envoy who negotiated with the Iranians for 14 months for a prisoner deal that got most of the imprisoned Americans out.
“No other country would do so much for an ordinary citizen, and I know that,” Rezaian said.
Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who worked as a senator to get an accounting of prisoners of war and other military personnel lost in Southeast Asia, recalled a desperate search for Rezaian’s mother and wife, who could not be located in Tehran in the final hours before a Swiss plane bearing the group lifted off. U.S. negotiators demanded that the plane not leave without the women, and Kerry enlisted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to help locate a judge in the middle of the night and ensure that the women were at the airport and authorized to depart.
“In the military, the most sacred pledge is you can never leave a buddy behind,” said Kerry, pausing momentarily until the emotion in his voice came under control. “Like most pledges, it’s a lot easier to say than to do, no matter how great the effort.”
Kerry said the anxiety Rezaian’s family felt for his welfare was shared by the families of the other Americans released as part of the prisoner deal. He vowed to continue working to get information on the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who has been missing in Iran since 2007.
Kerry noted that across the world, 71 members of the news media were killed on the job last year and almost 200 imprisoned. He said journalists once were usually accidental casualties but now are more likely to be deliberately targeted for the stories they have brought to light.
“A country without a free and independent press has nothing to brag about, nothing to teach, no way to fulfill its potential,” Kerry said.
When Kerry arrived, he sat in the front row between Rezaian and The Post’s owner, Jeffrey P. Bezos. Kerry said journalism is not a dying enterprise, calling curiosity and the desire to know the truth “part of the human DNA.”
“The new building is a neon sign that shows faith in the future of newspapers, and that The Washington Post’s storied past in speaking truth to power is one of the reasons that people in the media are prepared to stand up to the powerful,” Kerry said.