Households nonetheless hope to satisfy with Biden as first Nationwide Hostage Day flag is raised

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Washington — On Saturday, the U.S. is marking its first Nationwide Hostage and Wrongful Detainee Day. Bipartisan legislation signed into regulation by President Biden established March 9 as a day of remembrance for People wrongfully held abroad.

The Hostage and Wrongful Detainee Day Act was launched and shepherded by way of Congress final yr by Reps. Haley Stevens and French Hill, and Sen. Chris Coons. The measure additionally created a nationwide flag for wrongfully detained People and hostages, which was raised for the primary time exterior the State Division on Friday morning alongside the American flag. The black and yellow flag is paying homage to America’s prisoners of conflict and people lacking in motion (POW/MIA) flag.

March 8, 2024. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell proven with flag to be raised exterior the State Division yearly to commemorate Nationwide Hostage Day on March 9.State Dept. Flickr account

A handful of former hostages and their households attended the flag-raising ceremony with State Division officers, standing alongside households of those that stay wrongfully detained overseas.

Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell introduced on the ceremony that the flag will likely be raised exterior the State Division yearly on March 9. It’ll additionally fly when an American hostage held overseas both dies or returns dwelling.

Diane Foley, Siamak Namazi and Emad Shargi on the State Division. March 8, 2024.Camilla Schick

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who claims to hold in his pocket a card with a listing of the handfuls of People held hostage or unjustly detained, introduced in a video deal with earlier than the flag-raising that he has “been capable of cross off 46 names on that listing” over the previous three years.

“Roger introduced me with my very own card — I am having it laminated. I’ll carry it with me at all times,” Campbell instructed the gang, referring to Roger Carstens, the particular presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

As he stood underneath the flag, Carstens instructed CBS Information that the brand new flag is considered one of solely three allowed to fly exterior federal buildings, along with the American flag and the POW/MIA flag.

Hostage households on the State Division. March 8, 2024Camilla Schick

The date of March 9 holds particular significance for the household of 1 hostage specifically.

“March 9 is the anniversary of my father’s disappearance,” stated Sarah Levinson Moriarty, the daughter of Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007 and have become the longest-held American hostage in historical past. In March 2020, U.S. officers instructed the Levinson household that that they had intelligence indicating Robert had died in captivity in Iran.

“It has been a horrific day for us for the previous 17 years. Once we have been advocating for today of consciousness and the flag being codified, we took the chance to show a extremely damaging day right into a constructive for our nation,” Levinson Moriarty instructed CBS Information.

The flag can fly on three days of the yr: Hostage Day on March 9, Flag Day on June 14, and on July 4, in addition to when a hostage dies overseas or comes dwelling, Levinson Moriarty stated.

“It will be significant to my father to know his struggling and ache was not in useless, and that our household and our nation have been capable of take what occurred to him and switch it into one thing that may assist others to forestall it,” she added.

The flag was designed by David Ewald, a professor on the College of Oregon College of Journalism and Communication. He instructed CBS Information that the households of these wrongfully detained had helped create its distinctive yellow and black design, with two rows of tally marks extending throughout its middle evoking the passage of time for detainees. Ewald stated he did not suppose he would see the day it flew, describing the flag as an actual “heavy weight.”

After the flag-raising ceremony, various households headed to Lafayette Sq. in entrance of the White Home to stage a sit-in, considered one of a number of protests that the grassroots group Carry Our Households Residence has held exterior the president’s door to strain him to satisfy with them and for the administration to do extra to carry their family members dwelling.

“My dad was taken when [President Biden] was vp,” stated Harrison Li, the son of 61-year-old Kai Li, who has been wrongfully detained in China since 2012. “So it is actually been a really very long time.”

Kai Li is considered one of three People wrongfully detained in China, together with Mark Swidan and David Lin. Harrison Li is a co-chair of Bring Our Families Home, which was shaped quickly after the president met in March 2022 with the mother and father of Trevor Reed, a Marine Corps veteran who was detained in Russia in 2019. Reed was freed in a prisoner swap only a month later, prompting a few of the households of different hostages to wonder if they have been being handled in another way by the U.S. authorities.

“All of the China circumstances have been very, very lengthy circumstances. I do know that there are individuals placing in effort. However I believe the true roadblock is there’s loads of disagreement and paperwork,” Harrison Li stated. “The sense I get is there’s loads of of us who perhaps aren’t so certain on what to do and how one can method these circumstances, and that results in loads of gridlock. That is actually but another excuse why we’re seeking to simply meet with the president — he can type of break up that gridlock.”

He continued, “If we’re capable of get Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner out of Russia throughout the Ukraine state of affairs, then you’ll be able to think about getting People out of China at a time, particularly now, after they’re making an attempt to heat up relations with the U.S.”

Li’s predecessor at Carry Our Households Residence was Neda Sharghi, whose brother Emad Shargi was held for years in Iran. Neda Sharghi had buttonholed the president at a crowded White Home Persian New 12 months’s celebration in March 2023, after months of unsuccessful makes an attempt by her household to obtain a gathering. Emad was launched in a prisoner change with Iran a couple of months later, together with fellow People Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and two others who wished to stay nameless. The Biden administration additionally helped make obtainable $6 billion in restricted Iranian oil income to the regime in Tehran.

Households embroiled in the newest hostage disaster — Israeli-People held by the militant group Hamas in Gaza — met Wednesday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and with nationwide safety adviser Jake Sullivan. They have been invited to satisfy in particular person with the president in December, weeks after their households have been taken hostage — a relatively compressed timeframe that was not misplaced on the households of hostages held in different international locations. There are six American twin residents nonetheless unaccounted for, together with Keith Siegel, Sagui Dekel-Chen, Edan Alexander, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, Omer Neutra, and Itay Chen. CIA Director Invoice Burns was in Doha on Friday urgent for a Hamas-Israel deal to launch 40 or extra hostages in change for a six week cessation in violence and surge of support into Gaza.

A handful of relations of People wrongfully detained overseas have been invited by members of Congress to the president’s State of the Union deal with, Thursday, together with Anna Corbett, spouse of Ryan Corbett, who’s at the moment being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Harrison Li was additionally invited.

“I needed to attend, hopefully to get out to satisfy individuals who can assist me get to the president, and even maybe meet the president himself, nevertheless briefly,” Li instructed CBS Information.

The household of Wall Road Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich have been additionally company of the First Woman on Thursday evening, as President Biden made point out of Evan and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, each detained in Russia.

Paul Whelan has been detained in Russia since 2018. His brother, David Whelan, says that the federal government has made progress in its efforts to take care of American hostages.

“When Paul was arrested there was no infrastructure, no help for households, there was no overt exercise by the U.S. authorities, by the State Division or anyone. So we have come so removed from that,” David Whelan instructed CBS Information. “We’re now beginning to see tangible proof of the U.S. authorities making an attempt to grapple with this hostage-taking drawback.”

Biden has met with the Whelan household twice—in September 2022, and in January.

“I believe that the households of hostages and detainees have the suitable to request a gathering with the President. I believe that the U.S. Authorities, the State Division and the White Home specifically, ought to take laborious have a look at how they deal with household circumstances in another way, as a result of, whether or not they intend to deal with them in another way or not, they’re doing so.”

“On the identical time, and clearly with the privilege of getting had Elizabeth (Paul’s sister) communicate to the president twice, I believe Paul’s case is a extremely good instance of how chatting with the President would not really lead to somebody coming dwelling.”

“I believe our authorities has at all times stated that a majority of these issues are a high precedence,” Sarah Levinson Moriarty stated. “However what higher strategy to present it than to truly meet with these households, maintain their fingers and inform them that the U.S. authorities is doing each doable factor that they’ll to finish their struggling.”

— Margaret Brennan and Andrew Bast contributed to this report.

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