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Three Americans Freed From Iran Prison; Americans Receiving Medical Checkups In Germany; Journalist In Good Spirits; Prisoner Chooses To Stay In Iran; Prisoners Left Behind; Missing Americans in Baghdad; Interview with Rep. Seth Moulton. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired January 18, 2016 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for watching, everyone. WOLF starts right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 7:00 p.m. at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, 9:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We start this hour with five Americans held by Iran now free. The "Washington Post" reporter, Jason Rezaian, the former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, the Christian pastor, Saeed Abedini and Nasra Tallah Kasravi Ritzari (ph). They were all part of a prisoner swap by the United States.
Also, American student, Matt Trevithick, was also released. Three of them, Rezaian, Hekmati and Abedini, they are now all in Germany in a U.S. military hospital. They're getting medical checkups.
Our Fred Pleitgen is joining us live from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Fred, what more do we know about their condition, first of all, and have they been finally able to reunite with their family?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly have been able to meet some of their family members. We do know that it's unclear how many, at this point. And that really goes back to those medical checks that are being conducted, at this point in time.
The physicians here at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, they, obviously, have a lot of experience of dealing with cases like this was -- this one. And apparently, one of the things they're doing is they're trying to reintegrate these three men as slowly as possible so they don't get overwhelmed by the fact that, all of the sudden, they have all their family members there.
Now, there's medical checks going on as well, as far as the physical side is concerned. But, of course, the detention of this length will also take a psychological toll on people. And so, therefore, they are letting family members see them but not very quickly.
For instance, we spoke to Jason Rezaian's brother, Ali, earlier today. And, at that point, he hadn't been able to speak face to face with Jason. However, representative to Jared Huffman, he came out and he said that Jason's condition appears to be -- as far as the circumstances are concerned, appears to be all right. Let's listen into what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JARED HUFFMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: The indications that we have are that there are no major, acute problems right now. That's a relief because, you know, we had heard that their health was declining. And in the case of Jason Rezaian, I had heard he'd lost quite a bit of weight, was under tremendous stress. So, we hope to hear more good news. But the indications that we have, at this point, are that there's nothing acute right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: So, there you see a sense of relief. Of course, the same thing can also be said for Amir Hekmati, as well as Saeed Abedini. Amir Hekmati, in his case, four years in Iranian detention. So, certainly, a very, very tough time, especially taking into account that he was in Levine prison, Wolf, which is notorious for the conditions that people are kept in there. At this point, Wolf, it's unclear when these three men will be able to return to the United States.
BLITZER: The debriefings though, presumably, will continue. This is a process -- you've covered these kinds of developments over the years. This is a process that could take at least a week or so, right?
PLEITGEN: Yes, certainly. I mean, it is certainly a process that could take up to a week. It could take even more. It all depends on the conditions that se three men are in. And keep in mind, especially if you look at Jason Rezaian, there was a lot of concern about his health, when he was in Avin (ph) prison, about his blood pressure.
Also, the fact that, as the "Washington Post" pointed out, that he was in solitary confinement for a very long time. And, in fact, he spoke to the managing editors of the "Washington Post," and he told them, as they later wrote in an internal memo, that being in solitary confinement was really the worst thing. And so, it's going to be dependent on how they're doing. Also, of course, them speaking of possible debriefings as well as to when they'll be able to return to the U.S.
But, in any case, the physicians here are trying to do this as fast as possible, because, of course, they want these three men to be able to return to the U.S. as fast as possible and also continue with their lives, of course, as fast as possible -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen reporting us -- for us from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Fred, thanks very much. The "Washington Post" reporter, Jason Rezaian, as we just heard, he was behind bars in Iran for 545 days before his release over the weekend. He was convicted of espionage, and what his family and friends, including the president of the United States, they have all called this a sham trial.
Our CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is with me right now. Jim, you've been in touch with this family for a long time, and you had a chance to speak with some relatives.
[13:05:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I did. I spoke with Ali Rezaian and his brother this morning who, at that point, still had not been able to meet him face-to-face. Speak to him on phone but not meet him face to face.
And I'll tell you, this, of course, was principally an ordeal for the prisoners, themselves. But it was also an ordeal for the families, because they didn't know -- not -- they didn't when this was going to end or how it was going to end. And they had so many false starts, moments where their hopes were raised and then the deal fell apart.
And so, I'll tell you, that even in those final hours when this plane was about to take off, they had doubts. They weren't going to believe it until they saw it. And, in addition to that, while he was behind bars, of course, they weren't going to say anything critical of the U.S. or the Iranian government. They did -- they did not want to disturb those negotiations.
But now, of course, they can talk. And when I spoke to Ali Rezaian earlier today, he talked about how the mistreatment of his brother and the family continued right up to the moments before that plane took off.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALI REZAIAN, JASON REZAIAN'S BROTHER: I think there's going to be a lot to find out over the course of the next couple months when Jason's ready to. But, right now, he just needs to focus on making sure that he's ready to come back into society, be with folks and get himself better. I think he was surprised and shocked at the amount of attention that this was getting. And he's only, right now, starting to learn about, you know, all the hard work that went into get him out, and the support he's had from you and from your colleagues all around the world to help get him out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And, Jim, it is very appointed, you and I worked all day Saturday reporting the story. We thought that that plane would take off, that Swiss plane from Teheran, with these Americans. It didn't happen on Saturday. It finally happened on Sunday. Because of what you refer to, that last-minute snag, they were stuck on the tarmac because?
SCIUTTO: Because Jason Rezaian's wife, Negana (ph), and his mother, Yeganah (ph), wanted to be on that plane. They believed that they were going to be on the plane, and the Iranians wouldn't let it happen. But Ali Rezaian told me this morning that both the family and, well, certainly Jason, and the American and the State Department dug in their heels. That's what caused the delay. Listen to the frustration coming across in Ali Rezaian's voice as he recounts this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REZAIAN: Jason had been told he was going to be leaving Yegi (ph). He had been told, repeatedly by the interrogators, that they weren't going to let her leave with Jason. And that's what caused the problems. You know, the U.S. stuck to its guns. They said that Yegi would -- had to come along with Jason, and, you know, they got her out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Manipulating up to the final minutes. That's how the family, of course, has felt. Certainly the prisoners mistreated but the families mistreated through the process as well.
BLITZER: Now, Matthew Trevithick, the student, 30-year-old student, he flew out separately and was not necessarily formally part of this prisoner swap.
SCIUTTO: That's right. He had only been taken several weeks ago. He flew out on a commercial flight directly back to the U.S. He did not have the length of detention requiring a medical checkup in Ramstein and having to stop there in Germany to check them. Not just their physical health but, of course, their psychological health after all this. And not formally part of the same deal as Hekmati, Abedini and Rezaian.
BLITZER: Now, this other individual, this other American, Nosratollah Khosravi, he was -- he was freed. But -- and then, a mysterious development. He decides to remain in Iran. What do we know about that?
SCIUTTO: Is that -- well, the truth is we don't because we didn't know about his case until it was announced that he was being freed. He was not one of the Americans that we knew to be held by Iran. The way the State Department described it, it says that the prisoners who wanted to leave the country as a result of this deal, they had -- they left. They chose to leave, implying, therefore, that he decided to stay there. We're still looking to see what the circumstances are. Just a reminder, there are still Americans there. Of course, there's Robert Levinson.
SCIUTTO: We don't know his fate. I'm going to speak -- be speaking to his family later today. And Siamak Namazi who's an Iranian-America businessman who is still held in Iran.
BLITZER: And another one, Nisr Asaka (ph), still -- there was two Americans that the U.S. government knows for sure who are still in jail in Iran right now. And Robert Levinson, who's the former FBI -- the contractor for the CIA, disappeared on Kish Island as a lot of us remember back in, what, 2007.
SCIUTTO: 2007. BLITZER: They're -- they just -- the only thing they got from the Iranians was a commitment to continue looking for him. Was that the -- what the U.S. officials are saying?
SCIUTTO: Exactly, which is a commitment they had already made. So, in effect, a continuing commitment to say we're going to seek information. But the fact is we don't have a hard answer on his fate. Is he still alive? Where is he held? And when you talk about ordeals for families, the ordeal for the Levinson family sadly continues.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much for your reporting.
The secretary of state, of the United States, John Kerry, touted the successful diplomacy in this entire case. I had a chance to sit down with the secretary to talk about the release and a whole lot more. We also spoke about the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, and one possible reason a major U.S. ally, namely Saudi Arabia, is very uneasy with the deal moving forward. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:10:01] BLITZER: The Saudis have not even, ruling out the possibility, given their concern about this nuclear deal with Iran. They can go forward and buy some -- maybe buy a nuclear bomb, maybe from Pakistan. You've heard those concerns.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Sure, we've heard those things. But you can't just buy a bomb and sort of --
BLITZER: Why not? They've got a lot of money.
KERRY: They're all -- there's all kind of MPT (ph) consequences. I mean, there are huge implications of that. And Saudi Arabia knows, I believe, that that is not going to make them safer nor is it going to be easy. Because the very things that Iran went through, they would then be subject to, with respect to inspection, MPT and so forth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You can see the full interview with Secretary Kerry later today in the "SITUATION ROOM" at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
Right now, I want to show you the first photos we're getting of Amir Hekmati, the former U.S. Marine, just coming into CNN. Here he is a free man for the first time in more than four years. Amir Hekmati is second from the right on your screen. There with his brother-in-law and his two sisters. Also in the picture is Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee. They are all together today.
Congressman Kildee, as a lot of our viewers know, has been for years now, an outspoken advocate for Hekmati's release. He represents the district in Michigan where he's from. The Congressman is joining us now live from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Congressman, I know you worked really hard over these many years. You've been a frequent guest on our program discussing what was going on. First of all, how is he doing? REP. DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN: Well, he seems great. I had never met
him until today. I had a brief phone conversation with him yesterday. But he's everything I expected, a strong guy with a great spirit who's been through an awful ordeal but has maintained that great spirit. He comes from a great family. I have gotten to know them so well. And meeting him and talking to him, it's pretty obvious that he possesses that great fortitude that is so much a part of that family.
BLITZER: So, you --
KILDEE: He's a great young man and I'm just proud to know him.
BLITZER: And I can see that smile on your face with the picture with Amir Hekmati. So, what's going to happen to him over the next few days?
KILDEE: Well, he'll go through, you know, obviously, some medical exams and discuss with the folks here on the ground at Landstuhl, you know, the process of going back home. And they'll work that out between himself, his family and the officials here what the best timing is. It's really up to him. When he feels ready, he'll be able to head home.
And I know the people back home are looking forward to it. He asked me to say how proud he is to be an American and to have stood with these other Americans who have gone through this ordeal and to have so much support from this administration, from Congress, from people back home.
BLITZER: Did he share with you the torment he went through during these four plus years in a prison in Iran?
KILDEE: Actually, the moment we had together before I came over here was really just to say hello and I gave him a big hug and chatted for a few minutes. I am going to go back and have dinner with him and the family and I'm sure that we'll get into a lot more detail. And he's got a story to tell and I think it's important for the world to hear it, but it'll come in due time.
BLITZER: Did he have an opportunity or do you know -- what about these other Americans and how they are doing? First of all, the two other Americans who were there at the Landstuhl hospital where you are, Jason Rezaian and Saeed Abedini. Have you had a chance, Congressman, to meet with them to get a sense of how they're doing?
KILDEE: I have not had yet a chance to meet with them. I had a brief glimpse of Jason Rezaian. But I was on my way to see Amir Hekmati, and so I didn't really get a chance to speak with him. So, I don't have a good sense of how they're doing. But if they are like Amir, you know, they have come through a terrible ordeal, and they're just happy to be reunited with family and go home. I look forward to meeting them in the coming days.
BLITZER: And their families must be so excited, so happy as well. You say you got to know Amir Hekmati's family very well, the U.S. Marine. Do you know anything about this other American who decided after being released from prison in Iran to remain in Iran? Because there's a lot of questions surrounding that particular case. What, if anything, can you share with us, Congressman?
KILDEE: You know, we really don't know much. We talked briefly with the officials here. And, you know, since I was so much associated with and involved in Amir's case, I really didn't hear much about that. That was fairly new to us. So, I can't really report much on it, because I don't know much about it. But, obviously, he -- his case, like all the cases, are unique. But he made the decision for himself to stay behind.
BLITZER: And have U.S. officials explained to you why at least two or maybe three other American citizens remain in -- still in jail, two of them in jail, Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent. The Iranians say they don't know where he is. Have you been briefed on their case why they weren't included in this swap?
[13:15:05] KILDEE: No, I have not. In fact, I haven't really been briefed entirely since the announcement of the release. We were just in such a hurry to get here to greet Amir. I look forward to learning more about that. Obviously, Mr. Levinson's (ph) case is somewhat unique. All the cases, as I said, were unique to -- to themselves. And Mr. Levinson's case is one that we're all concerned about and will continue to press.
You know, it makes a -- it makes a difference. We have to continue to raise his voice and his name, just like we did for -- for the others that are coming home. And -- and I just want to say to you, Wolf, how much I appreciate the attention that you and CNN gave to this story. It made a difference to keep these names and these faces in the -- in the public consciousness and it's one of the reasons that we're able to celebrate this beautiful day.
BLITZER: And we, of course, want to thank you for all the work you did over these many years as well. Congressman Dan Kildee, please pass along our best wishes to the families over there. We're all, obviously, very, very thrilled that they have been reunited with their loved ones. Thanks very much, congressman, for joining us. We'll catch up with you back here in Washington. Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan. He's a Democrat.
BLITZER: Coming up, the search for three Americans missing in Iraq right now. Who's taken them and why?
And also this, we're only two weeks away today, two weeks exactly, from the Iowa caucuses. Did Senator Bernie Sanders gain significant ground on Hillary Clinton in last night's Democratic presidential debate? We'll update you on what we know right after this.
[13:20:36] BLITZER: CNN has learned, intense searches are now underway for three American contractors missing in Iraq. The Iraqi Federal Police are conducting raids in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad. That's where an Iraqi security official says the gunman abducted the three Americans, they say from a brothel. The Iraqi brothel owner was also taken. The source says the missing Americans worked for a security service company called Sallyport. The men are identified as two Iraqi-Americans, one Egyptian-American. All three U.S. citizens.
Joining us now is CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. He's a former CIA operative.
Bob, there have been no immediate claims of responsibility. Investigators need to try to figure out who kidnapped these three American. It hasn't happened in Iraq for a while. What are the possibilities?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there's always the possibility the Islamic state could grab somebody in Baghdad. That's not impossible. It's unlikely. What's more likely, Wolf, is it's a Shia militia grabbed them. Maybe they were going after the brothel. There are reports that these people were taken to Sadr City, which is a Shia slum. Logical place. But, Wolf, what you have to keep in mind is, Baghdad is still controlled this day by militias, and they're hard to control in -- has a very difficult time (INAUDIBLE) it will be a while before we get --
BLITZER: I think we're having some technical problems. Let's see if that's -- let's see if we can figure that out. Stand by, Bob Baer, for a moment.
I want to get some more reaction now on what this search is all about for these three abducted American contractors. Joining us is Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee, an Iraq War veteran. In fact, he served four, four tours of duty in Iraq.
Congressman, when you heard about these three American contractors abducted, what went through your mind?
REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, honestly, Wolf, it brought back a lot of memories from the war, because this isn't atypical. I mean when we were over there, different militia groups, enemies of the United States, were always trying to capture American, and they're very much still trying to do that in Iraq today.
BLITZER: So this is not unusual. And when you heard Bob Baer talk about various suspects, no one has yet claimed responsibility, no ransom demands apparently have been put forward yet, but he suggests it could be the Islamic State, or ISIS as it's called, could be Shiite militias in Baghdad. It's still pretty wild over there, isn't it?
MOULTON: It absolutely is. It's very wild. And the fact of the matter is, we don't really have a lot of diplomatic forces over there in Baghdad. I mean this has been one of my consistent criticisms of the administration since we pulled out the troops, is that we have not remained engaged diplomatically and politically in Iraq. That makes it much more difficult to deal with situations like this. And, of course, I think if we had been more engaged, we wouldn't see the kind of political chaos that is in Baghdad today.
BLITZER: You served four tours of duty in Baghdad, then you went and got your graduate degrees in Harvard. Now you're a United States member of Congress. When you see what's happening in Iraq right now, the enormous toll the U.S. played since the war started in 2003, the price the U.S. has to pay -- had to pay in blood and treasure, thousands of American troops killed, hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, spent, what do you think? Was it worth it?
MOULTON: You know, I think it's very hard to say that it was a good idea to invade Iraq when you're looking at the situation today. But what's most painful for me, as someone who went back for my fourth tour to fight in the surge and really felt like we had finished the job, what's most painful for me is to have to go back to Iraq today, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, and see so much of what we had fought for and frankly achieved squandered and gone to waste.
And now, five years after we pulled the last Americans out of Iraq, we're sending American troops back in. I think it's my solemn responsibility as a member of the Armed Services Committee, to make sure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past, so we don't have to keep sending American troops back to Iraq again and again. And I'm also very focused on those questions as we look at putting troops into Syria, and we look at how we're withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan.
BLITZER: When you see Iranian behavior today, and you know the Iranians were involved -- still are involved in funding, supporting various Shiite militias in Iraq, a lot of those Shiite militias in Iraq killed a lot of U.S. troops, you voted for that Iran nuclear deal. Are you still upbeat that this deal is going to work five years, ten years from now, Iran will have totally abandoned its quest for a nuclear bomb?
[13:25:25] MOULTON: I think Iran will only abandon its quest for a nuclear bomb if we hold them to the deal. And so implementation matters a lot. I remain confident in my vote for the deal because nobody was able to present a viable alternative, a pathway to a better deal. And I even went to Israel and meet with President Netanyahu and he simply wasn't able to articulate how we could get a better deal.
But it's important to remember that a nuclear deal is all that this is. It's the best way we have today to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. But that doesn't change the fact that Iran is still an enemy of the United States of America. They still sponsor international terrorism. They still kidnap Americans and they still support Iraqi militias that are opposed to our interests. So we still have to keep up the pressure on Iran in a wide variety of ways. This nuclear deal is just one part of that -- part of that fight against them and an important way to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.
BLITZER: Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
MOULTON: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: Coming up next, Hillary Clinton defends President Obama's
policies during last night's Democratic president debate. Will this come back potentially to haunt her on the campaign trail? I'll ask the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's standing by live.
Plus, right now, the U.K. is debating whether Donald Trump should be allowed into that country. We're going to tell you why they're even considering a ban on allowing Trump into the U.K. Much more right after this.