U.S. News


Families of Americans detained overseas plead for White House help

Bring Our Families Home is a campaign for the relatives of Americans who are being held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas.
Posted at 4:43 PM, Feb 06, 2024

Families of Americans detained overseas held a virtual news conference on Tuesday, pleading for help to get their loved ones back, saying that the White House is their last hope. 

Those concerned include the families of detainees Kai Li, Zack Shahin, Majd Kamalmaz and Mark Swidan.

"They feel like they're being treated like second-class hostages," said Jonathan Franks with the Bring Our Families Home campaign, "And, you know, that doesn't take away from the success the administration has had over the 18 months. It just means that they need to do more."

This past May, the BOFH campaign gathered to protest in front of the White House to try to bring attention to their loved ones' cases. They asked for a meeting with President Biden then, and are asking for the same now.

"My dad, Kai Li ... has been a hostage, he's been wrongfully detained in China for more than seven years, almost 7 1/2 years now," said Harrison Li. "We're just individual, ordinary American families, and it's easy for our voices to be drowned out by everything else that's going on."

The "everything else" that is going on includes the Israel-Hamas war and the hostages who are currently held in Gaza — including six Americans.

Aida Dagher is sister-in-law of Zack Shahin, who is currently in prison in the United Arab Emirates for alleged financial crimes.

"President Biden met with the families of the hostages in Gaza," she said. "We're very happy for them. We want them to be released. We're not jealous. It's just, 'Why not us?'"

In some of these cases, though, the circumstances are complicated by the fact that they do not have an official U.S. State Department designation of "wrongfully detained." However, some independent organizations that track detainees do consider them to be wrongfully detained.

According to the James Foley Foundation, which tracks both hostages and those who are wrongfully detained, there are at least 57 American citizens or permanent U.S. residents currently held in 15 different countries.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Scripps News, “We have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans overseas.” They went on to say, “The U.S. government continues to work aggressively to bring home all U.S. nationals wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad. This work was happening before October 7 and has continued since then and it has demonstrated success when six Americans wrongfully detained in Venezuela returned on December 20, 2023.”

Earlier in January, President Biden signed into law a bipartisan Congressional bill designating March 9 as National Hostage and Wrongful Detainee Day. Next month will mark its first commemoration.

Blinken pushes for hostage deal in return to Mideast
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Saudi Arabia's Minister of State and National Security Musaed Al Aiban

Blinken pushes for hostage deal in return to Mideast

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