Calling themselves the “Bring Our Families Home Campaign,” family members of those detained in Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and Rwanda sought to show that although each case is different, theirs is a shared struggle.
“I can’t begin to express to you the pain that each and every one of us feel,” said Everett Rutherford, whose nephew Matthew Heath is detained in Venezuela. “It’s taken exceptional circumstances for us to band together.”
Speaking to the press in Lafayette Park, the family members also discussed their hopes that the US government would make the release of their loved ones a priority, and for the efforts to rise above partisan politics.
“We’re really just hoping that they’re using every tool that they have on the table to prioritize them. They’re not just another name on a list, they’re somebody’s father, son, husband,” said Tara Tahbaz, whose father, Morad Tahbaz, is detained in Iran. “They’ve been there for so long and they should not be there a day longer than they already have been.”
“We’re begging the Biden administration to prioritize them and bring them home,” she added.
Wednesday’s event came together prior to Trevor Reed’s release from Russian detention as the result of a prisoner swap last week.
His freedom gave hope to a number of those who remain detained, but now “every one of us is waiting, stuck in the labyrinth still, for that same moment, for that one door to open, and our loved one to walk through,” said Elizabeth Whelan, whose brother Paul Whelan remains detained in Russia.
Reed’s father and sister attended the event to advocate for other families of the detained. Joey Reed said he believed his family’s meeting with Biden had played a key role in his son’s release.
“We’ve said all along, for months and months, that we believe President Biden is a compassionate and kind man,” he said. “We knew if we talked to him and told him about Trevor himself, and what Trevor’s gone through as an American, and the way that he’s been treated, in particular it would cause him to take action such as an exchange, which they had been reluctant to do up to that point.”
Alexandra Forseth, whose dad, Alirio Zambrano, and her uncle Jose Luis Zambrano are being detained in Venezuela as part of the “CITGO 6,” said that “it would be amazing if while we’re all here they took advantage of the opportunity to host us and hear our stories.”
Forseth and other family members who spoke with CNN urged the President to reflect on his own experiences and do his utmost to get their loved ones home.
“Think of yourself in the situation I’m in. I’m 24. I know Biden also has children — just think about your kids at the same time in their lives. They need their dad and I need my dad as well,” said Hannah Shargi, who said her dad, Emad — another American detained in Iran — is her best friend.
Forseth, addressing Biden directly, said: “You know more than anybody what it’s like to lose somebody that you love, to never be able to hug them again.”
“All the memories that you could have created … you singularly know what that’s like,” Forseth continued after pausing for a moment as she seemed to be overcome with emotion.
“There’s so many really easy decisions that are not being brought to your desk that could end this nightmare for us,” she said. “We just ask that you hear us and try to meet with as many of us as you can.”