The families of many Americans wrongfully detained overseas rallied outside the White House on Wednesday morning to raise additional awareness for their relatives' plight.
There are 59 Americans who are currently considered to be wrongfully detained abroad, according to the James Foley Foundation, and their cases are handled by the office of the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, which leads the government's diplomatic efforts focusing on bringing them home.
The families of Trevor Reed, who was released last week after nearly three years of being detained in Russia, and Paul Whelan, who remains in a Russian prison and has been there for longer than Reed, were in attendance. There were also many other families whose loved ones are being held in Iran, China, and Venezuela.
Other families, many of whom held up pictures of their wrongfully detained relatives, recounted stories of their relatives as they spoke with reporters about what they want to see from the Biden administration.
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"It is urgent. These families are desperate. We're talking average four to five years of imprisonment for no wrongdoing," Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, who was executed by his Islamic State captors in August 2014, and the founder of the foundation in her son's name, told the Washington Examiner. "And the urgency is that in spite of the hostage enterprise, in spite of the fact that we have a wonderful special envoy ... but we do not have these people home. The Biden administration is not executing on their strategy."
Families of loved ones who get wrongfully detained in a foreign country are sometimes told to keep a lower profile because it may help with negotiations, but Foley said, in the "long-term, it serves nobody, OK, maybe the government to hide from accountability to bring them home because if no one speaks out, no one knows, and then, there's no urgency for action. So, we've found that being quiet definitely does not work."
Tara and Taymoor Tahbaz, whose father, Morad, has been detained in Iran for roughly four years, reiterated that sentiment, saying, "We've been quiet until now and been very respectful in every turn of which we've taken to navigate this journey ... we're trying to make sure that we're leaving no stone unturned and to not have any regrets of opportunity to be able to push to get him home as soon as possible."
John Foley, Diane's husband and James's father, described his emotions on the cloudy Wednesday morning as "hopeful" because he believes events such as the rally will "get the attention of the people who can make the decisions."
Trevor Reed's release, which came in the form of a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence in Connecticut for conspiracy to smuggle drugs, put a renewed spotlight on Americans detained overseas — in particular for Whelan.
Taylor Reed, Trevor's brother, told the Washington Examiner that she and her father, Joey, attended Wednesday's event, which had been planned prior to Trevor's release, because, "The thing we keep hearing is: 'I can't imagine what you went through. I can't imagine what you've been through,' and, unfortunately, all of the people here can. It's like a trauma bond situation."
Joey Reed described feeling "a little embarrassed" meeting the families of Americans whose loved ones remain imprisoned. "They're feeling left out, but that's why we came here ... we want that for all of them," he said.
The recently freed Reed is now at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, near his family, as he received treatment and examinations, Joey Reed said. Joey and Taylor Reed attended Wednesday's rally while Trevor's mother, Paula, stayed in Texas to be near her son.
Whelan's sister, Elizabeth, described going through "stages of shock, anger, and then, 'OK, take a deep breath. We need to continue to work with everyone, but it's time to ratchet it up a little bit,'" on finding out about Reed's release while the status of her brother's detention remains unchanged. She also called Reed's return the "catalyst" behind their new collective push to urge the administration to do everything in its power to get Americans returned.
Elizabeth Whelan said she spoke with Biden administration officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in recent days as she was pushing for them to get hostages home.
The State Department, days ago, declared WNBA star Brittney Griner "wrongfully detained" in Russia. Griner was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport while entering the country and was accused of illegally bringing vape cartridges containing hashish oil. She plays professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA off-season.
People at the rally on Wednesday said that the quickness of this designation demonstrates the administration's focus and newfound strategy on the issue.
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"It took us almost 15 months for us to get the attention of our special presidential envoy," Whelan explained. "The process has improved substantially, and this is what has to happen ... Once they get to trial, now they're on the conveyor belt. Now, their value has been established by the hostile foreign government and it becomes more difficult to get them."
Biden met with the Reeds prior to Trevor's release and met with the parents of Austin Tice, an American journalist and marine veteran who was abducted nearly 10 years ago in Damascus, Syria, on Monday.