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Iranian Scientist Claiming U.S. Abduction Returns Home to Hero’s Welcome

July 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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After months saying the United States held him against his will, scientist Shahram Amiri returned home to Iran. Jim Lehrer reports.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight: The Iranian scientist who claimed he was abducted by the U.S. arrived home today. It was the latest chapter in a spy story filled with charges and countercharges.

The 32-year-old scientist Shahram Amiri was given a hero’s welcome in Tehran a day after leaving the United States. But whether Amiri is a spy who got cold feet or the victim of a CIA snatch-and-grab remained hotly disputed. The U.S. insisted he was a defector who had second thoughts, and that he wanted to go home because he missed or feared for his family.

In fact, The Washington Post reported today Amiri was paid $5 million for information he divulged about Iran’s nuclear program. That’s money he won’t be able to access now due to sanctions imposed on Iran. The Iranians said Amiri was kidnapped last year in Saudi Arabia, and eventually ended up in detention, under the CIA’s control.

Amiri repeated that version today.

SHAHRAM AMIRI, Iranian nuclear scientist (through translator): I was abducted in the city of Medina in front of my hotel by CIA and Saudi intelligence agents, and then transferred to the U.S. on board a military plane. Within the first two months, I was subjected to fierce mental and psychological torture by agents and interrogators from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

JIM LEHRER: American officials have flatly denied the charge and said Amiri left the U.S. of his own free will. They also say his tales of kidnapping and torture were an effort to bolster his credibility back in Iran.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said yesterday Amiri came and went as he pleased.

P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs: Nobody coerced him to come here and no one coerced him to leave. But, once he gets back to Iran, I suspect that he will have a variety of things to say. And my advice would be, take what he says with a grain of salt.

JIM LEHRER: Indeed, Amiri has given conflicting versions of his time in the U.S.

After disappearing in June of 2009, he surfaced in a grainy Internet video last month claiming he was kidnapped. Then he appeared in a video allegedly produced by the CIA from his new home in Tucson, Arizona, and he said he was happy in the U.S.

Then, in yet a third video, Amiri again reversed course and claimed to have been taken against his will and tortured. Bob Baer is a former CIA officer with long experience in the Middle East.

ROBERT BAER, former CIA officer: And this happens all the time. Defectors come up across. They think it’s a good idea. They get paid a lot of money. And then, once the boredom sets in and the loneliness, they realize it’s a huge mistake.

JIM LEHRER: Amiri offered no further insights today. Instead, he said: “I am a simple researcher. I had no classified information.”