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After years in Iranian jail, Americans ready to restart life

The deal to release Americans imprisoned in Iran included Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who was held for more than four years. Jeffrey Brown talks to Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., the congressman who represents Hekmati's home district in Michigan and has long worked for his release.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As we have reported, the former Iranian-American prisoners returning to the United States are now at a military base in Landstuhl, Germany.

    My colleague Jeffrey Brown picks up the story from there.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    I'm joined by U.S. Representative Dan Kildee, who is in Landstuhl, Germany, tonight, after meeting with Amir Hekmati. He is the former U.S. Marine who was released by from Iran on Saturday after four-plus years of imprisonment. Congressman Kildee represents Hekmati's home district in Michigan and has long worked for his release.

    And thanks so much for joining us.

    So, you met with Amir Hekmati today. Tell us about the meeting. What was his condition?

    REP. DAN KILDEE (D), Michigan: Well, first of all, it was a great day.

    It was the first time I had actually ever met Amir Hekmati, despite the fact that I have been working on his case for so long and feel like I have come to know him. I gave him a great big hug, told him how proud I was of him.

    And really we spent time together just talking and chatting. He told me a little bit about the time he was in prison. But, mostly, we just talked about how great it is for him to be free. We had dinner together tonight with his two sisters and his brother-in-law. He looks pretty good, for a guy who has spent the last four-and-a-half years in one of the worst prisons in the world.

    You would expect him to not look so strong. He's lost some weight, at least according to what we can tell from the pictures. I hadn't met him before. He looks thinner. But he looks good. And he sounds strong. It will take time for him to come back home and be fully reintegrated, but I think is he in good shape.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    We have a photograph Amir Hekmati in the prison in Iran. It was provided to us by Maziar Bahari, a journalist and former prisoner there.

    And there were reports even in recent days of Amir being treated for a medical condition. What did he tell you about his treatment there and his medical condition?

  • REP. DAN KILDEE:

    Yes, it was tough. Any time you are not able to move around — and he is a young, athletic guy — it has a — it takes a physical toll.

    And not being able to exercise, as he had become accustomed, I think, had an effect on his health. It has been a tough four-and-a-half years. He was in solitary confinement for a part of it. For a number of months, he was facing a death sentence. So, the physical strain, but also the psychological impact of that kind of an experience obviously is tough.

    But I was impressed by his spirit. He's anxious to get back home and restart his life. He's a young man. He's got a long future ahead of him. You know, and, again, he's got a whole community that loves him, and is looking forward to help him — welcoming him back home and helping him restart his life.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Was he aware and, for that matter, Congressman, were you aware of the negotiations? Did he know how close he was to a release or that this might be in the works?

  • REP. DAN KILDEE:

    Well, he had heard that it might happen a few days before. But he had heard that before. So I think he put it in that same context.

    And what he told me, it wasn't until he was actually taken to the airport that he knew that this time it was going to be different. I had been in contact, of course, with the State Department and the White House for the last few years working on this. And we had a sense that things were getting close through the discussions that we had.

    But these situations are always delicate until they happen. And so obviously we were just absolutely thrilled when we discovered that, yes, this time, he's actually coming home.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And let may ask you finally, you know there are critics of the swap aspect of the deal, people who think that the U.S. should have demanded unconditional release of the prisoners in Iran. What is your response?

  • REP. DAN KILDEE:

    Well, in a perfect world, we would get everything we want. We would have our way and we would hold everybody else to the standards that we would like to hold ourselves to. But we don't live in a perfect world.

    And I look at Amir Hekmati coming home, and I understand that we had to do a lot. We had to fight to get him home. When I sat with Amir Hekmati and had dinner with him tonight, it was absolutely clear to me that it was consistent with our American principles to get him home.

    And I think any critic of this really has to ask themselves whether or not they're living in the world that we live in or the one they would like to live in. The people who are in positions of authority actually have to get things done. And I commend the president, the secretary of state and others who worked on this.

    It's a happy day, and I'm thrilled about it.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan from Landstuhl, Germany, thank you so much.

  • REP. DAN KILDEE:

    Thank you.

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