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Other Americans still being held overseas

June 5, 2014 - 12:05am

WASHINGTON — The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban commanders has prompted all kinds of debate in the United States about the nature of Bergdahl’s conduct and the logic of his release.

But, while Bergdahl was the last American prisoner of war known in captivity, he isn’t the only American being held by foreign forces in politically charged, hostile circumstances. For example, a number of American journalists have been abducted while reporting in Syria, including Austin Tice, a freelancer for The Post (the exact number of American journalists missing in Syria is unclear as some cases are not being publicized).

Here are six others who should not be forgotten:

—Alan Gross: Imprisoned by Cuba since December 2009.

Former U.S. government contractor Gross was arrested more than four years ago while working in Havana. The 64-year-old Maryland native was detained after distributing communications equipment to Jewish groups in Cuba, where he was working under a contract with USAID. He was accused of working against the Cuban state and sentenced to 15 years. His imprisonment is a key stalling block in potential talks between Washington and Havana.

—Kenneth Bae: Imprisoned by North Korea since November 2012.

Bae was arrested in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly trying to overthrow the North Korean government. Bae is believed to have been working as a Christian missionary in the country. The 45-year-old has been moved to a hospital due to poor health since his imprisonment began. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has been criticized for making trips to North Korea but not helping Bae.

—Saeed Abedini: Imprisoned by Iran since September 2012.

Abedini, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity, was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 after Iran convicted him of “undermining” the government by spreading his Evangelical beliefs. Abedini, who had married a U.S. citizen, was involved in Iran’s “house church” movement in the early 2000s. Iran does not recognize his U.S. citizenship.

—Amir Hekmati: Imprisoned by Iran since August 2011.

Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who was born in Arizona and raised in Michigan, has been accused of spying for the CIA in Iran and was initially sentenced to death by Iran in June 2012. His sentence was later overturned and he was later charged with “cooperating with hostile governments” and sentenced to 10 years.

The U.S. government has repeatedly denied accusations that Hekmati, an Iranian-American who had said he was visiting his grandmother, was a spy, and his family claims that video of Hekmati confessing that was shown on Iranian state TV appears to have been made under duress.

—Warren Weinstein: Held by al-Qaida since August 2011.

Weinstein, a Maryland resident, was kidnapped in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2011. The 72-year-old had been working in the country for J.E. Austin Associates, a USAID contractor. In the latest video released by al-Qaida, Weinstein is shown asking President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry to make “hard choices” to help secure his release.

—Robert Levinson: Kidnapped in March 2007 by an unknown group.

Levinson, a former FBI-agent, disappeared on the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007. The U.S. government believes that Levinson, in the area to investigate cigarette smuggling, may have been captured by Iranian intelligence officials to be used used as a bargaining chip, but Iran has repeatedly denied any knowledge of what happened to him, and some evidence suggests that he may have been taken out of Iran. In December 2013, it was revealed that he may have gone to Iran at the direction of certain CIA analysts who had no authority to run operations overseas.

Unfortunately, Levinson’s inclusion on this list needs a caveat: It is not known if he is still alive. The last known proof of life was released over three years ago. He would be 66 years old.

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