When an American held captive overseas returns home to his or her family, it’s hard not to become emotional seeing the family’s fear and concern replaced by unspeakable joy and relief. I was only eight years old when I watched news footage of the Americans held in Iran reuniting with their families, but I remember being swept up by the moment. I felt it again as I watched the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl stand with President Obama at the White House and express gratitude for the actions of our government that ended their five year-long nightmare and would, at last, bring their son home to them.
But my eight-year-old self could never have imagined just how vividly I would connect with what the families of those held in Iran – and today, the Bergdahls – must have been experiencing. In August 2011, my father, American economic development expert Warren Weinstein, was captured in Pakistan. For nearly three years since then, our family has felt a perpetual sense of panic, heartbreak and loss that we know we will suffer until the moment he is safely returned to us.
My father is a good man who has dedicated his life to helping others. He has shown nothing but the utmost respect for the groups he has interacted with as he has worked with international aid groups and contractors to help people around the world become economically self-sufficient. When he went to Pakistan as an adviser working with a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, he learned the country’s language so he could communicate his respect for the culture and its people. He respected the people of Pakistan and was only there to make their lives better.
It wasn’t always easy to have my father living halfway around the world from us, but we found solace in the fact that he was making a difference in one of the most historically troubled regions in the world. My mother and I spent time with him in Pakistan and were able to see firsthand the work he loved and the important relationships he developed with the Pakistani people. When he was there alone, he communicated with us every day – sometimes more than once – until his capture.
This week, my father will turn 73, and we are reminded that his birthday coincides with Independence Day – a holiday that meant so much to him. He was always so proud of the good his country sought to do throughout the world, and he felt humbled just to have the opportunity to play a role leading these humanitarian efforts.
In many ways, my father’s case is very different from Sgt. Bergdahl’s. My father never wore a uniform or performed military service. He was not an employee of the United States government, but a contractor dedicated to making progress on projects important to the Pakistani people. He is an elderly man in poor health, suffering from heart disease, asthma, and high blood pressure.
It is important that our government appreciate these differences, but it does not diminish the fact that every American in captivity abroad deserves the same consideration by the United States government. My father is not an influential person or a rich man with high ranking friends, but that does not diminish his needs – and our need to have him returned safely.
We are told in the preamble to the Constitution that the United States will secure the blessings of liberty for its people and its posterity. In Sgt. Bergdahl’s case, our government made good on that promise and did everything they could to bring him home safely. Regardless of the specifics of his situation, we felt real happiness in seeing the way his release and the knowledge of his safety brought relief to his parents and loved ones.
But there are still others held captive – people, like my father, who have traveled to some of the most dangerous places in the world in efforts to do good for humanity. As we approach my father’s 73rd birthday and a holiday in which we celebrate the very blessings of liberty itself, our family can only hope and pray that our government’s commitment to U.S. citizens performing good works across the world will be strong enough to bring my father home as well.
The author is one of Warren Weinstein’s daughters. For more information on efforts to return him safely, please go to www.bringwarrenhome.com.