Pressure rises for release of AFT member held hostage

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Warren Weinstein-hostage in Pakistan

Aug. 13 was a grim anniversary for Warren Weinstein, a former political science professor and United University Professions member at the State University of New York. Three years ago, just days before he was due to return home from a seven-year stint as an economic development consultant in Lahore, Pakistan, he was kidnapped by al-Qaida terrorists.

Now, the last glimpse his family has had of their 73-year-old husband and father was a video released anonymously Dec. 26, 2013. It shows a gaunt and bearded Weinstein asking President Obama to negotiate for his release. It is not clear whether he is delivering his message under duress.

The United University Professions and the AFT are working to ensure Weinstein's case does not fade from view and are calling for stepped-up efforts to secure his safe release. In an Aug. 20 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, AFT President Randi Weingarten writes, "In light of the duration of Mr. Weinstein's captivity—entering its fourth year—and believing that recent communication from al-Qaida may now offer an opportunity for negotiation, we urge you to redouble your efforts to find Mr. Weinstein and bring him home safely to his family and community."

The UUP notes that the former SUNY College at Oswego professor is a humanitarian. "Weinstein has devoted his life to helping others since he started working as a human rights activist in 1969," says UUP President Frederick Kowal, who is an AFT vice president. "The last video released by the terrorists shows his health is deteriorating. We must bring him—and every U.S. citizen being held captive around the world—home safely now."

To that end, resolutions were introduced in both houses of Congress this summer. Read the U.S. Senate resolution.

The strongest appeal for help comes from Weinstein himself in a letter dated Oct. 3, 2013 and released with the ominous December video. The three-page, handwritten note has "LETTER FOR MEDIA" jotted in block letters across the top. Weinstein writes, "I hope the media can mount a campaign to get the American Government to actively pursue my release and to make sure that I am not forgotten and do not become another statistic. Given my age and health, I do not have time on my side."

Weinstein's wife, Elaine Weinstein, and his two daughters have created a website that documents his story and provides links for concerned citizens to contact their members of Congress and the White House. They are working to ensure that Weinstein's dire situation remains prominent in the public eye and a priority for the U.S. government.

Elaine writes in an Aug. 3 Newsweek Pakistan op-ed that Warren, who has a heart condition and suffers from severe asthma, is in poor health. "My husband has spent his life helping others and devoted all he had to making Pakistan a better place for its people. He does not deserve to be held as a bargaining chip."

In addition contacting Congress, the website urges supporters to email the White House and also tweet @BarackObama and @WhiteHouse using the hashtag #BringWarrenHome. [Barbara McKenna]

August 29, 2014