Iranian President Accused of Involvement in Iran Hostage Crisis Hostage Roeder: "Ahmadinejad Threatened to Kidnap My Son"

The newly elected president of Iran has been accused of being involved in the 1980 American hostage crisis. Former hostage David Roeder, 66, told SPIEGEL ONLINE, that Ahmadinejad threatened to kidnap his son and cut off his fingers and toes. "You don't forget someone like that," the former Assistant Air Force Attache says.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are claiming that the newly elected president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was one of those involved in taking and holding you hostage in Iran from November 1979 to January 1981. How can you be sure?

Roeder: He was present at at least a third of my personal interrogations, which took place nightly for a little over a month early on in the hostage-taking situation. He seemed to be calling the shots, but from the background. The interrogators would ask a question and it would then be translated from Farsi into English by a woman interpreter.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did they try to exert force on you to answer the questions or did you cooperate freely?

Roeder: I decided that initially I wasn't going to respond in any way, shape or form. They had me handcuffed to a chair and at least during the first few sessions, blindfolded as well. But once the blindfold came off, they had developed a plan that Ahmadinejad was instigating. Because I was not cooperating, they threatened that they were going to kidnap my handicapped son and send various pieces of him -- fingers and toes is what they mentioned -- to my wife if I didn't start cooperating. You don't forget somebody who is involved in something like that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was the man you believe to have been Ahmadinejad actually involved in asking you the questions during your interrogation?

Roeder: No, he was not, and I want to make that clear. But he was working in the background. When I refused to the questions at all, he would whisper feverishly in Farsi -- which I did not understand -- to the interrogators and they would all sort of get up, all at once, and leave the room.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did you realize that your hostage-taker had been elected as president of Iran?

Roeder: I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the elections because whoever runs there has to be approved by the theocracy and the mullahs. It didn't surprise anybody that the winner would be a hardliner approved by the theocracy. But when I saw him on television the other night, I knew immediately. It's his mannerisms more than anything else that stopped me cold. I have no doubt that it's the same guy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You don't think you could have forgotten him after all these years?

Roeder: No, absolutely not. Not when he was involved in threatening my son.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What were your 444 days as a hostage in Iran like? Where were you held hostage?

Roeder: I had only been in Iran for eight days before being taken hostage. Initially we were held in the embassy. But after the failed rescue attempt, we were moved to sites all over the country. What some people failed to realize is that there were various factions at work in Iran. The students who took us hostage were one. Then there were those who thought the whole hostage taking was an embarrassment and wanted us released immediately and -- on the other side of that coin -- there were those who wanted to execute us right away. So the students were trying to move us around to keep us away from some of those other groups.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Which group did Ahmadinejad belong to?

Roeder: He was definitely involved in the initial takeover and was part of the group that was actually holding us. The timeframe fits as well. These kids were around 20 at the time and the president is now 49. It's been 25 years or so since then. It fits.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you ever abused or tortured during your captivity?

Roeder: I still remember the interrogations very clearly. As soon as they took the blindfold off they started asking me if I wanted a cigarette, did I want fruit, did I want a cup of tea. Of course I was still handcuffed so I just shook my head no. Often they would just leave me alone in a room -- handcuffed to my chair -- for what seemed like hours. And it did get physical at times. They would bring in the largest Iranian I have ever seen wearing a ski mask. He was very threatening and got right in my face when I wouldn't write a confession that I was spy. They threatened to turn me over to the North Vietnamese because of my combat record in Vietnam. They called me a baby killer. They'd throw hot tea at me trying to burn me. I was hit with something from behind on the neck once -- but I still don't know what it was.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was Ahmadinejad there during any of this abuse?

Roeder: I don't remember but I do specifically remember him being there when they made the threat against my son. They not only knew that I lived in Alexandria, Virginia but they also knew the street address. They knew what time my son was picked up by the school bus, they knew the bus number, they knew what time he was delivered back home in the afternoon and they knew what school he went to. That will get your attention. When you're a hostage you just don't know if the government is keeping track of your family.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think about him being elected as Iran's president? Can you ever forgive him?

Roeder: I don't have anything against normal Iranians, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for my kidnappers for the hardships they brought to my life and for the difficulties they brought to my family. I think his election bodes ill. He is a hard-line terrorist.

Interview conducted by Charles Hawley

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