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Bill Richardson‘s Heroic Efforts in Rescuing Osman Khan
Osman Khan (24) found Floridian In January 2022, himself detained at the border of Colombia while trying to meet his girlfriend’s family in Venezuela. Accused of being a spy, he claimed that he was subjected to electric shocks, submerged in water, and tortured by Venezuelan intelligence officers during his month-long solitary confinement. In a desperate attempt to save his life, Osman Khan even tried to take his own life.
Those who apprehended Osman Khan warned him against direct negotiations with the U.S. government. So, his family reached out to Bill Richardson and his colleague Mickey Bergman, who initiated talks. Osman Khan spoke about his experience with The Washington Post.
“In despair, my family contacted Richardson Center,” Osman Khan mentioned, referring to the organization founded by Richardson that works to free Americans detained abroad. He was assured that the Center would do everything it could to bring him home and initiated discussions with Caracas.
Richardson passed suddenly late on Friday at the age of 75 after a long career that saw him serve as a lawyer, governor, and UN diplomat. He had become a guru in the world of international hostage negotiations. Khan told Orlando, “It felt like someone had died in the family. I am shattered.”
Richardson’s work spanned from securing the release of hostages in Iran to Russia and Myanmar, as well as Libya. The list included various individuals, from basketball player Brittney Griner to journalist Danny Fenster and several others, including Trevor Reed, a U.S. Marine. Osman Khan was also part of this group, released last October, following negotiations facilitated by the U.S. State Department and the Richardson Center, in exchange for two of President Nicolás Maduro’s relatives.
Matthew Heath, one of the six people released alongside Osman Khan, had previously attempted to take his own life four months before his release and credited Richardson as a “ray of hope” during his captivity. In a statement to The Post, Heath claimed, “Well before the U.S. government and Maduro even started talking, Governor Richardson made the trip to Caracas to negotiate my release.” “While I was in captivity, his center provided round-the-clock assistance to my family.”
Richardson’s role as a diplomat took an unexpected turn in 1994 when he was on a trip to North Korea as a congressman. An American helicopter was shot down while he was near the country’s border, resulting in the death of one American and the capture of another. Richardson’s mission to Pyongyang, aimed at nuclear negotiations, pivoted solely to securing the pilot’s release, and the deal eventually fell through, as reported by The Post at the time.
Americans detained in captivity can often find themselves in tense negotiations with their captors. In 1995, Richardson crossed his legs to show Saddam Hussein the sole of his shoe while attempting to secure the release of two American defense contractors who had been detained by Iraqi insurgents and held in a squalid cell. Although seen as an affront in some Arab cultures, Richardson persisted and eventually secured Hussein’s apology. He even snapped a picture of the event.
He was never one to shy away from dialogue with rogue regimes. In 1996, Richardson helped secure the release of three hostages held in Sudan by Sudanese rebels, who had beaten and confined them to a hovel.
More than a decade after leaving office, Richardson became widely known among the families of detainees when he founded the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which advocates for wrongly detained Americans abroad.
He visited capitals in the years that followed, frequently tussling with government leaders, and these countries had tense relations with the United States.Just before journalist Fenster’s release in late 2021, Richardson had gone to Myanmar on a trip that critics said risked legitimizing the junta that had seized power and had been granted recognition by Western governments.
Upon Fenster’s return, Richardson told a gathering of reporters, “I think we have to deal with our adversaries, no matter how different our views are.”
At that time, in an interview with “60 Minutes,” he said the U.S. government had advised against his negotiations. “I wasn’t undermining,” he said in that interview. “I just saw an opportunity and took it.”
In his final negotiations, Richardson assisted in Griner’s release, and she expressed gratitude for his role. “He saw it as his patriotic duty,” said Diane Foley, the mother of American journalist James Foley, who was publicly beheaded by Islamic State terrorists. She also praised Richardson for his moral courage in negotiating with terrorists, criminals, and adversarial governments on behalf of the United States.
“He saw it as his patriotic duty,” Foley said, who is also the chair of the James W. The Foley Legacy Foundation works to defend Americans who are unjustly jailed abroad. “He gave hope — if he was involved with Mickey in these cases, then you had hope as a family.”
But for the families whose loved ones are still detained abroad, they are now grappling with the challenge of bringing their relatives home without Richardson. Iman, Neda Sharifi’s brother, is currently being held in Iran. She said Richardson’s death has been a blow to those involved in the campaign to bring their loved ones home, a group that contends their relatives were wrongfully detained abroad. However, Sharifi hopes that the Richardson Center will continue working to free those detained abroad.
It’s a very lonely world at first for the families whose loved ones have been unfairly detained abroad, she said. “Without Governor Richardson here, it’s even more lonely.”