Part of our problem in negotiating with Iran has been our refusal to grant a sincere and genuinely friendly measure of recognition to the Islamic revolutionary government.” So wrote Cynthia Dwyer, 49, just before she left for Tehran last April. A free-lance editor and journalist, Dwyer hoped to write articles on her return that would contribute to an understanding of the Iranian people—and thus help to free the 52 captive Americans. Instead, she became the 53rd. Within a month of her arrival Dwyer was arrested in her hotel room, charged with spying for the CIA, and imprisoned.
Last week her Amherst, N.Y. home resembled that of many hostage families: Her Christmas presents remained unopened; her family stayed close to the telephone. But Cynthia Dwyer was not officially a hostage. Her husband, John, insists the charges that she worked for the CIA are nonsense—and the agency concurs. But because she was not taken captive in the U.S. embassy, the State Department took pains to separate her case from the hostage negotiations, and officials said there is no reason to expect that when the 52 Americans are finally released, she will be among them. “I don’t want her left behind when the other 52 come home,” says John, 45, chairman of the English department at the State University College at Buffalo. “I wouldn’t want Cynthia’s case in any way to delay their return, but I also don’t want people to forget her.” He is in touch with the State Department several times a week. “They’re doing the best they can,” he allows, “but I want the government to say Cynthia’s imprisonment is a political liability for Iran.” As of now, U.S. negotiators have not taken that position.
It is a bitter irony of her case that Cynthia Dwyer, far from sympathizing with the CIA’s role in Iran, never hid her contempt for the Shah and for U.S. support for him. She became even more sympathetic to the cause of the Islamic revolution when she befriended some Iranian students in Buffalo. “She always instinctively sided with the underdog,” says John. Born in Little Rock during the Depression, the daughter of a principal father and a librarian mother, Cynthia Brown was suspended once from the high school paper for writing an article favoring integration. After marrying John in 1965 and while raising their three children, Dwyer continued to write, turning out impassioned articles against the war in Vietnam, the baby-food industry and federal subsidy of parochial schools.
When her plane landed in Tehran, she cried tears of joy at having reached Iran, John remembers her telling him on the phone a few days later. “She said she had made many friends.” He was worried, though, and made her promise to come home soon. But later she made another call, to the Buffalo Evening News, in which she said she had information (perhaps from Iranian dissidents) that could help free several of the hostages. That call apparently was tapped. On May 5 she was arrested. John was driving home from work when he heard the news. “I was stunned,” he recalls. “For weeks there was no word of Cynthia’s whereabouts. It was a hairy time.” Finally the State Department notified him that she was being held at Evin Prison in Tehran. Since then she has been visited by Swiss officials several times. On August 26 the family received their first letter. “I am quite well, patient and hopeful,” Cynthia wrote. “The food here is plentiful and good, so please do not worry about me.” There have been three letters since then. John writes often, but he never knows whether his letters get through—or how many of hers reach him.
In June John took his children to the State Department in Washington “so they could see that a lot of people are concerned about bringing Mom home—not just us.” He is watching the kids for signs of undue stress, but so far there have been none. Instead of nightmares, he says, “we all dream about her coming home.”
John is hopeful that will be soon, but admits “a lot of deadlines have passed. I don’t hate anybody,” he adds, “but the people who arrested her made a terrible mistake. She was a friend of the Iranian people, and they need all the friends they can get.”