Americans Held Hostage at US Embassy Tehran For 444 Days Win Compensation After 36 Years. Finally!

Posted: 4:47  pm EDT
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Very happy to see that this finally happened after so long a wait!

Via NYT:

After spending 444 days in captivity, and more than 30 years seeking restitution, the Americans taken hostage at the United States Embassy in Tehran in 1979 have finally won compensation.

Buried in the huge spending bill signed into law last Friday are provisions that would give each of the 53 hostages or their estates up to $4.4 million. Victims of other state-sponsored terrorist attacks such as the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa would also be eligible for benefits under the law.
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The law authorizes payments of up to $10,000 per day of captivity for each of the 53 hostages, 37 of whom are still alive. Fifty-two hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981; a 53rd hostage had been released earlier because of illness. Spouses and children are authorized to receive a lump payment of as much as $600,000.
[….]
Some former hostages and their family members had expressed frustration at the Justice and State Departments for blocking efforts over the years to get compensation. In a sense, the spending bill represents Congress’s taking control of the BNP Paribas money back from the Justice Department.  Some hostages did not want to discuss the legislation. “It’s enough,” said Barry Rosen, who was a press attaché at the embassy. “We’ve gone through enough.”

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Related posts:

The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation (August 2015)

State Dept Updates 3 FAM 4140 Guidelines For USG Personnel Taken Hostage (September 2015)

Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy (March 2015)

November 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day (November 2013)

Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran Hostages (May 2012)

Iranian Mob Attacks British Embassy in Tehran — It’s Dejavu All Over Again! (November 2011)

January 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years Later  (January 2011)

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Canadian Caper’s Ken Taylor, an American hero dead at 81

Posted: 2:51 am EDT
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Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Tehran known for his role in the Iran hostage crisis, has died, CBC News reported Thursday. He was 81 years old. We’ve previously blogged about Ambassador Taylor when the movie “Argo” first came out. In 1980, he was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Below is an excerpt from President Reagan’s remarks on June 16, 1981 at the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the former Canadian Ambassador to Iran.

We’re today honoring another act of courage, this one with a happier ending in which the courage and ingenuity were rewarded by success after 79 days. I’d like to sketch briefly the events of those 79 days, to describe not only Ambassador Taylor’s courage but also the contribution of all the Canadian Embassy personnel in Tehran and the Canadian Government in Ottawa.

Four days after the storming of the American Embassy, Ambassador Taylor received a call from five Americans who had escaped from the Embassy when it was overrun. They were hiding, but they were afraid that they’d soon be discovered and captured. Ambassador Taylor immediately recommended to his government in Ottawa that Americans be given shelter. Without any hesitation, the Canadian Government granted the permission. Two days later, the Americans were taken to Ambassador Taylor’s residence and that of another Canadian Embassy family, the John Sheardowns. Two weeks later, another American joined his five compatriots. For 79 days, they lived there pretending to be visitors. I understand they’re the best-read and the most skilled Scrabble players in all of North America.

There were several tense moments in the weeks that followed. At one point, an article was imminent in a Montreal paper which would have disclosed the story of the sheltered Americans. In an admirable display of responsibility, the journalist who had written the article agreed to withdraw it from publication. However, from this article, and more immediately from an anonymous phone call to the Taylor’s residence asking to speak to two of the escapees, Ambassador Taylor knew that the chances of his guests being discovered were high.

At this point, the Canadian Government in Ottawa and the Embassy began the ingenious preparations for an escape. The Canadian Government agreed to issue fictitious passports to the Americans. The Canadian Embassy staff began making flights in and out of Tehran to establish a travel pattern and to learn airport procedures.

Finally, on January 28th, 1980, the Americans packed the bags that were given them by their Canadian hosts with the clothes also given to them. Using their Canadian passports, they flew out of the country. Ambassador Taylor and three others of his staff saw them off and then left themselves. Even this brief outline of those 79 days highlights what a team effort it was.

The Canadian Department of External Affairs in Ottawa and the Canadian Cabinet responded with speed and decisiveness to help an ally. Ambassador Towe is here today representing the Canadian Government. The U.S. State Department is represented today by Ambassador Stoessel, and there were others who were working at the State Department during the crisis who played a part with discretion and skill. And here today also is Representative Daniel Akaka, the sponsor, and several of his cosponsors, of the legislation which resulted in the gold medal which I am going to present today.

Also present today is Lee Schatz, one of the six whom the Taylors rescued, as well as Bruce Laingen and Victor Tomseth, who had to wait a little longer before they could come home.

Mrs. Taylor is here with her husband and was directly involved with him in this deed. She shared the risks. She did much of the work. It was at her residence that several of the Americans were actually staying. And, finally, it’s my great honor to present the medal to Kenneth Taylor whose valor, ingenuity, and steady nerves made possible this one happy chapter in the agony of those 444 days of hostage crisis.

Major Kline. The medal is inscribed by an “Act of Congress, March 6, 1980. Entre amis, appreciation for the noble and heroic effort in the harboring of six United States diplomats and safe return to America. Thank you, Canada.”

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Related posts:

Canadian Caper’s John Sheardown Who Sheltered U.S. Diplomats During Hostage Crisis Dies at 88

Canadian Caper, CIA Exfiltration, Ben Affleck’s Argo and Hurt Feelings

The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation

Posted: 12:22  pm EDT
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We’ve previously blogged about the Iran hostages here (see Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran HostagesJanuary 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years LaterNovember 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day).  The following CRS report dated July 30, 2015  outlines the history of various efforts, including legislative efforts and court cases, and describes one bill currently before Congress, the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015 (S. 868) on the bid to compensate the hostages.

Excerpted from CRS report via Secrecy News:

Even today, after the passage of more than three decades, the 1979-1981 Iran Hostage Crisis remains an event familiar to most Americans. Many might be unaware that the 52 American mostly military and diplomatic personnel held hostage in Tehran for 444 days or their survivors continue to strive for significant compensation for their ordeal. The former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits. Congress took action to abrogate Iran’s sovereign immunity in the case, but never successfully abrogated the executive agreement, leaving the plaintiffs with jurisdiction to pursue their case but without a judicial cause of action.

Having lost their bids in the courts to obtain recompense, the former hostages have turned to Congress for relief.
[…]
The Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015, S. 868, a bill similar to S. 559 (113th Cong.), was introduced in the Senate at the end of March and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Like its predecessor bill, S. 868 would establish the American Hostages in Iran Compensation Fund in the U.S. Treasury to be funded through a 30% surcharge on penalties, fines, and settlements collected from violators of U.S. sanctions prohibiting economic activity with Iran. The 2015 bill, however, would permit payments from the fund to be administered by the plaintiffs’ representative and principal agent in Roeder I, under the supervision of the Secretary of the Treasury. The surcharge would apply to sanctions administered by Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, or the Department of Energy. Surcharges would be required to be paid to the Secretary of the Treasury without regard to whether the fine or penalty is paid directly to the federal agency that imposed it or it is deemed satisfied by a payment to another federal agency.

The purpose of the fund would be to make payments to the former hostages and their family members who are members of the proposed class in Roeder I, as well as to settle their claims against Iran. The proposed class in Roeder I appears to consist of “Representatives, administrators and/or executors of the estates of all diplomatic and military personnel and the civilian support staff who were working at the United States Embassy in Iran during November 1979 and were seized from the United States Embassy grounds, or the Iranian Foreign ministry, and held hostage from 1979 to 1981.”

Accordingly, it is unclear whether all spouses and children of the former hostages qualify for payments from the fund.

Payments would be made in the following amounts and according to this order of priority:

(A) To each living former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1), $10,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$4.44 million per former hostage].

(B) To the estate of each deceased former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1), $10,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$4.44 million per estate of a former hostage].

(C) To each spouse and child of a former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1) if the spouse or child is identified as a member of that proposed class, $5,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$2.22 million per qualifying spouse or child of a former hostage].

The bill would not appear to provide compensation for former hostages who were released from captivity prior to 1981.

Under the bill, once a class member consents and receives payments from the fund, the recipient would be barred from bringing a lawsuit against Iran related to the hostage crisis. Once all payments are distributed according to the above plan, all such claims against Iran would be deemed waived and released.

Read in ful here: CRS R43210: The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation.

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Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy

Posted: 12:39 EST
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In 1979, John Limbert was a new FSO posted to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun by Iranian students. He was one of the fifty-two U.S. personnel who spent 444 days as Iran hostages from 1979-81. Later in his career, he was appointed Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He currently serves as Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy.  In yesterday’s issue of the Guardian, Ambassador Limbert writes that “there is a remarkable parallel between denunciations of Binyamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress and of a possible nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Those who condemn the former haven’t heard it; and those who condemn the latter haven’t seen it.”  Excerpt:

[H]is words will not matter. What will matter is the obvious symbolism of his presence in a partisan and political event. Netanyahu will denounce Iran and its evil ways, but behind these denunciations his real target lies elsewhere. The speech will be a divisive event, in which, for his own reasons, Netanyahu has entered the American political arena and thrown in his lot with President Obama’s opponents. In this political mêlée, Iran becomes the means to weaken him.

Such a bizarre piece of diplomacy may play well with the far right in the United States and with Netanyahu’s own constituency in the coming Israeli elections. In the process he does not seem to care how many dishes he breaks or how much he damages Israel’s relations with the president of its most important ally.
[…]
If Netanyahu dislikes and distrusts the Islamic Republic, fair enough. In his negative views he has lots of company. But does Iran’s being difficult mean that there should be no deal to limit its nuclear program? Shouldn’t the P5+1 negotiate the best possible, but perhaps imperfect, agreement? In 1981, the Iranians and Americans reached a deal that brought me and 51 of my embassy colleagues home after 14 months’ captivity in Iran. The deal stuck, although the United States neither liked the Iranians, nor trusted them. At times it is necessary to talk to unattractive regimes and to negotiate agreements that deliver outcomes less than ideal. Rejecting a nuclear deal with Iran – before such a deal has been reached – will do nothing to bring about a better outcome.

Continue reading, Netanyahu’s supporters (and critics) don’t really care what he says to Congress.

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Interim Win For Diplomats Slows Down March To Another War. For Now.

— Domani Spero

(L to R) British Foreign Secretary William Hague, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and US Secretary of State John Kerry,, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister

(L to R) British Foreign Secretary William Hague, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, EU’s Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister (Photo via US Mission Geneva)

Here is the Fact Sheet: First Step Understandings Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program released by the WH on November 23.  You might also want to read Jeffrey Lewis’ piece on FP asking, if we can’t ease sanctions in exchange for concessions, what was the point of pressuring Iran. He is the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Lots of articles coming out right now on the Geneva deal, but there are a couple you don’t want to miss.  The Associated Press reported on the cloak and dagger diplomacy that happened behind the klieg lights with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, and National Security Council aide Puneet Talwar. See Secret talks between U.S., Iran set stage for historic nuclear deal.  As well, see Al-Monitor’s Exclusive: Burns led secret US back channel to Iran.

Of course, now folks will start wondering what’s real in the public schedule posted on state.gov.

But please — a toast to the diplomats and the support staff!  For every foreign minister present in the photo above, there were numerous nameless individuals who made the work in Geneva possible. Bravissimo for a win that did not involved a drone, a gun, or a deadly karate chop! Diplomacy still works and it did not wear combat boots this time.

Also, yesterday, Reuters reported that former hostage Bruce Laingen, the US chargé d’affaires in Tehran in 1979 favors diplomacy, “despite humiliation, solitary confinement and having a gun held to his head during the U.S. Embassy crisis in Iran three decades ago.” The report notes that “Former hostages who were diplomats appear more in favor of rebuilding a relationship with Iran than those who were military personnel at the time.” See  Former Iran hostages: amid rapprochement they still want apologies.   

Apparently, some pols are livid about this Iran deal, lining up before microphones, furiously writing op-eds, plotting the next moves and …..

Oh, hey, accuweather says the East Coast winter storm will snark Thanksgiving travel.  Safe travel peeps!

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November 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day

— Domani Spero

Thirty four years ago today, the US Embassy in Tehran was taken over by a mob of Iranian students supporting the Iranian Revolution.  52 embassy employees were held hostage for 1 year, 2 months, 2 weeks and 2 days until their release on January 20, 1981.

Below are some excerpts from ADST’s Oral History project’s interviews with Ambassador Bruce Laingen, the chargé d’affaires at that time,  Ambassador John W. Limbert who was assigned as Political Officer at the  US Embassy in Tehran from 1979-1981, and Penelope Laingen, the wife of Ambassador Laingen.

Bruce Laingen | Read The Iran Hostage Crisis Part I and Ambassador Laingen’s interview:

“Their real intent was not to get the Shah back, despite the slogans that were so useful to them in that sense to get passions in the streets aroused. Their intent was to use that device to destabilize and undermine the provisional government of the revolution and to facilitate a greater role for the more radical elements.

At any rate, it did not seem that the situation was all that bad at the outset. In retrospect we should have begun destruction earlier. I, obviously as chief of mission, had that responsibility and today bear that responsibility for the way in which not enough of our classified documentation was destroyed. We had too much, we started too late, and we had equipment that was not the best….

Of course, a lot of the paper that did not seem to have that urgency of destruction, including unclassified biographical material, would also in time prove to be a very damaging element of the situation, because lots of that stuff has Central Intelligence Agency logo stamped on it even if it is unclassified. That was enough to fire the fury of the more radical elements of the revolution, even though it was material of an unclassified, descriptive nature. That was sufficient to cause a great deal of pain and hurt to a lot of Iranians.

And that is the real pain that I have felt since. Not that our security was threatened, our strategic interests, or political interests in Iran and the region. They were not seriously affected by what was leaked. It was clear in any event at that point that our relationship with the Iranians was not going to be reestablished very soon. But the human hurt for a lot of people in Iran because of the way we were not able to destroy incriminating documentation, that is the legacy that hurts me very much today.”

John Limbert | Read more here or his interview here.

“I did probably one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done in my Foreign Service career. I volunteered to go out and talk to these guys. I’m a Persian speaker, so perhaps I can go out and see if we can defuse this someway, or delay it, defuse it, divert it. We did not see these guys being armed or anybody getting hurt. So that’s what I did. I went out, they opened the door, I went out the door and started talking to these guys. And at first they were shocked, because they thought I was an Iranian. I kept reassuring them, “No, no, no, I’m not an Iranian, I’m an American employee of the embassy, you should get out of here.” I took my most professorial tone with them and was as overbearing as I could be and saying, “You are where you should not be. You have no business here. You should get out as soon as you can. You are causing trouble. Who do you think you are?” So forth and so on. And they weren’t having any of it.

I’ll tell you a little story about this. About 1991 or ’92 there was a made-for-TV movie about the hostage taking. It wasn’t a great bit of moviemaking but it was not bad. And part of the movie shows this particular incident, where the actor playing me goes out to talk to these guys and gets taken. I was showing this at one point to an audience, using this as an example and one of the people in the audience, perhaps he didn’t realize this character was supposed to be me and in this stage whisper said, “God, what an idiot!” although he didn’t use the word “idiot.” He used a more anatomical descriptor. True, I must admit he had a point. I’ve always called this the low point of my Foreign Service career and my least successful negotiation.”

Penelope Laingen | Read her 1986 interview here.

“In my whole history of being connected to the Foreign Service, whenever I’d started a project, for instance — I am a writer and I had three chapters written in a novel and my teacher said “You have a real winner here and should get an agent now” — then, Bruce was taken hostage, so I put that away and I’ve not gotten back to it. I will someday, I hope. I had also upholstered a chair and I had everything but the back done when we went to Malta, (so I had to put that away, too). I mean, it’s just been a history of deferring or putting aside something. So when he was taken hostage, I just had to put everything else out of my mind and concentrate on that. I also called all my training in the Foreign Service to bear, even though I felt I had been “dismissed” by the Foreign Service.

[…]

So, here we come to the hostage crisis, a terribly public, international crisis, where you are on television. I think most people recognize and say, okay, this is the wife of the Chief of Mission (and how she behaves reflects not only on her husband, but perhaps on the whole Foreign Service or on Americans on the world scene). If I had gone on television and cried nightly, if I’d flown off to Iran and called the President stupid or the Government’s policy stupid, I think I would have heard in two minutes just how private a person I was! (I would have been reprimanded by the very Department of State which had proclaimed me to be a private person with no responsibility to my husband’s career). I mean, I’m being sarcastic and I realized I wasn’t a private person. You can’t be a private person. You are a part of the Foreign Service and particularly when you are on the public stage like that. It’s a public life. How can you be a private person in a public life? See, this is what Sandra Gotlieb found out. You cannot be a private person in a public arena. There’s no way.

So, the hypocrisy of this official policy has just gnawed no end at me. And I got no support from the Department in that role. I got sort of superficial support. Well, not even that, not even that.
[…]

One thing that made it difficult was the lack of esprit de corps among the families. I mean, we had never served together, so that was one of the drawbacks. And there were all different services involved. There’s a study done of fourteen hostage wives. Those of us who had served the longest in the Foreign Service expected the most, yet felt we had received the least support. Those foreign-born spouses in the group expected nothing and were deeply grateful for whatever they received in the way of support. They had no great expectations of the Department, which was perhaps a cultural difference. And the military wives felt they received the greatest support, which they did, and in return kept their allegiance to those services in tact. I believe Sheldon Krys and other Department managers did the best they could under the circumstances, but they had much to learn from the Iran crisis in the management of families during a crisis. It was always a source of great disappointment to me, for instance, that not once during the crisis did any of my husband’s colleagues offer to take our youngest son to a basketball game or call to inquire about the house or other personal matters. It was up to us unite ourselves and support one another in that personal way.”

According to the CRS report dated September 2013, “the former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits.”   Also see this Brief from USDOJ before SCOTUS dated April 2012.  See  Roder, et.al v. Iran to catch up on the litigation history.

So 444 days by $50 is exactly $22,200.00.

Currently in Congress, is Senate bill S. 559, the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013, which would establish a fund to compensate the former hostages. The American Hostages in Iran Compensation Fund would pay to each former hostage or estate of a former hostage $150,000 plus $5,000 per each day of captivity ($2.37 million total per former hostage).  Over at the House, the Justice for the American Diplomats Held Hostage in Tehran Act, H.R. 904, was introduced and referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.  Each former hostage or estate of a former hostage would receive $10,000 for each day of captivity ($4.44 million each); each spouse or child of a former hostage would receive half that amount.

In both bills, the funds would come from fines and penalties imposed for violations related to Iran. Both cases also include a provision that recipients waive and release all existing claims against Iran and the United States arising out of the hostage crisis.

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Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran Hostages

Via NYT:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the last legal appeal for former American hostages seeking compensation for their captivity in Iran three decades ago, leaving legislation newly introduced in Congress as the last chance to resolve their longstanding grievance.

A lower court, acting at the request of the State Department, previously blocked the hostages’ effort to win compensation from Iran, holding that the agreement under which they were released barred such claims. The former hostages had sued under a 1996 law that they argued allowed them to seek damages, and in August 2001 they won a judgment of liability, because Iran did not appear in court to defend itself. But the State Department argued that its ability to conduct foreign policy would be compromised if damages were awarded.

Read in full here.

Click here for a GQ piece from 2009, a sort of oral history where more than fifty men and women—hostages, hostage-takers, commandos from the ill-fated U.S. rescue mission, and Iranian and American politicians and policymakers were interviewed for the 30th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis.

The 52 former hostages board the VC-137B Freed...

The 52 former hostages board the VC-137B Freedom One aircraft for their departure to the United States after their release from Iran. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Families wait for the former hostages...

English: Families wait for the former hostages to disembark the plane. The former hostages will be on U.S. soil for the first time since their release from Iran. Location: STEWART FIELD, NEW YORK (NY) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Vice President George Bush and other ...

English: Vice President George Bush and other VIP’s wait to welcome the former hostages to Iran home. Location: ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE VIRIN: DF-SC-82-06566 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Judge Sullivan in his 2002 ruling wrote that “‘Both Congress and the president have expressed their support for these plaintiffs’ quest for justice while failing to act definitively to enable these former hostages to fulfill that quest.”

Parade’s over.  Iran is still big news, but no one is rushing to meet, or wait or put out a concert for the former hostages. Most especially, the State Department.

Support was easy when all it required was a yellow ribbon?

Yellow ribbon flown in 1979 by Penne Laingen when her husband, US diplomat Bruce was held captive during the Iran hostage crisis; among the first of the modern “yellow ribbons.”
US lib of congress picture from http://www.loc.gov/folklife/ribbons/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2002, NYT reported that the former hostages, and in some cases their survivors, sued Iran under the 1996 law.  While the plaintiffs won their lawsuit by default in August 2001, the State Department sought dismissal, arguing reportedly that it needed to preserve its ability to make binding agreements.

And in so doing, it also sends a signal to all future state sponsored hostage takers that they can take any of our diplomats at any time and they will not suffer any consequences except a break in diplomatic relations, and limited visa issuance restrictions to its officials.  If Iran is jerking our chain these days, that’s because we have taught it the wrong lesson.  The end.

Domani Spero