Not Home for the Holidays: These American Hostages Need Help
A former FBI agent and 69-year-old father of seven, Bob Levinson was working as a private detective on a cigarette smuggling case on Kish Island, an Iranian resort port in the Persian Gulf with looser entrance requirements. He disappeared in March 2007; a hostage video of Levinson was sent to the family in late 2010, and in April 2011 they received photos of him. They released the photos in January 2013 out of frustration that not enough was being done by the government.
When five U.S. hostages were returned from Iran at the time of the implementation of the nuclear deal in January 2016, Bob Levinson was not among them. His frustrated family started the hashtag #WhatAboutBob as the other captive Americans returned home. Levinson is the longest-held hostage in U.S. history and has five grandchildren he's never met, including a toddler named Bobby who has battled stage 2 lymphoma.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that it's "an established fact that Mr. Levinson was arrested without any legal ground, in violation of his rights as established in article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 9 of the Covenant, and has been detained since then."
"The UN has been more forceful on securing his return than his own government that sent him there," his son Doug Levinson told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa in July, noting that "we are hopeful with this new administration, but we’ve heard these promises before -- we need action."
As the 2011 Arab Spring protests drew violent reprisals from President Bashar al-Assad that spiraled into civil war, Austin Tice reported from Syria for McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, and other outlets. His background as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer enabled him to get close to the fighting as a war correspondent, and he quickly earned the respect of the Free Syrian Army fighters.
“Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever,” reads Austin’s last tweet, on Aug. 11, 2012.
Tice disappeared as he was trying to travel to Lebanon.
On Sept. 26, 2012, a video titled “Austin Tice still alive,” showing the journalist blindfolded and praying to Jesus, was posted on a pro-Assad website, and raised alarms about the Syrian government’s potential role in his capture. The Assad regime has denied any involvement.
The Tice family said in a July statement that they are "keenly aware of his empty chair, sorely missing his big hugs and wonderful laugh. In addition to so many birthdays and holidays, he was absent from the weddings of two of his sisters, and as a doting uncle he has yet to meet their two beautiful new babies."