Former FBI agent Bob Levinson long ago set the record as the longest-held U.S. hostage in history.
Today, the father of seven hit another grim milestone: it’s been eight years since he went missing off the coast of Iran.
And Tuedsay is Levinson’s 67th birthday.
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, when he disappeared on March 8, 2007. Later reports indicated he may have been contracting for the CIA.
In November 2013 he became the longest held U.S. hostage in history, passing Terry Anderson’s 2,454 days in captivity at the hands of Hezbollah before being freed in 1991.
In January 2014, his wife, Christine Levinson, released photos the family had received from his captors nearly two years earlier. She did so because “there isn’t any pressure on Iran to resolve this.”
“Every year on this date we remind the world that Bob’s case is still not resolved and that this husband, father and grandfather is still not home where he belongs. But we, his family, have been reminded every single day of the past eight years because of the enormous hole in our lives that will only be filled when Bob is back with us,” the Levinson family said in a statement. “We need to see him, hear his voice, and hold him.”
“To help the world remember this extraordinary human being,” they added links to the hostage video they received in 2010 and photographs received in 2011 . “We have heard nothing since. We urge the governments of Iran and the United States to work together to resolve this case and send Bob home, so he can live the rest of his life quietly, surrounded by the family that loves him.”
Last year at this time, the FBI was offering a million-dollar reward for the location and safe return of Levinson. Today, the reward was increased to $5 million.
“Mr. Levinson is a retired U.S. government employee who gave 28 years of service to the U.S. Department of Justice, including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Levinson retired from the FBI in 1998 and worked as a private investigator following his retirement. Levinson traveled to Kish Island, Iran, on March 8, 2007, working on behalf of several large corporations, and his whereabouts, well-being and the circumstances surrounding his disappearance have been unknown since that time,” the FBI said in a statement.
“…The reward remains unclaimed, and the FBI asks anyone who may have information related to Mr. Levinson’s disappearance to contact the FBI. All tips will remain anonymous.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that they “ask the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us on the investigation into Robert Levinson’s disappearance so we can ensure his safe return.”
“It is time for him to come home,” Kerry said. “We remain committed to the safe return of Mr. Levinson to his family and appreciate the support and assistance from our international partners. We remain concerned about Mr. Levinson’s health given his age and the length of his disappearance.”
“…We call on anyone with information about this case to contact the FBI.”
But Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) led a group of 19 senators in a letter to Kerry today, arguing that not enough has been done to free Levinson or the other Americans acknowledged by Iran to be in their custody.
“It is unacceptable that as the United States engages with Iran, human rights violations at the hands of Iranian officials go unchecked and Americans languish in Iranian jail cells. We urge you to discuss these imprisoned Americans and demand their unconditional release as you engage in discussion with Iranian officials,” they wrote.
They highlighted the cases of Amir Hekmati, a U.S.-born Marine vet seized in August 2011 while on a trip to visit family; Saeed Abedini, an Idaho pastor imprisoned by Tehran since September 2012; and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been held without any notification of the charges against him for more than six months.
“The Iranian government, which is unjustly punishing Mr. Rezaian, Pastor Abedini, and Mr. Hekmati and refusing to assist the search for Mr. Levinson, must be held accountable for its actions,” the senators wrote. “Once again, Iran’s government is showing they will spare no means to stifle dissent and use innocent Americans as political pawns. As history has proven, countries that fail to respect the rights of their citizens seldom respect the rights of their neighbors.”
“Freedom of the press, religion and association are rights that should be guaranteed to all individuals regardless of their nationality. America’s commitment to upholding basic universal human rights requires us to clearly speak out against violations, wherever they make occur. We urge you to bring up these cases during communications with Iran and demand the unconditional release of these Americans.”
Signing the Rubio-Kirk letter were Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho), David Vitter (R-La.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).