The longest-held U.S. hostage in history today marked the 10th year since his disappearance off the coast of Iran as the White House vowed to “not rest until this case is resolved,” while his family wondered “where is the outrage” over his decade-long detention.
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.
A former FBI agent and 68-year-old father of seven, 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, and his wife made subsequent trips to Iran to try to find out any information. 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. “There isn’t any pressure on Iran to resolve this,” Robert’s wife, Christine, said then in turning the photos over to the Associated Press. “It’s been much too long.”
The Obama administration admitted they believed the government of Iran knows more than it claims, and even tried some PR antics in 2011 to deflect blame from Tehran in hopes that the regime would free him.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dropped a hint about Levinson and basically acknowledged he was in their custody or within their grasp in a September 2012 interview with CBS. “I remember that last year Iranian and American intelligence groups had a meeting, but I haven’t followed up on it,” he said. “I thought they’d come to some kind of an agreement.”
This past August, Christine Levinson appealed directly to Iran’s supreme leader in a letter.
“It is impossible to convey the depth of the darkness and the tremendous loss our family has experienced without our father, the head of our family. Our father means everything to us. He is a man of deep faith who goes out of his way to help others. He is a loving father of seven children and four grandchildren. He brings light to our world,” Levinson’s wife wrote to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on behalf of the family.
“Yet he is being held against his will, with no contact with his family or anyone he knows for more than nine years. We are not aware of any charges that have been brought against him that would explain his being kept prisoner. We have had no contact with anyone claiming to be holding him.”
The FBI is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to Levinson’s return.
Today, the Levinson family declared in a statement, “When is enough enough?”
“It has been 10 years since Robert Levinson, our amazing husband, father and grandfather, was arrested on Kish Island, Iran, and imprisoned. For 10 years the government of Iran has been allowed to dodge and weave every time it was asked to come clean about what happened to Bob and send him home. Where is the outrage of this treatment of an American citizen?” wrote Levinson’s wife, children and grandchildren.
“For 10 years, over and over and over again, two U.S. presidents abandoned him, a lifelong public servant. Even Bob’s government co-workers and their bosses – they know who they are – ran away when he disappeared, to their lasting shame,” the family continued.
“Ten years is beyond enough. How much more agony must he withstand? It is time to get Bob Levinson home to his family. And, to Bob, Dad and Grandpa Bob: Stay strong! We know you are alive and trying to come home to us. We love you more than ever. We miss you every hour of the day. We will never, never, ever give up looking for you.”
In a Washington Post op-ed today, Levinson’s son Dan wrote, “We desperately need President Trump to succeed now where his two predecessors failed.”
“Last March, then-candidate Trump stated Iran ‘absolutely’ knows where my father is. He also spoke of how he believed my dad might be released before he even took office,” Dan Levinson wrote. “While that unfortunately did not happen, this is still one of Trump’s first foreign policy opportunities to demonstrate American strength.”
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found in its November sessions 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.”
“This violation is further aggravated by the time elapsed — almost 10 years — and the lack of due diligence by the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the working group concluded. “…Taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the Working Group considers that the adequate remedy would be to release Mr. Levinson immediately and accord to him an enforceable right to compensation in accordance with article 9 (5) of the Covenant.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement this morning that the Trump administration “remains unwavering in our commitment to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home.”
“We want him back, and we will spare no effort to achieve that goal,” Spicer said. “The Levinson family has suffered far too much during the last decade due to the absence of Mr. Levinson, a loving father, brother, husband, grandfather, and friend to many. Each and every day, but especially today, our hearts are with the Levinson family. We will not rest until this case is resolved.”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement that “over the last decade his family has suffered from his absence, and our hearts go out to them on this and every day.”
“We will not rest until the Levinson family is whole again,” Toner said. “Iran committed to cooperating with the United States to assist us in bringing Robert Levinson home and we call on Iran fulfill this commitment.”
The FBI said today they continue “to pursue every lead collected through interviews, intelligence reporting and contact with foreign governments.”
“The FBI continues to dedicate a team of agents and analysts who, along with our interagency partners, remain steadfast in our mission to locate Bob and return him home where he belongs.”
The Levinson family’s congressman, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), today introduced a resolution along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) calling for the former FBI agent’s release and underscoring Iran’s “most recent commitment to assist in and the diplomatic channel dedicated to locating and returning Bob Levinson have not yielded any meaningful results.”
The resolution urges President Trump and U.S. allies “to continue to press the Government of Iran at every opportunity to locate and return Robert Levinson, notwithstanding ongoing and serious disagreements the United States Government has with the Government of Iran on a broad array of issues, including Iran’s ballistic missile program, sponsorship of international terrorism, and human rights abuses.”
“This is a sad anniversary to mark. Instead of celebrating birthdays, graduations, and other treasured life moments, the Levinson family has been without their husband, father, and grandfather for now a full decade,” Deutch said. “I’m committed – as I have been every day since taking office – to doing all that I can to bring Bob home. I urge this administration to do everything they can to pressure the Iranians to locate and return Bob to his family and community.”