Yellow Ribbon Project

11 Years in Captivity for America's Longest-Held Hostage

Today marks 11 years since the longest-held hostage in U.S. history disappeared off the coast of Iran.

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 on March 9, 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 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.”

Today, the family said in a statement that Levinson “is still not home despite years of promises by the government of Iran and by three U.S. administrations.”

“What must we do to get these two governments to show any mercy and send Bob home?” the Levinsons asked. “For 11 years we have pleaded with too many Iranian and U.S. officials to count; we have asked countries around the world that have relations with Iran to help us; we have asked religious leaders of the world’s leading faiths to help us; we have asked companies authorized to do business with Iran to help us. We have traveled to Iran. We have asked influential private citizens, foreign policy experts, and the UN for advice. We have written letter after letter after letter. Eleven years later, no one has been able to help us. How is this possible?”

“We will never stop doing whatever it takes to get Bob home. The governments of Iran and the U.S. need to do the same. They need to send Bob Levinson home immediately.”

Levinson’s wife, Christine, was the guest of their congressman, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), at January’s State of the Union address.

“This is a very difficult day for the Levinson family. For 4,015 days, this family has been without their husband, father, and grandfather in their lives. The Iranian regime’s perverse refusal to help Bob’s case and utter disregard for international law and basic human rights must end now,” Deutch said in a statement today.

“When I sat with Christine during President Trump’s State of the Union, I renewed my commitment to push this administration to prioritize Bob’s case,” the congressman added. “I urge this administration to do everything it can, using all available resources and channels, to bring Bob home to his family in South Florida.”

State Department press secretary Heather Nauert asserted in a statement that the United States “remains unwavering in our commitment to bring him home.”

“We share our deepest sympathy with his family which has suffered from his absence for over a decade. We will not rest until the Levinson family is whole again,” Nauert said. “Iran committed to cooperating with the United States to assist us in bringing Robert Levinson home and we call on Iran to fulfill this commitment.”

There is a $5 million reward being offered by the FBI for Levinson’s safe return.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the Iranian regime’s “continued denial of his whereabouts… farcical.”

“Little occurs in the country without Iran’s Islamic rulers knowing about it,” Rubio said. “Last year, Senator Nelson and I introduced a resolution in the Senate urging the president and our allies to press Iran on Bob’s disappearance. I hope the Senate will pass this resolution soon and remind Tehran that we will never forget about Bob. I remain committed as ever to bringing Bob Levinson back home to his family.”