Yellow Ribbon Project

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

With her family sitting behind her, Christine Levinson, wife of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who vanished in Iran in 2007, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill on March 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation today in an effort to improve the plight of American hostages abroad on the 12th anniversary of the captivity of the longest-held U.S. hostage.

A former FBI agent and 70-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 several grandchildren he’s never met.

The Levinson family filed a lawsuit against Iran in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia “for injuries suffered by each of them as a result of Iran’s unlawful acts of hostage taking, torture and other torts.”

Bob Levinson’s wife, Christine, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism at a Thursday hearing on the status of U.S. hostages in Iran that “despite trying to get him home by every means possible, I am absolutely no closer than I was when he first went missing.”

“All the facts of the case tell us that Iranian authorities kidnapped my husband,” she said. “…Additionally, the FBI assessment of the video and photos that we received years later concluded that the Iranian government had to have developed them and sent them to us.”

“My family’s dreams of re-uniting with Bob continue to remain just dreams. We believe he is alive, and we continue to receive reports that he is alive. At the same time, there is mounting urgency for his health and well-being. Every moment is of the essence for Bob, who turns 71 this Sunday. After three very different US presidential administrations, we are no closer to bringing Bob home than we were when we started. We have nothing.”

Christine Levinson noted that “in January 2016 when other American hostages were released and Bob was left behind, the United States government let Iran get away with it.”

“We are all suffering a living nightmare. We wonder endlessly what kind of conditions my husband is living through,” she added. “…What kind of hell must he be living in, that both our government and the Iranian authorities have allowed him to live in for so long?”

The Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-taking Accountability Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and the Senate by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), authorizes sanctions on hostage-takers, requires an ambassador-level special envoy for hostages who would have to be confirmed by the Senate, requires that the State Department report to Congress on all cases of Americans held abroad, and uses a past executive order to ensure this and future administrations prioritize robust hostage recovery.

“Bob Levinson’s continued detention is shameful and must be addressed,” said Menendez. “This legislation will enhance existing tools and give the United States government vital news tools to help bring hostages home, provide better information and support to the families of hostages, and confront captors with meaningful sanctions.”

“The United States must do all that we can to ensure that our citizens taken hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, such as my constituent Bob Levinson who went missing in Iran 12 years ago, are brought home and reunited with their loved ones,” Rubio said. “This bipartisan legislation will strengthen coordination within the Executive Branch to facilitate the return of American hostages and to hold foreign government officials accountable for their role in taking American citizens hostages. I join my colleagues in reaffirming our commitment to bringing back home Bob Levinson and the countless other American prisoners around the world.”