Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have proposed legislation to compensate victims of the Iran hostage crisis with an extra fee on fines paid by persons and companies who do business with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Islamic militants stormed the U.S. embassy in 1979 and imprisoned the 52 hostages for more than 14 months. The United States secured the release of the prisoners through the 1981 Algiers Accords, but that same agreement barred the freed hostages from suing Iran for damages in U.S. courts.
Last year’s release of the Oscar-winning film Argo renewed an urgency to assist the hostages, Tom Lankford, a lawyer for the former prisoners and their families, told the Washington Free Beacon. The film depicts a CIA operation that successfully freed six Americans from bondage in Tehran by disguising them as a Canadian film crew.
"When the hostages returned in 1981, we had just been through the Vietnam War," Lankford told the Free Beacon. "The country was depressed and their confidence was shaken. Everybody looked on the bright side."
"The dark side of the captivity—the torture, pain, and suffering of these folks—was not focused on because the national psyche couldn’t take it."
The recent legislative push comes after the U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to review a case involving the hostages to avoid wading into foreign affairs.
Lankford, who has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of about 140 former hostages and family members since 1999, said many of his clients suffer from depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. One of the former hostages who was tortured, ex-CIA agent Phillip Ward, committed suicide last year.
"A number of them never made it back. They came back physically, but not mentally," Lankford said.
Many of the former hostages say they are haunted by the sounds of Iranian political prisoners suffocated by hoses forced down their throats. Some of the hostages were blindfolded before experiencing mock executions.
"They felt the next time the prison door opened there would be a ‘clang,’ and it would be the last sound they ever heard," Lankford said.
Steven Lauterbach, an embassy officer who slashed his wrists at the Iranian prison, told National Journal that the ordeal has never left him.
"It’s never completely in the past," he said. "You’re always in the shadow of it, psychologically."
Lankford said the bipartisan passage of a bill by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee offers the best chance yet for the hostages to finally be compensated. The Senate bill would award each hostage $10,000 per day of captivity, or $4.4 million total, in funds drawn from fines and penalties from sanction violations.
"I think this year at last we’ll finally see relief and reparations," Lankford said.