Congress to Compel Obama Disclosure of $1.7 Billion ‘Ransom Payment’ to Iran

Bill requires White House to reveal details about Iranian capture of U.S. sailors

U.S. sailor capture
Credit: Iranian state media
June 1, 2016

New legislation could force the Obama administration to disclose if it paid Iran $1.7 billion in taxpayer funds as part of a "ransom payment" earlier this year to secure the release of 10 U.S. sailors who were abducted at gunpoint by the Iranian military, according to a copy of the legislation and conversations with lawmakers.

The bill, jointly filed by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), comes on the heels of a Washington Free Beacon report disclosing that the Obama administration has been suppressing potentially "shocking" details related to the January abduction of the sailors, who were held at gunpoint by Iranian soldiers and forced to apologize on camera.

The legislation, dubbed the No Impunity for Iranian Aggression at Sea Act, would compel the Obama administration to issue a report to Congress detailing whether it paid Iran a $1.7 billion settlement as part of the hostage release. It also would level sanctions against Iran for possible breach of Geneva Convention rules governing legal military detainment.

Lawmakers and others have suspected for months that taxpayer money was partly used to secure the release of the sailors and other imprisoned Americans, though the administration has been adamant the issues are not linked.

The new legislation would require the White House to certify whether any federal funds, including January’s $1.7 billion payment, were doled out to Iran as part of a "ransom" to secure the release of these sailors and citizens imprisoned in Iran.

The legislation noted that the administration released the money to Iran just a day after it freed several U.S. citizens from prison.

The bill would further require the White House to determine if Iran’s treatment of the sailors—which included filming them crying—constitutes a violation of the Geneva Conventions or international laws governing innocent passage in international seas, according to the bill.

If it is determined that Iran violated either of these accords, the legislation would force the White House to list and sanction every Iranian complicit in the detainment.

Pompeo, a member of the House’s intelligence committee, told the Free Beacon on Tuesday that the White House continues to stonewall efforts to determine precisely what happened to the sailors.

"After the Iranians captured ten U.S. Navy sailors, President Obama mentioned these brave men and women only in passing in his last State of the Union address," Pompeo told the Free Beacon. "Since then, instead of investigating whether the Iranians violated the Geneva Convention and the right of innocent passage, the Obama administration has only offered apologies and then fired an American Naval officer. There has been no criticism of the Iranians, no public explanation of why these Americans were forced on their knees, hands on their heads, or why they were forced to confess—nothing from President Obama that would send a signal that this is an unacceptable way to treat American sailors."

Pompeo said that he and Cornyn are seeking to ensure there are "consequences on the Iranians responsible."

"The Obama administration cannot just focus on its inherently flawed nuclear deal and hope inflammatory incidents like this blow over," he said." The implications for the safety of Americans and the U.S. military are too great."

Rep. Randy Forbes (R., Va.) disclosed to the Free Beacon earlier this month that classified details surrounding the incident are being withheld by the administration. It could be more than a year before this information becomes public, Forbes said.

"I think that when the details actually come out, most Americans are going to be kind of taken aback by the entire incident, both how Iran handled it and how we handled it," Forbes said. "I think that’s going to be huge cause for concern for most Americans. That’s why I’ve encouraged members of Congress to get that briefing so they do know exactly what did take place."