National Security

Iran Ordered to Compensate American Family for Disappearance of Ex-FBI Agent

An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna
Reuters

Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the Islamic Republic of Iran to give the family of missing former FBI agent Robert Levinson $1.45 billion in damages, the New York Post reported Tuesday.

Levinson disappeared in 2007 after traveling to an Iranian-controlled island. He is suspected to be dead by U.S. officials as of March this year. Kelly’s ruling from a federal bench in Washington takes into account both the abduction and imprisonment of Levinson for perhaps over a decade.

"Iran’s conduct here is … unique, given that—astonishingly—it plucked a former FBI and DEA special agent from the face of the earth without warning, tortured him, held him captive for as long as 13 years, and to this day refuses to admit its responsibility," Kelly’s opinion reads.

"His wife and children, and their spouses and children—while keeping Levinson’s memory alive—have had to proceed with their lives without knowing his exact fate," Kelly added. "These are surely acts worthy of the gravest condemnation."

Kelly also compared the abduction of Levinson to that of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old University of Virginia student killed by North Korea in 2017.

Iranian media and government did not acknowledge or provide any public comment regarding Kelly’s ruling. Tehran’s mission to the United Nations has not yet responded to a request for comment from the Associated Press.

Levinson’s family praised the ruling in a statement. Calling the decision "the first step in the pursuit of justice" for "an American patriot who was kidnapped and subjected to unimaginable suffering," the family hopes the decision will serve as a "warning against further hostage-taking by Iran."

Hostage-taking of American citizens has long been a tactic of the Iranian regime, going back to the famed 1979 Iranian hostage crisis that propelled Ronald Reagan to the presidency. 

President Donald Trump has made hostage retrieval a major priority for his foreign-policy agenda. Under the current administration, Washington has brought home over 50 hostages from 22 countries.

One hostage taken by Iran, Navy veteran Michael White, spoke to this record at the Republican National Convention in September. "[President Trump was] able to get me out of that prison in record time," said White, who was freed in June. "It was amazing."

Negotiations over American hostages detained in Belarus, Russia, and Syria remain ongoing.