WASHINGTON – Thirty five years after their nightmarish ordeal in the land of the Persians, the 52 Iran hostages are still seeking compensation they believe their government owes them.
The Iranians, who acted with utter disregard for international laws and treaties and traditions in the first place, aren’t about to redeem themselves now by paying restitution to the victims of their barbarism. They have language in the arrangement that freed their American government captives that states they don’t have to do so.
But, as anyone with an ounce of common sense realizes, they wouldn’t even if that release provision didn’t exist. So Congress is now being asked to take up the cause of compensation for the 39 hostages still alive and the families of the 12 who aren’t many of whom have found it difficult to overcome the lingering stress caused by their 444 days in Teheran captivity. Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia has introduced legislation in their behalf and an Alexandria, Va., lawyer Thomas Langford, who represents them believes the total compensation should be $448 million.
That’s based on a U.S. court standard of $10,000 per day of captivity or $4.4 million per head of household and half that for each spouse and child, according to the Washington Post.
Think that’s a lot of money. Well, Terry Anderson, an AP reporter imprisoned in Lebanon for seven years after ignoring signs he should leave, won $341 million in compensation, much of it from Iranian assets held by the Pentagon, the Post reported. Another hostage from American University of Beirut was awarded $350 million.
Should the American taxpayers foot the bill for the Iranian debacle? The courts have been unsympathetic and that is why Langford has turned to the Congress.
Perhaps a better idea would be to see if Jimmy Carter can raise the money. After all, his horrendous mishandling of the events that led up to and after the storming of the American embassy in Teheran brought about the mess that continues to threaten the world with another nuclear power – this one a radical theocracy that has fomented and financed terror throughout the Mideast. Had Carter taken decisive action, including the real and true threat of immediate devastating U.S. military action against these outlaws, the hostage crisis might have been over before it started.
Embassy personnel who remained as the tension built were considered frontline soldiers and they knew the risk. Carter’s silly, abortive attempt of a rescue, too long after the fact ended in disaster and only made the United States look ineffectual and weak.
The hostages ultimately were freed as Ronald Reagan took office in part because of obvious concern by the Iranians that this new president might take a hard line that could end their perfidy with immeasurable harm to them. It was that simple, although some Democrats at the time tried to attribute the release to a “secret deal” to help Reagan win.
The effort for financial retribution by the hostages and their families has taken on a new dimension in the face of the current White House’s preliminary agreement of a deal that would slow the Iranian march to nuclear weapons. Some apparently wondered if their cause might not ultimately be a part of some trade off. That hasn’t occurred, but the debate still swirling around the preliminary agreement is far from over.
There is no question that the hostages, 50 men and two women, and their families have suffered over the last three decades and a half since the crisis ended. There have been, according to the Post, divorce, substance abuse, and premature deaths following their incarceration. But one must ask whether their ordeal was worse than that faced in the line of duty by Americans throughout history who were never paid extra for their service.
We seem to think that being in the wrong place at the wrong time requires a financial outlay to make things right. The 9-11 victims and their families have been paid enormous sums. No one would deny the obligation to the first responders who lost their lives in this horrific event, but one has to question the size of the settlements made to those who just happened to be in the Trade Center and the Pentagon and on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Should anyone excessively profit from these disasters?
For the Iranian hostages, the answer to that has been no … for 35 years.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.