WASHINGTON – The Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a special bipartisan hearing on Tuesday titled “Held for ransom: The families of Iran’s hostages speak out.” Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) chaired the emotional session, which included testimonies by Doug Levinson, the son of Bob Levinson along with Omar Zakka, the brother of detained American Nizzar Zakka.
“We are desperate. We have endured the turnover of three administrations,” pleaded Levinson whose father is the longest held civilian hostage in American history and went missing in Iran 10 years ago. “We have met with anybody and everybody that will listen. We don’t know what else we can possibly do.” Levinson currently works as a Congressional staffer for Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
During the hearing, Ros-Lehtinen showed the difficult video of Bob Levinson, apparently speaking from his captivity in Iran where he emphasized, “I’m not in very good health. I’m running very quickly out of diabetes medicine, and I need the help of the United States government. Please help me get home.”
Last week, the White House issued a statement calling on Tehran to free all U.S. citizens and warning that without swift action, ”President Trump is prepared to impose new and serious consequences on Iran.”
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), whose district includes Levinson, said, “Iran’s outrageous disregard for international law should give every country, every company – especially every American company, pause as to whether this is a country they should welcome back into the community of nations.”
Blasting the Obama administration for paying a $1.7 billion settlement as part of the nuclear deal, Ros-Lehtinen asserted, “The Iranian regime has arrested and tried under trumped up charges Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Nizar Zakka, and others. This tactic has caused a great amount of fear and pain for the families and loved ones of these Americans and U.S. legal permanent residents.”
Zakka noted that his father is currently on the 30th day of his hunger strike with his body physically weakening to protest the injustice that he faces. “Governments may have disagreements, but treating people as hostages, a centuries old, but uncivilized practice is not acceptable among civilized nations… Please let my dad go!”
The State Department recently announced a new policy banning travel to North Korea but no such law exists regarding Iran.
Bob Levinson previously served as a former FBI agent and was also a part time consultant for the CIA, according to the New York Times. Iranian leaders have repeatedly denied knowing any information about his fate. Last December, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention clarified that Tehran has illegally arrested and detained Levinson.
“Year after year, we’ve witnessed U.S. administration officials fail to make my father the priority that he needs to be,” noted Doug Levinson. “We are hopeful with this new administration, but we’ve heard these promises before. We need action.”