Iran embassy hostages have waited 40 years for compensation


Dorothea Morefield was sipping espresso at her kitchen counter when a name got here in: Iranian college students protesting exterior the U.S. embassy in Tehran had stormed the constructing, a State Division official instructed her. Her husband Richard, the U.S. consul basic in Tehran, was caught within the frenzy.

The world, Morefield mentioned, stopped on that day: Nov. four, 1979.

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“That first day, we didn’t know what was happening,” Morefield, now 85, mentioned. “Had he been taken? Had he not? After which I noticed a clip of him strolling throughout the embassy garden, surrounded. And I believed, ‘OK, that’s one query answered.’”

Iran was in chaos then, roiled by the departure of the shah earlier that yr and the return of the revolution’s chief, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a longtime non secular chief in exile. The U.S. had supported the shah’s regime — going so far as serving to to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister of Iran a long time earlier to reinstall Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi — and militants who had taken the embassy demanded that the USA flip over the deposed shah for trial by a revolutionary court docket.

For 444 days, the plight of the American hostages was a each day information story — and a international coverage quagmire for President Carter as he campaigned for reelection, a race he in the end misplaced to Ronald Reagan. Forty years later, victims of the Iran hostage disaster and their households face a special battle, not with Iran, however again dwelling, as they proceed their decades-long battle for compensation.

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In 2015, a congressional invoice carved out a fund to compensate victims of state sponsored terrorism. The fund is designed to assist two teams: those that have secured ultimate judgments in a U.S. district court docket in opposition to a state sponsor of terrorism, and the Iran hostages, their spouses and youngsters.

The U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund is supported by cash from organizations penalized for doing enterprise illegally — together with a portion of a report $9-billion fine in opposition to one of many world’s largest banks, BNP Paribas, levied for defying U.S. financial sanctions in opposition to Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

The laws granted the Iran victims as a lot as $four.44 million every, or $10,000 per day of captivity. But solely a small share of that cash has come by, in accordance with their lawyer, Thomas Lankford.

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The previous hostages, their spouses and youngsters have hit a snag, he mentioned: kin of 9/11 victims have additionally gained entry to the fund, complicating the Tehran victims’ means to be paid the complete quantity they’re entitled to.


There isn’t any query that 9/11 victims ought to be compensated, Lankford mentioned. However he was stunned that kin of 9/11 victims gained judgments in opposition to Iran after a report by the 9/11 Fee mentioned it discovered no proof that Iran was conscious of Al Qaeda’s planning for the Sept. 11 assaults.

A blindfolded American hostage in 1979

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An American hostage is exhibited to the gang exterior the American embassy in Tehran, Nov. 9, 1979.

(Related Press)

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For Morefield, whose husband passed away in 2010, what issues is the acknowledgment that the hostages have been victims of state-sponsored terrorism. She and her husband have been capable of transfer on from their expertise, she mentioned, however the turmoil left its traces: Richard by no means slept by the evening and sometimes wakened afraid. He had hassle sleeping in rooms with closed doorways, a vestige of the time he was thrown right into a cell in Iran and locked behind a metal door.

“In case you’re going again to what would I quite have, [Richard] or the cash, I’m glad I had my husband for 30 years,” Morefield mentioned. “It was a really arduous time … however cash is lots completely different at 85 than while you’re a lot youthful. Nonetheless, I hope it occurs.”

Morefield mentioned her husband adopted U.S.-Iran relations for the remainder of his life. She hasn’t paid shut consideration over the past decade, she added, however regardless of the hostage disaster, she hopes the 2 international locations can reestablish diplomatic ties.

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“I am going again to World Struggle II,” she mentioned. “I used to be in San Diego when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I grew up considering we are going to by no means be associates with Japan … these items, they arrive and go, and for the world to function you must put what has occurred behind and transfer ahead.”

The hostages have been launched in 1981, after the Algerian authorities helped to dealer an settlement between the U.S. and Iran to finish the disaster. The Algiers Accords contained a provision, nevertheless, that barred the hostages from taking authorized motion in opposition to Iran in U.S. courts — a transfer that has upset some victims’ members of the family as a lot because the problems with the compensation fund.

“I do imagine on the backside of my coronary heart that my father would have walked away from the cash if he might have introduced individuals into court docket beneath U.S. legislation and made them clarify what they did to him,” Elizabeth Morefield, 62, mentioned.

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The lawyer who administered the payouts to former hostages and their households, Kenneth R. Feinberg, mentioned they’ve two “very respectable” criticisms: that they need to “obtain all of what they’re entitled to instantly” and that 9/11 victims shouldn’t be eligible for that specific fund.

“The concept 9/11 victims can come into this fund and mainly, in overwhelming numbers, get a professional rata share of restricted cash is improper, unfair and inequitable,” mentioned Feinberg, who retired from administering the fund earlier this yr. “Congress ought to vary the legislation to stop 9/11 associated claims from being beneath this program. I feel they’re proper about that.”

Feinberg additionally served as particular grasp of the U.S. authorities’s September 11th Sufferer Compensation Fund. The present issues with the fund pose a “dilemma,” he mentioned, recalling the cases during which the Iran victims complained to him about their payouts.

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“Every time, my reply was, ‘I’m very sympathetic, however complain to Congress. You’re speaking to the mistaken particular person,’” he mentioned. “I can’t change the legislation. It will get very, very emotional.”

Allyssa Keough Stevens remembers the summer season she lived in Iran together with her father in 1978, and the times she spent on the pool of their Tehran dwelling. Some mornings, she would hop right into a automobile and store for jewellery whereas her father, William F. Keough Jr., ran the Tehran American College.

By the point tensions have been mounting in Tehran in 1979, her father had moved posts, working at a college in Pakistan. He had returned to the embassy in Tehran to gather scholar data on the time of its seizure. Keough grew to become a spokesman for the hostages held captive by militant college students throughout probably the most intense days of the disaster.

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“He was solely imagined to be in Tehran for the weekend,” Stevens, 58, mentioned. “That didn’t work out for him.”

Keough died on his daughter’s 24th birthday in 1985, 4 years after he was identified with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Her father and his spouse, Katherine, testified earlier than Congress about the necessity to present the Iran victims restitution, Stevens mentioned.

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“Thirty-eight years in the past, they have been attempting to get this executed,” she mentioned. “I’m offended this has been such a tough uphill battle for compensation. The hostages have been put by hell, the households suffered, many nonetheless endure each day.”

The 2015 invoice got here as a aid, she added — she nonetheless has voicemails from senators and former hostages from the day the laws handed that she refuses to delete.

“There was a lot pleasure and other people felt they have been going to truly see closure. That hasn’t occurred,” she mentioned. “I not too long ago despatched a message to President Trump asking if he’ll ‘be the president to lastly give closure to those American heroes.’ I’m nonetheless contacting D.C. political figures, reminding them the laws was handed in 2015.”

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When the U.S. signed the nuclear deal geared toward stopping Iran from acquiring supplies that might be used to supply nuclear weapons that very same yr, Stevens mentioned she felt a pang of hesitation in regards to the nations renewing any diplomatic ties.

“However I additionally had this deep-down feeling, ‘Oh my God, possibly my son will sooner or later have the ability to see Tehran,’” she mentioned. “These horrible issues occurred, however it wasn’t the entire nation doing it.”

Relations between the U.S. and Iran have dramatically shifted since 2015 — the Trump administration imposed sanctions focusing on a number of industries final yr after withdrawing from the landmark settlement that had given Iran sanctions aid. The U.S. added extra sanctions earlier this yr.

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The embassy takeover was the “first true act of terrorism in opposition to the U.S.,” Stevens mentioned, and a precursor to the 2 nations’ present relationship.

“Why have these women and men not been held within the highest esteem by our authorities?” she mentioned. “Why has laws wording been misconstrued, and never honored?”

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