US Iran hostages compensated decades after ordeal

Washington: The 53 Americans taken hostage in Iran in 1979 will finally get financial compensation that had eluded them for decades, after US lawmakers included a payment provision in sweeping spending legislation.

The men and women taken hostage by militant Iranian student groups at the US embassy and who spent 444 days in captivity will be given restitution of up to USD 4.4 million each, or USD 10,000 for each day they were held.

Their ordeal gripped fellow Americans back home, and the hostage crisis ruptured Washington-Tehran relations that had already frayed with the beginning of the Iranian revolution.

Because the deal that set the hostages free in January 1981 barred them from collecting restitution from the Iranian government, the victims had spent decades unsuccessfully pursuing claims.

But when a US judge this year ordered France’s largest bank, BNP Paribas, to pay USD 8.9 billion in fines to settle violations of US sanctions linked to Iran, funding for terrorism victims finally became available.

“Throughout the entire negotiation, I demanded that the hostages, who were barred from getting a settlement through the courts, be included in any compensation package for victims of terrorism,” top Senate Democrat Harry Reid said in a statement.

“While a number of them have already passed away, I am pleased with the legislation, which finally provides closure for these Americans, who suffered at the hands of the Iranian regime, along with other victims of terrorism.”

The huge “omnibus” spending bill that passed Congress last week and was signed into law by President Barack Obama also provides for compensation for victims of other state-sponsored terror attacks, including the 1983 bombings in Beirut, Lebanon.

Lawmakers said the bill also provides for compensation for victims of the 1998 American embassy bombings in Africa.

It also provides a lump sum of USD 600,000 in compensation for each of the spouses and children of the Iran hostages.

Learning of the eligibility for restitution provided a sense of vindication for some of the former hostages.

“I had to pull over to the side of the road, and I basically cried,” Rodney Sickmann, who was a Marine sergeant performing security guard duty at the embassy in Tehran when he was seized on November 4, 1979, told The New York Times.

“It has been 36 years, one month, 14 days, obviously, until President Obama signed the actual bill, until Iran was held accountable,” he added.

There were 66 original captives in the Iran hostage crisis. Thirteen of them were released in November 1979, and one was released in July 1980 because of ill health.

Fifty-two Americans were held the full 444 days.