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Former Iran hostage demands compensation from Iranians

Jul. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Paul Lewis ()

Paul Lewis arrived as a Marine Corps security guard at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 3, 1979.

The next day, Iranian protesters took over the embassy and held Lewis and 51 other Americans hostage for 444 days. During that time, he endured beatings, mock executions, forced Russian roulette and other forms of torture.

Nearly 35 years later, Lewis is advocating that the Iranian government compensate the surviving hostages for the mental and physical anguish they endured.

“They basically took a year from our lives,” Lewis told Military Times. “I don’t think about it a great deal, but when I do ... I resent it. I had the luxury of youth but it took a terrible toll on my family: My dad was dead four years later.”

Lewis and the other surviving hostages, spouses and children are represented by the law firm and Lankford and Reed in their efforts to secure compensation. The matter is now before Congress and the Obama administration; it is unclear when it might be resolved.

While the U.S. government agreed to bar the former hostages from suing the Iranian government in U.S. courts as a condition of their release, the U.S. government has endorsed proposed legislation that would compensate the former hostages, a State Department official said.

The Chicago Sun-Times first reported on Lewis and the other former hostages’ quest for compensation from the Iranian government.

Lewis, who left the Marine Corps as a sergeant, told Military Times that he remembers when then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance told the hostages that they were not allowed to sue the Iranian government.

“I remember people not being pleased to hear about it and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it; you’re going to be taken care of,’ ” Lewis said “That was kind of the last thing we heard about it.”

That’s why U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has introduced a bill that would use fines levied against the Iranian government for violating sanctions to provide each surviving hostage with about $4.4 million before taxes. While the bill enjoys bipartisan support, arcane Senate procedures are keeping it from coming up for a vote.

“The difficulty is getting a germane vehicle that we can attach it to on the floor of the Senate and out of the Senate,” Isakson told Military Times. “Of course, there’s an enhanced Iran sanctions bill that some people have been trying to push and that’s what we were going to attach it to, but there’s been some political opposition to enhancing those sanctions. Until we get a germane vehicle, we’re kind of sitting in limbo, but I think we’ll get one before it’s over.”

The U.S. and Iranian governments are negotiating an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program. If that comes to the Senate for approval, it may be that germane vehicle, Isakson said.

“I don’t want to unequivocally say yes, but that would be something we would consider,” he said.

If his bill is not passed before the current session ends, it would have to be reintroduced in Congress next year.

Lewis was released with the rest of the hostages on Jan. 20, 1981, but it was not long before the Iranians struck again.

His brother-in-law, Marine Cpl. Joel Livingston, was killed in the Oct. 23, 1983, suicide bomber attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut. A federal judge later ruled that the terrorist group Hezbollah had launched the attack at the behest of Iran and ordered the Iranian government to pay compensation to the survivors of the attack as well as the families of the 241 service members killed in the bombing.

Livingston’s death hit Lewis particularly hard because Livingston was inspired to join the Marines Corps by the embassy takeover.

“But he was a senior in high school and his mother wouldn’t sign the papers unless he could graduate in mid-term, and he did — he ran off and joined the Marines,” Lewis said.

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