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Americans Held Hostage in Iran Finally Get Resolution

FILE - An American hostage is paraded before a crowd outside the U.S. embassy compound in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 9, 1979.

FILE - An American hostage is paraded before a crowd outside the U.S. embassy compound in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 9, 1979.

It took 36 years, but the Americans held hostage for 444 days by Iranian captors finally are getting resolution to their ordeal.

A massive spending bill that Congress passed last Friday granted up to $4.4 million for each of the 53 former hostages or their estates, The New York Times reported Thursday. Some benefits also would be available to victims of other state-sponsored attacks.

The allocation is "very gratifying after a long, long struggle – an epic struggle," V. Thomas Lankford, the hostage group’s lead attorney since 1999, told VOA.

One part of the struggle began November 4, 1979, when Iranian student radicals seized control of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking hostages including civilian diplomats and military personnel. The Americans were held for 14 months, with some of them subjected to interrogations, beatings, solitary confinement and mock executions.

The second half came after the hostages finally were freed on January 20, 1981 – through a set of agreements that, they learned, barred them from restitution. Some eventually did sue, under a 1996 law they believed gave them an opening. The hostages' legal team fought U.S. government litigators all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected an appeal in May 2012.

An opportunity

A breakthrough came this year with a court decision requiring the Paris-based BNP Paribas bank "to pay a $9 billion penalty for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba," The Times reported. It said roughly $1 billion of the penalty would go into a compensation fund for terror victims, and more money could come from continuing litigation.

The law awards up to $10,000 for each day of captivity to each hostage. Spouses and children could get lump payments of up to $600,000. Of the 53 former hostages, 37 survive.

The U.S. government previously had provided some compensation. In the 1980s, each hostage received a cash payment of $22,000, or $50 for every day of captivity, similar to previous treatment of U.S. prisoners of war.

Lankford delivered the news to hostages and their families in a December 16 teleconference.

"It brought closure for them," said Lankford, who'd kept the news quiet to give his clients time to process. "You’re talking about people who have severe mental and physical scars. They have panic attacks. Some of them are periodically institutionalized for help….

"For all those years, they continued to be in many ways hostages, so this was liberating," Lankford added. "... Folks told me after our call they wept for hours, then laughed and giggled."

Justice, he said, took "36 years, one month and 12 days – but who’s counting?"

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