WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, issued the following statements after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved their bipartisan bill to bolster U.S. government resources to bring back Americans held hostage or unlawfully detained abroad. The Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act fortifies existing programs to address hostage-taking and equips the U.S. government with new tools to perform rescues, punish captors, and provide critical information and support to hostages and their families.
The bill is named in honor of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who is presumed to have died in Iranian custody this year. Lasting more than twelve years, Levinson’s unlawful detention by the Iranian regime is recognized as the longest-held hostage in American history.
“I am very proud to be able to deliver on my promise to the Levinson family on approving this important legislation in honor of Bob Levinson. Today, the United States is one step closer to holding the Iranian regime and other bad actors accountable for perpetrating unconscionable human rights abuses and inflicting gratuitous cruelties on individuals like Bob Levinson,” Menendez said. “As we continue to push this bill forward towards its enactment into law, we must remain guided by the Levinson family’s determination and persistence in their quest for justice. The United States must do everything possible to secure the resources necessary to safeguard American lives abroad and prevent others from enduring similar tragedies in the future.”
“Following the tragic news earlier this year regarding death former FBI Agent Bob Levinson, who was the longest held hostage in American history, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations pays tribute to his life by passing this important bipartisan bill to help ensure American hostages will be brought back home,” Rubio said. “This bipartisan effort will strengthen the tools within the Executive Branch to facilitate the return of American hostages held overseas.”
Joining Senator Menendez and Senator Rubio in cosponsoring the bill are Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
“The barbarity of the Iranian regime was graphically illustrated in the case of Robert Levinson,” Leahy said. “Countless appeals for his release were ignored, and in the end the Iranians achieved nothing by subjecting him to appalling cruelty all those years. When American citizens and nationals are arrested and imprisoned, our embassies should determine if there is reason to believe that they are being held as hostages or otherwise wrongly detained. This bill specifies criteria for making such determinations and would ensure that those Americans receive every available diplomatic or other assistance to protect their rights and obtain their release. There should be no higher priority for U.S. diplomacy than freeing American hostages.”
“We must do everything we can to prevent the unlawful detention and hostage-taking of American citizens,” Coons said. “This bipartisan bill honors the life of Bob Levinson, who was wrongfully detained in Iran for over a decade, by strengthening our ability to bring these individual Americans home and hold their captors accountable.”
“Any time an American citizen is held unjustly, it demands the attention and full weight of the United States government to secure their freedom,” Shaheen said. “This legislation reaffirms our country’s commitment to bring Americans home safely and bolsters diplomatic powers for the President and administration to use to compel their release. This legislation honors Robert Levinson, who died in Iranian custody after being held hostage for 13 years, and every American who is or has been wrongfully detained. I’m pleased by the bipartisan support from the committee to move this bill forward and I’ll continue to work across the aisle to see this legislation through Congress.”
A copy of the bill can be found HERE.