Family of Robert Levinson, held in Iran 13 years, calls prisoner exchange ‘bittersweet’

“We can’t help but be extremely disappointed that, despite all its efforts, the United States government was unable to secure his release,” the family said.
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By Phil McCausland

The family of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent held for nearly 13 years in Iran, said on Saturday that they are happy about the release of American student Xiyue Wang in a prisoner exchange, but can’t help feeling “extremely disappointed” that their husband and father continues to be imprisoned.

The Levinsons said they send their best wishes to Wang’s wife and his young son: “This is a day they have long hoped for, but this news is bittersweet for our family.”

Levinson has been held hostage longer than any other American, the family’s statement noted.

“We can’t help but be extremely disappointed that, despite all its efforts, the United States government was unable to secure his release,” the statement said. “Iranian authorities continue to play a cruel game with our father’s life, and with our family. But the world knows the truth, and Iranian leadership must come clean. It is time for Iran to send Bob Levinson home, so he can live the rest of his life in peace.”

Wang, 38, was released and able to head home on Saturday after spending more than three years in an Iranian prison. The U.S. and Iran negotiated in Switzerland to exchange Wang for Iranian citizen Massoud Soleimani, who was being held in an Atlanta jail over accusations that he had violated U.S. sanctions.

Levinson, 71, was working with the CIA on an unauthorized intelligence-gathering mission when he disappeared in March 2007 on Kish Island, a resort area off Iran’s coast. He is now the longest-held American hostage in history, but his condition and whereabouts are largely unknown.

Iran acknowledged in a filing to the United Nations last month that it had an open case against Levinson.

Otherwise nothing has been known since family members released photos and video of him in 2011 that included a request for help and a warning that he was running out of medication to treat his diabetes.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Saturday that the U.S. is committed to bringing home every American held by Iran and other countries.

Secretary Pompeo

@SecPompeo

Another American is coming home. Xiyue Wang, who has been held on false charges in Iran for over three years, has been released and is on his way back to the United States. Mr. Wang will soon be reunited with his wife and son, who have missed him dearly. (1/2)

Secretary Pompeo

@SecPompeo

We will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones. We thank the Swiss government for facilitating the return of Mr. Wang, and are pleased the Iranian government has been constructive in this matter. (2/2)

Stephanie Levinson Curry, the daughter of the former FBI agent, told Fox News in an interview last month that she felt encouraged by the work that President Donald Trump had done to ensure his return, including an offer of a $25 million reward for information about the prisoner.

“Our family is not political, but we think that President Trump is demonstrating his leadership and showing his commitment to bringing hostages home,” Curry said.

Curry’s brother had sharper words for the Obama administration when it negotiated a complex prisoner exchange with Iran in 2016that brought four Americans home, but not Levinson.

“Don’t get me wrong. We’re very happy for these families. But we wish we were among them,” Daniel Levinson told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell at the time, noting his view that the Obama administration had failed his family.

“We’re not getting any answers,” he added. “We have been abandoned. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Obama administration officials at the time said they had not been able to determine Levinson’s whereabouts, but had repeatedly brought up his disappearance with Iranian officials.

Iran, in response, denied any knowledge of Levinson’s location in 2016 and offered to help search for him.

The former FBI agent isn’t the only American currently being held by Iran. Iranian-American father and son Siamak and Baquer Namazi and U.S. Navy veteran Michael White remain imprisoned there.

Babak Namazi, the son of Baquer Namazi and brother of Siamak Namazi, said he was also excited for Wang’s release but that his family was still waiting for answers.

“I am beyond devastated that a second President has left my ailing father Baquer Namazi and brother Siamak Namazi behind as American hostages in Iran in a second swap deal,” Babak Namazi said. “I hope, pray, and expect that this is not a one-time trade but the beginning of an expedited process that will bring my family home soon.”

Family of Missing Ex-FBI Agent Testifies in Case Against Iran

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Courthouse News Service

WASHINGTON (CN) – The seven children and wife of the longest-held American hostage in Iran closed out a two-day hearing in D.C. federal court Thursday with agonized testimony on the nightmare they fell into back in 2007 when former FBI agent Bob Levinson disappeared.

“I don’t understand why people don’t know his name,” said Stephanie Curry, Levinson’s daughter.

U.S. investigators have concluded that the Iranian government abducted Levinson, who would be 71, while he was on a rogue mission for the CIA. The lawsuit filed by his family seeks $150 million in compensatory and $1.35 billion in punitive damages from Iran.

Emotional testimony from his family unfolded in U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly’s courtroom while grandchildren that Levinson has never laid eyes on played with toys and puzzles in the hallway.

The family’s attorney, David McGee, said Kelly could issue a sound warning to Iran that U.S. citizens cannot be cut off from the world as Levinson has been for nearly 13 years.

“All you have to do is look at the cases that go through this courthouse,” McGee said. “They do it over and over and over again.”

In testimony that bared the emotional and physical trauma of their father’s capture — including anxiety, depression and attention-deficiency and eating disorders — Levinson’s seven children shared memories of a father with abounding love.

A photo of Curry walking down the aisle with her father in 2002 triggered guilt in the second-oldest daughter.

Choked by tears, she admitted, “I have a lot of guilt too because my sisters missed that opportunity.”

The captive’s voice entered the courtroom on a number of occasions through emails sent to his wife and children over the years, sprinkled with goofy nicknames like “Happy Face” and “Lumpy.”

In an email sent just weeks before he disappeared, Levinson wrote to his son David Levinson: “All the stuff that I do is nothing repeat nothing compared to all I do to make sure you grow up and prosper.”

David Levinson echoed testimony from his siblings that his father, while very invested in investigating international crime, never missed key events like basketball championships and National Honors Society inductions.

“I’m the fifth of seven children and I still feel like I’m the most important one to him,” he said.

A judge in the same court last month ordered Iran to pay Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian $179 million in damages for imprisoning him on false espionage charges. Held in Evin Prison, where Levinson is suspected to also be locked away, Rezaian’s captors deprived him of food and medication, threatening to harm his wife and cut off his arms and legs.

When news came Levinson was not freed along with Rezaian — held a year and a half and released in January 2016 as part of a prisoner swap — his family was devastated.

Curry told Judge Kelly that every night “without fail” she prays with her two children for their grandfather’s release.

“A hug, physical touch, he has had nothing for 13 years. How can you keep going after that?” she said.

The eldest daughter, Susan Boothe, remembered Levinson’s hand on her shoulder after a basketball game as her father said “you done good baby.”

Boothe said unlike her siblings, she has lost hope that their father will return home.

“We don’t pray for him to come home,” she said of her and her children. “We pray that he isn’t suffering, we pray that grandpa Bob isn’t suffering.”

In a rare showing of emotion from Kelly, the Trump-appointed judge said: “I have learned a lot of things the last two days. One thing I have learned is that I’m a terrible father.”

Despite the wrenching testimony over two days from Levinson’s children, his wife never shed a tear.

“I swore that my family would not fall apart,” Christine Levinson said. “And I fear that if I cry in front of my children, the dominos would fall. And they would not be able to be picked up.”

Two experts on Iran also took the stand, testifying that Levinson as a former FBI agent is no doubt a valuable bargaining chip for Iran, possibly to barter protection for its nuclear program.

Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Hezbollah representatives revealing the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia wielded power to facilitate Levinson’s release was unusual.

“This is very much the pattern we had seen in the 1980s,” Clawson said. “But it had really fallen out of use.”

Closing out the hearing, Kelly commended the Levinson family for their testimony.

Before promising to issue a speedy ruling, the judge told Christine Levinson, seated at the counsel table representing her husband, that “you have a lot to be proud of.”

Levinson Family Court Testimony Raises Pressure on Iran for American’s Release

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VOA News on Iran

Bob Levinson disappeared in Iran five years ago
Robert Levinson disappeared, March 9, 2007, while on Iran’s Kish Island.

WASHINGTON – An American family suing Iran in a U.S. court for the 2007 disappearance of family patriarch Robert Levinson on an Iranian island has emerged from two days of tearful testimony more determined than ever to press Tehran for his release.

The testimony of the retired FBI agent’s wife and seven adult children at the Wednesday and Thursday sessions of Washington’s U.S. District Court “is one way to keep reminding the Iranians that we’re not going away,” said eldest son Dan Levinson in a Friday appearance on VOA Persian’s Late News program.

The seven children and wife of Robert Levinson, an American missing in Iran since 2007, appear outside a U.S. District Court in
The seven children and wife of Robert Levinson, an American missing in Iran since 2007, appear outside U.S. District Court in Washington, Dec. 4, 2019, as they sue Iran for damages for his disappearance. (Courtesy Levinson family)

“They know exactly where my father is,” he said of the Iranian government. “It’s been almost 13 years (since the disappearance) and we’re just suffering terribly. It’s time for them to send my father home. And this (court testimony) is one way to hold them accountable and to pressure them to get this resolved.”

Father disappears in 2007

Robert Levinson disappeared March 9, 2007, while visiting southern Iran’s Kish Island as a private investigator. He had retired from a 22-year career with the FBI nine years earlier. In 2013, several U.S. news outlets reported that Levinson had been part of a rogue CIA intelligence mission, a claim that U.S. authorities have not confirmed.

Dan Levinson, the eldest son of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran in 2007, speaks to VOA Persian outsi
Dan Levinson, the eldest son of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran in 2007, speaks to VOA Persian outside the U.S. District Court in Washington, Dec. 4, 2019.

His family long has accused Iran’s Islamist rulers of detaining Levinson as a hostage to be traded for concessions from the U.S., which those rulers have labeled an enemy for decades. However, Iranian officials have consistently denied knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts in their public statements.

Family members have not received any proof of life from Levinson since his captors sent a video and photos of him looking gaunt and disheveled in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

The family’s hopes were lifted last month, when the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said Iran’s judiciary recently had notified the world body of an “open case” for Levinson in the nation’s Revolutionary Court system that handles national security cases. Iranian officials later tried to downplay the U.N. notification, saying it related to a “missing person” investigation into Levinson’s disappearance.

The Levinson family filed its ongoing lawsuit against Iran in the District Court of the District of Columbia in March 2017. Family members said this week they are seeking $150 million in compensation and $1.35 billion in punitive damages from Tehran, which did not have any representation at this week’s court sessions. Iran has not had diplomatic relations with Washington since Iranian Islamists hostile toward the U.S. seized power in the 1979 revolution.

David McGee, a lawyer for the family of Robert Levinson, speaks to VOA Persian in Washington, Dec. 4, 2019, about the family's l
David McGee, a lawyer for the family of Robert Levinson, speaks to VOA Persian in Washington, Dec. 4, 2019, about the family’s lawsuit against Iran, where the retired FBI agent went missing in 2007.

Change Iran tactic

Levinson family lawyer David McGee told VOA Persian that the vast majority of the $1.5 billion sought from Iran is intended to dissuade it from continuing its long-running practice of arbitrarily detaining Iranian dual nationals and others with ties to the West.

“That’s inappropriate behavior. We think they should stop,” he said.

In the two days of testimony, Levinson’s children spoke of how the long disappearance of their father has traumatized some of them with panic attacks, attention deficiency, eating disorders and nightmares of Levinson being beheaded. They also read from touching messages their father had written to them before his fateful trip to Iran and described how he had been a loving influence in their lives. The testimonies brought the seven siblings to tears.

“It’s been very hard, and at times a little bit cathartic after 13 years of not talking about it, to be able to tell our story and talk about how wonderful our father is,” said Sarah Moriarty, one of Levinson’s four daughters, in a VOA Persian interview after Thursday’s session.

“The testimony of these past few days has shown how close we are as a family,” said her brother David, speaking alongside Moriarty. “It also has shown the strength of our mother, who for 12½ years has fought every day to get my father home.”

 Christine Levinson (center) wife of Robert Levinson, and her children, Dan and Samantha Levinson, talk to reporters in New York, Jan. 18, 2016.
FILE – Christine Levinson, center, wife of Robert Levinson, and her children, Dan and Samantha Levinson, talk to reporters in New York, Jan. 18, 2016.

Levinson’s wife, Christine, was stoic throughout the week’s testimony.

Speaking to VOA Persian late Wednesday, she said she has worked to enable her children to go on with their lives.

“I tell them all that they need to make their father proud. I think that is what keeps everybody going,” she said.

Regarding the next steps in the lawsuit, McGee said he expects Judge Timothy Kelly to spend the “next month or so” writing an opinion about Iran’s liability for damages.

“Assuming that he finds a liability, he will appoint a special master (court official) to make a recommendation on the damages to the family. Then the judge will make a final decision.”

McGee said the judge will consider how the family has been harmed by Levinson’s disappearance in Iran.

“I have never seen a better case for emotional damage to human beings than what was presented in the last two days here. This is a wonderful family that has been grievously harmed by the actions of the Iranian government,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from Iran to the testimony.

Dan Levinson said he expects it to take months for the judge’s final ruling to be issued.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

Daughter of ex-FBI agent missing for a decade in Iran thanks Trump for ‘clear message’ to Tehran

https://www.foxnews.com/media/robert-levinson-missing-daughter-iran-interview.amp

By Charles Creitz | Fox News

The daughter of Robert Levinson — a retired FBI agent and private investigator who went missing from an Iranian island in 2007 — praised President Trump and the administration for their focus on the case.

Trump and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien have been working tirelessly to find out what happened to the 58-year-old — now the longest-held hostage in U.S. history, Sarah Moriarty told “The Story” on Monday.

“We believe that President Trump, with this new $25 million reward and a tweet yesterday, has sent a clear message that this is a top priority for the U.S. administration, and we’re so thankful to him,” she said.

“Robert O’Brien has been amazing for our family — the entire administration has been working very hard; very tirelessly to bring him home.”

While in the country, he met with American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, whom the CIA was hoping to recruit as an asset, a source told Fox News at the time. After the meeting, Levinson went missing from Kish Island.

Moriarty told Martha MacCallum the Iranian government made mention of “Revolutionary Court,” which she said is geared toward criminal-type cases as opposed to those for missing persons.

She called that development a “key element” of her father’s case, and called Iran’s behavior “unacceptable.”

“We also need Americans to recognize that this is unacceptable and that Iran must send him home,” she said, urging officials in Tehran to “come clean” about what has transpired over the last 12 years.

“My message to my dad is that we are working tirelessly every day and we are working hard to bring him home.”

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the State Department would offer $20 million on top of a $5 million reward already posted for information leading to Levinson’s recovery and return.

“The Trump administration has made clear that the regime in Iran must release all missing and wrongfully detained Americans, including Robert Levinson, Xiyue Wang, Siamak Namazi, and others,” Pompeo said in a statement. “We will not rest until they are reunited with their families.”

Fox News’ Brie Stimson contributed to this report.

Iran acknowledges open case into vanished former FBI agent

Twelve years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared during an unauthorized CIA mission to Iran.

Tehran has always denied any knowledge of his disappearance but now, for the first time, it’s acknowledging that a case regarding Robert Levinson has been ongoing before its Revolutionary Court.

The United States is offering a $US 25 million reward for information about the longest-held hostage in US history.

Guest: Christine Levinson, wife of former FBI agent Robert Levinson

Producer: Linda LoPresti

UN group says Iran has an ‘on going case’ in court regarding missing American Robert Levinson

https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/08/politics/un-report-robert-levinson/index.html

Updated 9:40 PM ET, Fri November 8, 2019

(CNN) A United Nations working group says Iran’s Justice Department has acknowledged that there is “an on going case in the Public Prosecution and Revolutionary Court of Tehran” for former FBI agent Robert Levinson.

The claim was made by the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and was provided to the Levinson family. Levinson’s family had asked the UN working group to investigate Levinson’s 2007 disappearance in Iran.
“The Government reported that: According to the last statement of Tehran’s Justice Department, Mr. Robert Alan Levinson has an on going case in the Public Prosecution and Revolutionary Court of Tehran,” the group said, according to a joint statement from Levinson’s family that was provided to CNN.
Levinson’s family is hoping the report constitutes the first acknowledgment from the Iranians that Levinson is in the Islamic Republic. Iranian officials have previously refused to say that he was ever in Iran, claiming there was no proof. Levinson became the longest-held US citizen in US history in February 2016.
The claim comes just days after the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program advertised up to $20 million for information leading to Levinson’s safe location, recovery and return.
According to State Department officials, Levinson traveled to Kish Island in Iran in March 2007. He was in the Middle East to investigate cigarette smuggling on behalf of a client and, during the visit, met with American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, who remains the last person to acknowledge seeing Levinson on the day of his disappearance.
Levinson worked as an FBI agent from the 1970s until retiring in 1998, when he came a private investigator. He was a contractor for the CIA at the time of his disappearance.
Salahuddin told Time magazine that Iranian security officials had detained the two, but — while Salahuddin was released the following day — Levinson has not been seen since.
The statement from the Levinson family said Iran has notified their Iranian lawyer and the United Nations that there is indeed an open case in its courts regarding Levinson, but charges remain unclear.
“Iran has told our Iranian lawyer and the UN that it has an open case in its Judiciary about our husband and father. We want to know, what are the charges?” the family said in the statement. “If there are charges — something we have never heard — he has served more than 12-and-a-half years and paid whatever penalty. This is also confirmation of what an Iranian government media outlet — Press TV Iran — first reported in April 2007; that Bob Levinson was picked up by local security forces. It is time for Iran to end this charade and send him home.”
Until this point, the Iranians have not ever acknowledged that Levinson was in their country, let alone in custody.
In 2010, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told CNN, “They told me (Levinson) was in Iran, and of course the question came up in my mind, what was an American intelligence officer doing in Iran … an individual is lost, how are we supposed to find him among 7 billion people spread across the globe? What we can do is assist, help and cooperate, which we have been doing, and we are doing … as a humanitarian gesture and action.”
In 2013, Ahmadinejad’s successor — Hassan Rouhani — also denied Levinson was in the country, saying, “We have no news of him. We do not know where he is.”
In 2014, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that there was no proof that Levinson was ever in Iran.
“I have not seen anything that could prove that he (Levinson) was ever in Iran. In fact, we have seen evidence … he was last seen alive outside Iran, with pictures showing that he was outside Iran when he was last seen,” Zarif said at the time. “It’s a very unfortunate case. We’ve said clearly that we have no knowledge of his whereabouts. … We need the United States to explain for Iran what a CIA operative was doing, if he was ever in Iranian territory, what was he doing in Iranian territory.”
In July 2018, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry repeated the claim that Levinson had left Iran and had no information, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
CNN has reached out to the Iranian mission at the United Nations and the US State Department. The FBI declined to comment when reached by CNN.