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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.
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.”
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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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
Nov. 12, 2019 – 4:09 – Iran acknowledges retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, missing since 2007, is the subject of an ‘ongoing case’ after the State Department offers $25 million for information leading to his return. Levinson’s daughter Stephanie reacts on ‘America’s Newsroom.’
Nov. 12, 2019 – 3:47 – Dan Levinson, son of missing former agent Robert Levinson, speaks out.
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.
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.