Hostages from 1979 Iranian embassy takeover granted millions in compensation after 36 years

By Doug G. Ware   |   Dec. 24, 2015 at 9:50 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- American hostages who were taken at the U.S. embassy in Iran during the Islamic revolution three decades ago will finally receive payment for the ordeal, thanks to the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week.

Buried in the spending bill are provisions that grant each of the 53 hostages financial compensation for enduring the 444-day ordeal, which spanned between November 1979 and January 1981. The amount per hostage varies, but the bill stipulates that each hostage -- or their relatives -- can receive as much as $4.4 million each.

Of the 53 hostages, 37 are still alive today. Since their release in 1981, many of the hostages have sought some type of restitution for enduring physical and psychological torture at the hands of Iranian Islamists for 14 months.

The amount authorized per living hostage, at its maximum, works out to about 10,000 for each day of captivity. Spouses and children of deceased former hostages can receive payment of up to $600,000.

"I had to pull over to the side of the road, and I basically cried," Rodney Sickmann, a Marine sergeant working as a security guard at the Tehran embassy during the takeover, said. "It has been 36 years, one month, 14 days, obviously, until President Obama signed the actual bill, until Iran was held accountable."

The money will come from a $9 billion fine paid by French bank BNP Paribas for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba -- some of which was made available for victims of state-sponsored terror.

"Finally, after 36 years or more we are going to find some kind of closure. I am very grateful," Michael Howland, a security aide at the embassy, told ABC News Thursday.

The omnibus bill specifies that payments to the former hostages and their relatives will begin within the next 12 months.

For years, many hostages sought financial relief for the ordeal via the courts, but each legal challenge was ultimately rejected -- including a case heard by the Supreme Court -- because the 1981 agreement that set the 53 Americans free barred them from going after Iran for compensation.

Many of the surviving hostages asked President Barack Obama and Congress to work some kind of compensation package into the nuclear deal Western powers struck with Iran last summer -- but the issue never made it into the accord.

Victims of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa and other state-sponsored terror attacks are also authorized to receive compensation under the new law, ABC News reported.

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