Former American hostages in Iran will receive compensation

Former Iran hostages to get $4.4M compensation each
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Former Iran hostages to get $4.4M compensation each 01:40

Story highlights

  • Iran hostages and their families are eligible for compensation as part of budget bill
  • Hostages have been prevented from suing Iran as a condition of their release in 1981

Washington (CNN)They have waited for more than 36 years. Now the Americans who were held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran and/or their families will receive financial compensation for their ordeal, because of a little-noticed part of a budget bill passed last week by Congress.

"I think this process begins to close the door for those individuals who were held captive in Iran to bring about closure," Kevin Hermening, a former Marine guard at the embassy, told CNN on Thursday. He is now a financial planner in Wisconsin. "I guess the important point to make -- the finish line appears in sight," but he added it may still be a long time before he and his former comrades see a check.
Lawyer Thomas Lankford has been working with the former hostages for 16 years trying to win some type of monetary award for them.
    Lankford said the budget bill included a provision authorizing each of the 53 hostages to receive $10,000 for each day they were held captive. In addition, spouses and children would separately receive a one-time payment of $600,000. Thirty-eight of the former hostages are still alive. Approximately 150 people associated with the embassy hostage ordeal will be covered, Lankford said.
    "It brings closure to a very horrific time for these folks," Lankford said.
    The ordeal for the Americans who were working at the embassy began on November 4, 1979, after the Iranian revolution, when the compound was overrun,. They were held for 444 days. The hostages were freed in 1981.
    The bill also authorizes payments to other victims of separate international terrorism attacks. What is different for the former hostages is that they were never allowed to take Iran to court because of the agreement with Tehran that freed them.
    "The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits," stated a report in November from the Congressional Research Service.
    The payments will come from penalties paid after some banks, including BN Paribas, were found violating American economic sanctions against Iran.
    "Any time people on both sides of the political aisle can come together to do good -- especially at this time of year -- it could probably be characterized as nothing short of a Christmas miracle," Hermening said.
    The New York Times first reported on the hostage compensation in the budget bill. It said it is unclear the total each of the former hostages and their families may get because Congress authorized up to $4.4 million for each hostage or their estate, but it is not known how many people will submit claims. Right now the fund will have about $1 billion in it, but more could be added.
    House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed his support for the compensation.
    "These Americans were held captive by Iranians for 444 days over three decades ago," he said. "It's past time they were compensated for their captivity and suffering."
    Though the agreement will give the former hostages some financial compensation, Lankford said they are getting far less than they would have gotten if they had been able to go to court and win a judgment.
    Previous attempts in Congress to pass bills to grant the former hostages some financial benefit were unsuccessful, but several recent factors helped put the hostages and their ordeal back in the public spotlight: the 2012 release of the movie "Argo," which documented a rescue of six of the American hostages, and this year's nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran.
    Ben Affleck starred in "Argo," which may have helped the hostages get compensation.
    "I am certain I was not the only person among the former hostages and for that matter in the general population who saw it as unseemly that we were striking a deal" with a country on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
    "It focused people on Iran, and it focused on the rupture, on the break between our two countries," Lankford added. "To the extent you sign an agreement ... the next step has to be the elephant in the room."
    The attorney general has 60 days to appoint a special master who will oversee the fund and then that person has 60 days to publish claims forms. Then anyone wanting to submit a claim has 90 days.