Iran, hostages and déjà vu — Biden needs to do better

Iran, hostages and déjà vu — Biden needs to do better
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On Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake SullivanJake SullivanHillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations Biden to nominate former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar MORE was asked if the United States needed to begin hostage negotiations with Iran, noting that the regime currently has detained at least six Americans. “We intend to very directly communicate with the Iranians about the complete and utter outrage… We will not accept a long term proposition where they continue to hold Americans in an unjust and unlawful matter,” he responded. Sullivan went on to say that President BidenJoe BidenTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Biden, first lady send 'warmest greetings' to Muslims for Ramadan The business case for child care reform MORE believes that “hard-headed, clear-eyed diplomacy” is the best way to engage with Iran.

For my family, the loved ones of Robert “Bob” Levinson, the interview felt like déjà vu.

My father, Bob Levinson, went missing in Iran in March 2007. Our national intelligence agencies, the United Nations, and a federal judge have all found that Iran is responsible for his disappearance and unjust detention. A year ago, we received information from U.S. officials that led them and us to conclude that he had died in custody. The pain is unbearable. Our father died alone, with no basic human rights, thousands of miles away from his family. We have so far been unable to obtain his remains.


Mr. Sullivan’s words remind us of a time when we were hopeful about the United States’ negotiations with Iran. Five years ago, six Americans were released as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal) was implemented. We had been following the negotiations carefully, and trusted that the Obama/Biden administration would continue to press for my father’s return as a condition of the deal. We were devastated when he was not among those freed.

The failure to get my father home in January of 2015 is a stain on the legacy of this great country. A man’s life scrapped as a minor detail in pursuit of a larger goal. Bob Levinson was abandoned.

Adding to our pain were the hollow words that Iran had “agreed to cooperate” more closely to find my father and bring him home. Even then, those words seemed ludicrous. Five years later, they ring as empty as ever. Iran has never cooperated in my father’s case. Not once.

My family has accepted that my father has passed away. As devastating as that news has been, it has only deepened our resolve to support other families and ensure no American is left behind. In addition, our hope is that Iran can fulfill its commitment to cooperate in a different way for my father’s case — by returning his remains to our family. It’s a priority that the Biden administration cannot push aside, and one that remains as important in negotiations as it was five years ago.

Make no mistake — history repeats itself. That’s why we believe that Mr. Sullivan’s response is unacceptable. Iran does not respond to notes of concern or calls for release. My family can share 14 years’ worth of silence from Iran as evidence of that. This cruel regime only responds to strength.


The United States can and should use all the tools at its disposal to bring every American home. This includes leveraging the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage Taking Accountability Act, which is a bipartisan law that bolsters U.S. government resources and authorizes the use of sanctions against any foreign person responsible for the unlawful or wrongful detention of a U.S. national abroad. It also means that our government must use harsher rhetoric, going beyond “strong” statements in the vain hope that Iran will act in good faith. Our leaders need a clear plan of action to engage Iran, or we will see more families endure what we continue to go through.

Above all else, the United States should act more boldly in order to live up to one of its basic tenets: No American should ever be left behind.

My father’s story is evidence that our country’s leaders can lose sight of our core values, and, in so doing, fail to carry out their responsibilities to individual citizens. As the family of Bob Levinson, we must live with the legacy of that failure for the rest of our lives.

For the sake of those held in Iran and their families, including Baquer and Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Afshin Sheikholeslami Vatani and Emad Shargi, we hope that our country’s negotiators are better prepared to do the right thing this time and hold the line. Iran cannot continue this practice of hostage-taking with impunity, and it is our most sincere wish that the Biden administration holds them accountable for all the lives they have destroyed. No family should suffer the way we have suffered. No family should have déjà vu that the United States government is going to do the wrong thing again. We all deserve better.

David Levinson is the son of Robert "Bob" Levinson, who was the longest held hostage in American history.