Missing a Father in Iran

Robert Levinson
Robert Levinson (AP)
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By Daniel Levinson
Sunday, June 22, 2008

It has been 471 days since my father, Robert "Bob" Levinson, went missing in Iran -- more than the 444 days that 52 American diplomats were held hostage after they were seized in Iran in 1979.

These past 15 months have brought my mother, four sisters, two brothers and me nothing but grief and sadness. We are no closer to finding answers than we were when our father disappeared March 9, 2007, on Kish Island, Iran. He was on a private business trip, and I emphasize "private" because, although he worked for the FBI years ago, he has been retired for more than a decade.

When he disappeared, my father was investigating cigarette smuggling -- a known problem in that region -- on behalf of several large companies. The last man known to have seen him claims to have been detained by security officials on Kish Island and says he believes the same thing happened to my father. A few weeks after his disappearance, a news article by Press TV -- an Iranian government-sanctioned media outlet -- reported that my dad was "in the hands of Iranian security forces." No other details were provided.

Since this report more than a year ago, the Iranian government has said it has no information about my father.

My dad disappeared two weeks before 15 members of the British navy were detained in Iran. Also detained last year were four Iranian American citizens. These stories received a great deal of media coverage, and all the people involved have been released. More than a year later, my father's story has been all but forgotten. Our family cannot understand why the fact that an American citizen is still missing in Iran is not a bigger issue.

We don't know how he is, if he is even well. We know where he was last seen, and there is no public evidence that he ever left Iran. Our family has never accused the Iranian government of any involvement in my father's disappearance. We ask only for its help. In fact, we have shown nothing but the utmost respect. When my mother and I traveled to Iran in December to retrace my father's steps, we were told that a government investigation was ongoing and that we would be given a report soon.

It has been six months since we returned, alone, from that trip. We still have no report. I would like to think that Iran, a nation that cites with pride its lack of domestic terrorism issues, would be very concerned that a foreign citizen went missing on its soil.

The week before his disappearance, while my siblings were playing with our parents' then-5-month-old grandson, my father looked at my mother and said, "This is as good as it gets." His second grandchild is due in December. My father would never choose to be away from us. It is unbearable to think that a man who loves his family more than anything else is out there somewhere, unable to see or even speak to us. Even prisoners have access to visitors and phone calls.

Last month was my parents' 34th wedding anniversary, the second anniversary my father has missed. Last Sunday was Father's Day, the second one on which we have not been able to tell him how much he means to us. My little sister just graduated from high school -- she was still a junior when our father disappeared. In a family as big as ours, it is understood that the senior year of high school is when our parents get to spend the most time with us before we leave for college. My sister will never get back the time with our dad that she lost.

Our family has not given up hope; we firmly believe our beloved father and husband is still alive. Somewhere in Iran he is waiting for us to find him, and we ask God every day to guide us in bringing him home. But until that day arrives, the constant pain we feel in his absence will continue to ache through each of us.

The writer is a graduate student from Coral Springs, Fla. His family runs a Web site athttp://www.helpboblevinson.com.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company