Former Iran Hostages Seek Compensation
Monday, March 20, 2006; 11:00 AM
William J. Daugherty , an associate professor of government at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga. and former CIA officer, was online Monday, March 20, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss why he and other Americans held hostage in Iran for over a year (1979-1981) are seeking compensation.
Read Administration Blocks Ex-Hostages' Bid for Damages From Iran , ( Post, March 19, 2006 )
The transcript follows.
McLean, Va.: Why should the U.S. taxpayer have to pay? The money given to the victims in 2000 was obscene--$380 million for 14 claimants! You may say you just want to get the money from Iran but everyone knows that won't happen.
William J. Daugherty: Let me be clear: we DO NOT want the US to pay. Iran has not only committed an act of terrorism against us, but since 1983 it has killed hundreds of Americans and wounded still hundreds more through its sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas and other terrorist groups. Not once has the US government ever exacted any penalty from Iran for its despicable acts. Today, Iran is making the IEDs that are killing and maiming US troops in Iraq, If the US government have acted against Iran and its surrogates in the early-mid 1980s, perhaps now we wouldn't be faced with these IED and a potentially Nuke armed Iran. Iran has never been called to account for its actions, and our efforts are a major step in that direction.
Chicago, Ill.: Hi Mr. Daugherty: In Sunday's story, Mr. Kessler reported that other victims of "Iranian -linked terrorism have secured hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation." Could you tell me to what acts of terrorism was he referring? Thanks The Post for this discussion...
William J. Daugherty: In the mid-1980s, the Iran-sponsored terrorist group Hezbollah kidnapped Americans living in Beirut and help them for as long as seven years. Some of these hostages and their families have been permitted to sue Iran directly -- through the same legislation we are seeking to use -- and have won. And by Iran's support of Hamas, its suicide bombers have killed Americans in Israel. Several of these families, too, have won judgments against Iran. One big difference: we were actually held by the Government of Iran, and not by a surrogate terrorist group. We still want to hold the Iranian government directly accountable for its actions -- something which the US government has yet to do.
Washington, D.C.: Where would money come from to compensate the hostages? Does it come from the U.S. taxpayer, or Iran?
William J. Daugherty: Again, we neither want nor expect the US taxpayer to cover the compensation. The 1996 anti-terrorism bill and its 2000 amendment allow for payments from frozen funds that belonged to state sponsors of terrorism. There might be other ways, as well. But this burden does not belong to the US Taxpayer -- the idea is to punish Iran.
Alexandria, Va.: Has the U.S. compensated the families of an Iranian Passenger Airline, which the U.S. shot down July 4, 1988 in the Persian Gulf?
William J. Daugherty: The US government agreed -- and very quickly - to a settlement reaching into the hundreds of millions of US dollars for the shoot down of the Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes. However, as I understand it,the US wanted to give the money directly to the families of the victims while the government of Iran insisted that it receive all the funds and then it would "disperse" the funds to families. If you believe that the mullahs who run Iran -- who have made themselves rich over the past 25 years while the rest of the country slides into poverty -- can be counted on to do what they promised, I have a bridge to sell you..... That said, I don't know the final status of this.
Alexandria, Va.: Since you are lobbying as a group, it seems like many of you have kept in touch throughout the years. Have you all stayed close as a result of what you went through together? Were you all able to relate to each other as you transitioned back into your lives and routines when you returned to the States? Thank you.
William J. Daugherty: Good question. After our return, we all pretty much went our separate ways, resuming overseas careers and so forth. Individuals who became close in captivity stayed that way, of course. This lawsuit, discussions for which began in early 2001 under our terrific lawyers at Lankford, Coffield and Reed in Alexandria, has been a unifying endeavor. We've renewed friendships and found new ones (as many of us had not been in country too long, we didn't know each other well; I spent 425 out of 444 days in solitary confinement, so getting to know some of my colleagues in the past several yeas has been a side benefit.
Md.: Who holds the funds you seek? How is the money being used/accounted for now?
William J. Daugherty: The US government, as I understand it, controls the frozen funds. The Algiers accords returned $7.9 billion as ransom (excuse me, payment) to the Iranians, but there were and are funds remaining, which should also have garnered interest. As far as I know, the US government' has refused to give our lawyers an official and accurate figure -- but I might be a bit out of date on this. But I've never seen any honest accounting.
Middleburg, Va.: The frozen Iranian assets have been drawing interest over the past 25 years. Who has control of these interest payments and how much money is involved? Thank you for your service.
William J. Daugherty: Another good question and one to which I'll have to defer a response. I just don't know, other than to posit the US Treasury Department and the State Department could provide you with answers, if the administration will let hem.
Fairfax Va.: Weren't the Iranian assets frozen in 1979 or 1980, and have we ever released those assets? I am not aware of them ever being released.
William J. Daugherty: I'm not sure how was frozen in 1979 -- I'm thinking on the order of $11 billion or more. As mentioned, the Algiers accords sent $7.9 billion back to Iran. I don't know the status of other $billions of dollars in military equipment that the Iranians had paid for but were not sent after the revolution. If those assets -- jet fighters, navy ships, and so forth -- were sold to someone else, then that raises the question about the location of those funds, as well. We've just not been able to get a straight answer from State -- that said, I think the $20 million cited in Mr. Kessler's article is way low.
Ashburn, Va.: I saw the quote from our Congressman Frank Wolf in yesterday's article. He appears to be taking Iran's side against the former hostages. Any thoughts on this? Second, just how workable is Wolf's idea to set up one big fund for everyone?
William J. Daugherty: Twice, back in 2002 I think it was, we had language in legislation that would have overridden the accords and allowed us to sue Iran. Twice we got it through conference committee only to have Wolf strike it out at the very last moment. Once that I know of, he did so at the behest of Vice-Prez Cheney, who (we later found out) said that he "didn't want to provoke Iran." I was puzzled by this, since by then Iran was responsible for hundreds of American deaths thorough Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. But then last night's NBC report on Halliburton doing tens of millions of dollars of business in Iran since 1995 (when Cheney was head of it), was interesting.....................
Washington, D.C.: Did the hostage takers themselves ever, even slightly, express any remorse to you for what they put you through? What did they say to you when they told you you were being released? Do you know what has become of them since?
William J. Daugherty: No, I never heard any remorse from our captors. In fact, they blamed US for their problems -- they were missing school, they couldn't spend time with their families, their lives were disrupted, and it was OUR fault because we were being held hostage! Mark Bowden (author of the excellent Black Hawk Down), has a book on the Iran crisis coming out in May. Mark has done what no one in the US government, including the intel community, has done -- gone to Iran four times and interviewed our captors -- it will be interesting to read what Mark has discovered in those conversations. (Besides a confirmation that the current Iranian president was involved in the embassy takeover, before AND after...)
Urbana, Ill.: The article states that US companies were able to settle claims under the accords. How did it come about that you were prohibited from making a claim?
William J. Daugherty: Great question. In 1953 the US government (the CIA, in fact) overthrew the Iranian government and reinstalled the Shah, who had fled to Italy. One thing the Iranians were deathly afraid of in 1979 was that the USG would again exercise regime change and out Khomeini and the radicals. That is one reason why they came to the embassy. When we were released in 1981, the Iranians absolutely insisted that there be a provision in the Algiers accords that the US no interfere in their internal affairs -- a direct reflection of the 1953 event coupled with fears that after our release the USG would still try to oust the new regime.
Part of that calculus was also a provision that we not be permitted to sue Iran. State has gone to court to uphold that provision, saying that the accords are an agreement that must be sanctified and the US must retain its credibility by honoring the accords -- all the while the USG has been violating the "no interference" clause for at least 15 years! talk about a double standard -- invoke the sanctity of the accords to keep us from suing, but ignore the non-interference provision because it is convenient to do so. We're now possibly talking about military action against Iran and state lawyers still argue that the "non-interference clause" doesn't actually mean that!)
we thought that the 1996 and 2000 pieces of legislation -- which some senators explicitly placed in appropriate legislation -- would override the no sue provision of the accords. after all, the accords were an unratified executive agreement, while the legislation was enacted into law by the passage of both houses and signed by the president. but state and justice say no. One state lawyer involved "the rule of law" in upholding the no sue provision of the accords, but what bout the rule of law in following two Acts of Congress signed by the president?
Anyway, long answer to a very good question.
Fairfax, Va.: What happened with the class action suit that Kessler mentioned? Why did the U.S. courts rule in favor of Iran?
William J. Daugherty: We had actually won our suit in fed. district court because the Iranians chose NOT to contest it. One working day before hour hearing in which hostages and family members were to testify for the assessment of damages AGAINST IRAN when state and justice lawyers showed up to argue the exact same position that Iran would have argued had it chosen to. IE, the Algiers accords are a sacred international agreement and American's credibility dictated that the accords be upheld. (state conveniently forgot to mention the continuous violations of the other accords provision, the non-interference clause, that has been going on for 15 years or more).
the judge then bought state's argument and overturned his judgment against Iran and dismissed our case. We pursed the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where our petition for certiorari was denied. the defendant in the case was shown as the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Court's docket listed the counsel for the defendant as the Solicitor General of the United States. I can't tell you how much is has hurt -- deeply hurt -- to see our government repeatedly side with Iran, despite what we and our families went through. And despite the hundreds of American deaths and injuries by Iranian sponsored terrorism since 1983.
Alexandria, Va.: When did we agree to these Algerian Accords?
William J. Daugherty: Simple: the Iranian government told the US government that they would put the hostages on trial and execute some of us. The accords were nothing more than ransom. But as noted above, the banks and corporations made out like champs -- the banks got their money even before we were released, and the corporations settled in the Hague tribunal.
the accords were executed under duress -- which under international law (and domestic contract law in all 50 states, as well -- is ground to nullify the accords. but it was never done -- even after the Iranians began killing Americans in 1983. itself an arguable violation of the accords by the Iranians.
Urbana, Ill.: Have you ever been given an explanation as to why you were prohibited from filing a claim under the Algiers Accords?
William J. Daugherty: See the above responses. Simply, State and Justice argue that the accords represent America's word that must be kept in the international community to maintain credibility (yeah, like the Iranians have always kept their word, too, and have refrained from any hostile action against American interests). But surely an unratified executive agreement is superceded by federal statues passed by both houses of congress and signed by the president. But note, again, that state and justice never mention other violations of the accords, on our side or the Iranians, nor do they address the duress aspect. Frankly, the state department needs to establish an American Interests section.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Cheney opposed compensation because he did not want to upset the Iranians? Isn't this just another of a series of indications that the Administration has some obsession over Iraq while totally ignoring the perhaps greater threat in Iran?
William J. Daugherty: Another good one. The number of Americans killed by Iranian terrorism is around 300,and the number of wounded at least double that. The number of Americans killed by Iraqi-sponsored terrorism from 1979 to 2002 was ZERO. Which member of the axis of evil did we invade?
A side note: a professor I know and respect spent a good part of the 1990s in Beirut, where she got to know members of Hezbollah and Hamas. They all told her that they expected the US to hit them and Iran, and hit them hard, after blowing us our embassy in Beirut and the Marine barracks (241 Marines died). When the Reagan administration did NOTHING (despite warning that terrorists who attack Americans would received "swift and effective retribution" in welcoming us back to the white house in 1981), the terrorist groups then realized they could kill Americans and take them hostage with no penalty. We now want to penalize them, at least financially.
Philadelphia, Pa.: You stated you don't want Federal funds to pay for the compensation. Yet, if Congress were willing to provide the compensation, would you urge Congress to appropriate the funds? It seems to me you and the other hostages deserve compensation for your time of torment while in duty to our country.
William J. Daugherty: Any measure that would provide us compensation from the US Treasury should -- no, MUST -- accompanied by a law directing that whoever is president when the day comes to reestablish relations with Iran MUST, as part of that new relationship, require the Iranians to reimburse the USG. But I'm not convinced there aren't sufficient frozen terrorist funds in the US, Iran and others, to cover this.
Fairfax City, Va.: Kessler's article blew over the fact that many would say that the Algiers Accords were negotiated at the point of a gun. One could further argue that the clause not allowing the hostages to sue Iran was an acknowledgment by Iran that there behavior was outside the norms of international behavior and human rights. Why do you think this point has not been a bigger issue?
William J. Daugherty: Great great question. I think it's because it's inconvenient for the US government to acknowledge this. There is and has been a faction in the US government that for years has believed that the Iranians would someday change their spots and so did not want to upset them. But every event that could be construed as a hopeful sign has been shot down by the mullahs, who have mad it clear for 26 years that they do NOT want any relationship with the US.
In the summer of 1980, while we were still being held, our families hurting and the US humiliated, a senior state officer advocated telling Iran that if they'd let the hostages go, the US would agree to any kind of relationship the Iranians wanted. Beyond the incredible appeasement in that proposal, it showed that there were many who did n't understand why the embassy was taken in the first place. Regardless of what individual Iranians may way, still today those who control the regime DO NOT want any kind of relationship with the US -- and it drives some in the state department absolutely NUTS to hear that, so badly do they to renew a relationship. But when Iran has killed as many Americans as it has, and now is developing the nuke, how can anyone realistically think if Iran as a credible diplomatic partner?
Bethesda, Md.: What Iranian assets in the U.S. (Iranian Embassy for instance) can the U.S. seize and sell for settlement purposes?
William J. Daugherty: Good question -- don't know. But it surely does deserve serious exploration, and honest forthright cooperation from state and treasury.
Arlington, Va.: I thought lawsuits could be brought in a special court in the Netherlands. Why don't you go there?
William J. Daugherty: The tribunal in the Hague was only to settle corporate claims. We former hostages and our families were barred by the USG's acceptance of the Algiers accords from pursing claims there or anywhere else.
McLean, Va.: What did the Iranians do to you and the other hostages in Iran?
William J. Daugherty: Long story made short -- our treatment was much worse than most realize. Not as bad as being a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, but far worse than being a POW of the Germans in WW2. A number of us have written books detailing our treatment, and we also spelled it out for the district court judge. The families had it the worst, of course. There was an awful lot of psychological abuse, too, in addition to physical abuse and mistreatment. the psychological abuse was done to us and done to our families. It was not the benign event the Iranians would like to have you believe. And Mark Bowden's book will give you some flavor for it.
Harrisburg, Pa.: I read this and was shocked to learn that you have not received compensation. One of of the millions of Americans who feared daily for your safety, I think we owe you our gratitude and sorrow that your work put you into that danger. What is the argument against compensating you, and why has it taken so long for the issue to arise?
William J. Daugherty: The argument for not compensating was the provision of the Algiers Accords -- the ransom agreement that the US government negotiated under duress (sign these accords or we'll execute your hostages) -- that took away our right to sue. President Carter fully intended that there be alternate method of compensation, but later administrations did not follow through. The "token detention payment" we received in 1986 declared us to be POWs. But we were not in a war with Iran, we were all diplomats accredited to Iran, the Iranians gave permission for us to be there, and Iran and the US still had full diplomatic relations. To consider us as POWs was ludicrous. I would note that the Algiers Accords enabled the US banks with investments in Iran to be reimbursed 100 cents on the dollar, and US corporations were likewise compensated through a tribunal in THe Hague. We and our families -- who arguably suffered more than we did -- got the shaft. Again, it's a matter of fairness and holding Iran accountable for its actions.
Silicon Valley, Calif.: In the article, William J. Daugherty said that, after taxes, the check he received under the 1986 detention benefit was $17,000. "This came from the U.S. taxpayer, which none of us wanted to happen," he said. "We have always wanted Iran to pay for what it did."
I want to know, do you hate Iranian people? Because if Iran does pay for you, the money would also come from Iranian taxpayer.
William J. Daugherty: I deal with Iranians I meet on an individual basis. I loathe the Iranian regime -- it is truly evil. I have to question the premise that many Iranians pay taxes, certainly taxes that would be used to meet our compensation. Almost all of Iranian funds come that government through the sale of oil and natural gas (natural gas fields being developed with the help of Halliburton).
Aside: the US is unhappy with a natural gas pipeline that will run from Iran to India -- while it's OK to have an American company help develop Iran's natural gas capacity in the first place. A nice touch of irony.
Deltona, Fla.: 1. How soon did you expect the U.S. with either military or diplomatic force to get you and other captives out of Iran after the take over of the Embassy?
2. Why do you think that after winning the court case in this issue you were denied access to the rightful settlement, was it perhaps because of the source of crude that Iran represented?
William J. Daugherty: 1. Most of us had accepted the idea that, if we weren't released by Reagan's inauguration, then we'd be in Iran for a long, long time. Frankly, there were many times when most or all of us did not expect to be released, ever -- at least, not alive.
2. I think we were denied our settlement in court because the state department's blind and irrational adherence to a flawed executive agreement led them to completely ignore the human aspect of the event. And because they misled the judge into thinking that the US was following all provisions of the accord, rather than selectively choosing which ones to follow and which ones not to follow. very hypocritical. moreover, when state told the judge that they had just a few weeks before learned of the suit, I think they lied, as well. we filed the suit in may of 2001, to think that state only learned of it six months later is not right. if nothing else, I told the general counsel's office at CIA about the suit in March of 2001 and it's highly unlikely they hid that from state.
washingtonpost.com: Thank you all for joining us today.
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