In a decision handed down late last week and reported to the public on Monday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly ordered the government of Iran to pay $107 million in compensatory damages, plus $1.3 billion in punitive damages, to the family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson.
Levinson went missing in Iran in 2007. U.S. officials said in March 2020 that he probably “died while in Iranian custody.” The Iranian government has never admitted holding him prisoner and has not confirmed his death. Iranian state media did not report on the court ruling, and Iranian officials refused to comment.
Judge Kelly’s ruling cited the case of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student who died shortly after his release by the brutal North Korean regime in 2017, and the recommendation of “special experts” when imposing the huge punitive damages on Iran.
“Iran’s conduct here is also unique, given that – astonishingly – it plucked a former FBI and DEA special agent from the face of the earth without warning, tortured him, held him captive for as long as 13 years, and to this day refuses to admit its responsibility. His wife and children, and their spouses and children, while keeping Levinson’s memory alive, have had to proceed with their lives without knowing his exact fate,” Kelly said.
“This judgment is the first step in the pursuit of justice for Robert Levinson, an American patriot who was kidnapped and subjected to unimaginable suffering for more than 13 years. Until now, Iran has faced no consequences for its actions. Judge Kelly’s decision won’t bring Bob home, but we hope that it will serve as a warning against further hostage-taking by Iran,” the Levinson family said in response to the ruling.
“It sounds like a great big number, but it’s a number that represents the pain and suffering of the family and the outrageous behavior of the Iranian government. They took him off the face of the Earth. They tortured him and they kept him imprisoned. They tortured the family in a way,” said David McGee, an attorney working for the Levinson family.
McGee noted that even as the Iranian government denied holding Levinson, it was trying to gain “rewards for a swap with the United States for him.” His captors sent video and photos of Levinson to his family for years after his disappearance.
“This family has been through hell. What they want people to remember is their father, their husband, and the loss that they’ve suffered,” McGee said on Monday. He went on to speculate that Levinson might still be alive, and efforts to bring him home should continue as long as there is a shred of hope.