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Senate Approves Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-De.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) today released the following statements after the Senate unanimously approved S.712, the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act.

Named in honor of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, whose unlawful detention by the Iranian regime is recognized as the longest-held hostage in American history, the bipartisan legislation bolsters U.S. government resources to bring back Americans held hostage or unlawfully detained abroad. Levinson is presumed to have died in Iranian custody earlier this year.

“I was honored to lead this fight in the Senate, but this important day belongs to the family and friends of Bob Levinson,” said Menendez. “Year after year, they fought valiantly and with great tenacity and devotion, to gather information about Bob’s whereabouts and to bring him home. It is their determination and sacrifice that served as the foundation for this legislation, which will address both the wrongful imprisonment of Americans like Bob Levinson, and the hostage-taking of Americans like James Foley.”

“Earlier this year we received the tragic news about Bob Levinson, the longest held American hostage. It is our hope that no American family will ever have to endure what the Levinson family went through. This important bipartisan bill will help ensure that American hostages are brought back home safely and able to reunite with their families,” said Rubio. “I urge my colleagues in the House to take swift action and pass this important bill and send it to the president for signing.”

"This is an important step in our efforts to prevent the unlawful detention and hostage-taking of American citizens abroad,” said Coons. “This bipartisan bill honors Bob Levinson, who was held hostage in Iran for over a decade, by strengthening our ability to bring Americans like Bob home and hold their captors accountable."

“Any time an American citizen is held unjustly, it demands the attention and full weight of the United States government to secure their freedom,” said Shaheen. “This legislation reaffirms our country's commitment to bring Americans home safely and bolsters diplomatic powers for the President and administration to use to compel their release. I'm pleased we were able to pass this bill in the Senate on a bipartisan basis and hope it will soon be considered in the House and sent to the President’s desk."

“Every U.S. administrations says there is no higher priority than Americans who have been unjustly or wrongfully detained overseas,” said Leahy.  “Yet too often, the efforts made to secure their release fall short.  This legislation requires the Secretary of State to apply criteria for determining who is being so detained, and for sanctions against governments that engage in such deplorable tactics.  It also provides guidance for families of hostages, who have not always received the information they need to advocate effectively on behalf of their loved ones.  While too late to save Robert Levinson, it is a fitting way to honor his memory.”

The Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act sets out criteria for the Secretary of State to determine whether U.S. nationals are being detained unlawfully or wrongfully, and places responsibility for resolving such cases of unlawful or wrongful detention with the State Department’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs. In addition, it establishes into law the highly effective Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, and Hostage Response Group created by Presidential Executive Order, and authorizes the President to impose sanctions on any person the President determines is responsible for or complicit in hostage-taking or unlawful detention.

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.