Members of the Florida delegation in both chambers on Capitol Hill are doubling down on their efforts to put more pressure on Iran for the disappearance of Robert Levinson, a Florida resident who has been missing in that Middle Eastern nation for 12 years.
This week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined Democrat U.S. Sens. Chris Coons of Deleware, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Bob Menednez of New Jersey to bring out the “Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-taking Accountability Act” which “cements in place programs to address hostage-taking, and gives the United States government new tools to rescue hostages and punish their captors.”
“The United States must do all that we can to ensure that our citizens taken hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, such as my constituent Bob Levinson who went missing in Iran 12 years ago, are brought home and reunited with their loved ones”, Rubio said. “This bipartisan legislation will strengthen coordination within the Executive Branch to facilitate the return of American hostages and to hold foreign government officials accountable for their role in taking American citizens hostages. I join my colleagues in reaffirming our commitment to bringing back home Bob Levinson and the countless other American prisoners around the world.”
“Bob Levinson’s continued detention is shameful and must be addressed,” Menendez said. “This legislation will enhance existing tools and give the United States government vital news tools to help bring hostages home, provide better information and support to the families of hostages, and confront captors with meaningful sanctions.”
“The State Department rightly says that its highest priority is protecting Americans overseas,” Leahy said. “It is not too much to ask that when American citizens and nationals are arrested and imprisoned, our Embassies determine if there is credible information that they are being held as hostages or otherwise wrongly detained. This bill provides specific criteria for making such determinations and would ensure that those Americans receive every available diplomatic or other assistance to protect their rights and obtain their release.”
The bill sanctions individuals who take Americans hostage, elevates the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs to the rank of Ambassador and creates an inter-agency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell and a Hostage Response Group.
Over on the other side of Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, introduced the House version with freshman U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., backing it.
"Americans, like my constituent Bob Levinson, are being held as hostages in countries around the world," Deutch said on Thursday. "Bringing Americans home must be a priority, and countries that engage in hostage taking must know that the United States will continue to bring pressure on those who engage in this despicable practice. We introduce this bill named in Bob's honor to elevate our efforts to return American hostages and give the administration more tools to pressure countries to return Americans to their families."
“With this legislation we’re calling on our colleagues here in Congress, the administration, and the American people to join us in putting these rogue regimes and terrorist hostage takers on notice," Waltz said. "Until now, there’s not been a significant downside or cost to taking an American hostage. This bipartisan legislation would raise the costs and increase the pressure on those who dare take American citizens hostage.”
The Florida delegation has worked together in recent years to pass resolutions in both chambers of Congress demanding Iran offer more assistance in getting Levinson back home. Levinson worked for the FBI and DEA went missing in 2007 during a private investigation case in Iran involving cigarette smuggling. Back in 2013, the Associated Press ran a story insisting Levinson worked for the CIA.