In early October, a federal court in the United States ordered Iran to pay $1.45 billion in punitive and compensatory damages over missing ex-FBI Agent Robert Levinson. His family, as reported in Time Magazine, has called this decision “the first step in the pursuit of justice.”
According to Voice of America, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, following a week of emotional testimony from Levinson’s family, awarded $107 million in compensatory messages, and about $1.3 billion in punitive damages. Time Magazine reports that the court’s judgement cited the case of Otto Warmbier- an American college student who was freed from captivity in North Korea and died shortly after- in determining the amount owed to the Levinson family. The damages awarded by the judge came after, the Associated Press reports, a federal judge in Washington held Iran liable for his disappearance, saying that the country was “in no uncertain terms” responsible for Levinson’s “hostage taking and torture.”
Levinson, according to the AP, disappeared on March 9, 2007. His family received a video in 2010 and proof of life photographs in 2011, but his condition and location were still unknown. Just prior to the government’s declaration of his death in 2020, President Donald Trump stated in a press conference that Levinson’s condition was “not looking promising.” He further said that Levinson, who had diabetes and high blood pressure, had had “some rough problems” prior to his disappearance.
Iranian officials, according to VOA, are denying any part in the disappearance or death of Levinson, claiming that Levinson had left the country earlier. The AP reports that Iran continued to deny any involvement in the case until November, when they indicated that Levinson was the subject of an “open case” in Iranian Revolutionary Court. It was later discovered that the “open case” was an investigation into his disappearance.
According to Al Jazeera, Levinson disappeared after flying from Dubai to Kish Island, which is controlled by Iran, in March 2007. Reuters reports that Levinson was meeting with Daoud Salahuddin, an American Islamic militant who fled to Iran after being charged with the murder of an Iranian embassy official based in Washington. The Times of Israel indicates that U.S. officials would only say that Levinson, an FBI investigator responsible for taking down Russian and Italian mobsters, was working for a private firm on his trip. However, the Associated Press revealed in 2013 that Levinson had in fact been sent by Central Intelligence Agency analysts who did not have the power to authorize such a mission. According to The Guardian, the news of Levinson’s involvement with the CIA led to the government paying the Levinson family $2.5 million in order to prevent them from filing a lawsuit that would have revealed details about the arrangement between Levinson and the CIA.
The AP reported in March 2020 that U.S. officials, upon receiving undisclosed information regarding Levinson’s case, concluded Levison was dead. White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien indicates that the time of Levinson’s presumed death was unknown but could have been “some time ago.” O’Brien also states that “Iran must provide a complete accounting of what occurred with Bob Levinson before the United States can fully accept what happened in this case.” The government has acknowledged Levinson’s death, but President Donald Trump appeared on the news saying, “I won’t accept that he’s dead.”
Once the government formally acknowledged his death, Robert Levinson’s family released a statement, saying “It is impossible to describe our pain. Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man, a new reality that is inconceivable to us. His grandchildren will never meet him. They will only know him through the stories we tell them.”