On March 25, 2020, the wife and children of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007, announced “with aching hearts” that U.S. officials informed them that he had died in Iranian custody. Levinson had been on a rogue CIA mission when he disappeared on Kish Island. He was the longest held hostage in U.S. history.
“It is impossible to describe our pain,” the family said in a statement posted on Facebook. “If not for the cruel, heartless actions of the Iranian regime, Robert Levinson would be alive and home with us today. It has been 13 years waiting for answers. Thirteen years since we last saw him or had any contact with him. How those responsible in Iran could do this to a human being, while repeatedly lying to the world all this time, is incomprehensible to us. They kidnapped a foreign citizen and denied him any basic human rights, and his blood is on their hands.”
But President Trump said that he had not been told that Levinson was dead. “No, I don't accept that he's dead. I don't accept it. I mean, I'm telling you it's not -- it's not looking great, but I won't accept that he's dead. They haven't told us that he's dead, but a lot of people are thinking that that is the case,” he told reporters at a press briefing on the coronavirus outbreak on March 25.
On March 26, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said only Iran knows for certain what happened to Levinson. “As President Trump said, we call on the Iranian regime to provide a full accounting of Bob’s fate and will not rest until all Americans wrongfully detained by Iran are back home,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Iran denied any knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts. “According to authentic evidence, the person (Levinson) had left the Iranian soil for an unknown destination years ago, and the then-U.S. Secretary of State has also acknowledged this fact,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said in a statement. “If the U.S. has become confident about his (Levinson’s) death, it can make this public without political exploitation and trying to abuse the feelings of Levinson’s family,” he added.
In October 2020, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly ordered Iran to pay Levinson’s family $107 million in compensatory damages and $1.3 billion in punitive damages. “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,” Kelly said.
“This judgement 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,” Levinson’s family said. “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.”
On December 14, 2020, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on two Iranians allegedly involved in the disappearance of Levinson. Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, two Ministry of Intelligence and Security agents, were designated.
On March 9, 2021, the Biden administration marked the 14th anniversary of Levinson's abduction. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Levinson had likely died but that the case was not closed. “We call on the Iranian government to provide credible answers to what happened to Bob Levinson and to immediately and safely release all U.S. citizens who are unjustly held captive in Iran.”
The full statement posted on the Help Bob Levinson Facebook page, remarks from President Donald Trump and a statement from Iran’s foreign ministry on Levinson's death are below, followed by statements from the Biden administration.
Statement from the Levinson Family
March 25, 2020
“Today, with aching hearts, we are sharing devastating news about Robert Levinson, the head of our family.
We recently received information from U.S. officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody. We don't know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is impossible to describe our pain. Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man we have ever known, 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.
If not for the cruel, heartless actions of the Iranian regime, Robert Levinson would be alive and home with us today. It has been 13 years waiting for answers. Thirteen years since we last saw him or had any contact with him. How those responsible in Iran could do this to a human being, while repeatedly lying to the world all this time, is incomprehensible to us. They kidnapped a foreign citizen and denied him any basic human rights, and his blood is on their hands.
Bob Levinson should have spent his last moments surrounded by his family and all the love we feel for him. Instead, he died alone, in captivity thousands of miles away, in unbelievable suffering. His body has not yet been returned to us for a proper burial. We don't even know when, or even if, his body would be returned to us. This is the very definition of cruelty.
Those who are responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, including those in the U.S. government who for many years repeatedly left him behind, will ultimately receive justice for what they have done. We will spend the rest of our lives making sure of this, and the Iranian regime must know we will not be going away. We expect American officials, as well as officials around the world, to continue to press Iran to seek Bob's return, and to ensure those Iranian officials involved are held accountable.
To you - the thousands of people who knew and loved Bob Levinson or who have supported our family during this terrible ordeal - we know you mourn with us. We can never thank you enough for your love, and for always being there in ways big and small. Because of COVID-19, we will be holding a memorial service in the future when it is safe to do so. We will let you know when and where.
We extend our deep appreciation to President Trump and the members of his Administration - National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel, and FBI Director Christopher Wray - and their staff, who have done all they could to make our family whole again. We are so grateful for their efforts.
Our family also wishes to thank Congressman Ted Deutch, Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Bob Menendez, and their staff members, who fought for Bob Levinson in every possible way.
To the men and women of the FBI, active and retired, who did their best to bring our husband and father home - we know you, also, are mourning with us. Finding Bob Levinson was a personal mission for hundreds of agents and others who worked on this case over the years. We cannot even begin to describe our gratitude. He will always be one of the FBI's own.
Bob Levinson was a truly remarkable individual - the best husband, father, brother, grandfather and friend anyone could ever ask for. He was an American hero - a true patriot, and his compassion and kindness knew no bounds. We will miss his warmth, humor, and wisdom, but most of all, we will miss the deep and unconditional love he had for each one of us. He will never be forgotten - we will make sure of it.
- Christine, Susan, Stephanie, Sarah, Daniel, David, Samantha, and Douglas, and the entire extended Levinson family
Remarks by President Trump
March 25, 2020
Q The family -- on another subject, the family of retired FBI Agent Robert Levinson says that U.S. officials have concluded that he's died in Iranian custody. Are you aware of that? Did U.S. officials reach that conclusion?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. You know, I've been very much involved in that. And he was a great gentleman, and a great family. They’ve been making this statement to the family, I believe: But it's not looking good. He wasn’t well for years anyway, in Iran. It's not looking promising. We've gotten so many people back. We got two people back this week.
But Robert Levinson, who was outstanding, he's been sick for a long time. And he had some rough problems prior to his detainment or capture. And we feel terribly for the family.
Q Do you accept that he is dead?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't accept that he's dead. I don't accept it. I mean, I'm telling you it's not -- it's not looking great, but I won't accept that he's dead. They haven't told us that he's dead, but a lot of people are thinking that that is the case. I feel badly about it.
Statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
March 26, 2020
Yesterday, the family of Robert Levinson bravely shared with the world the heartbreaking conclusion that Bob died in Iranian custody. Only Iran knows for certain what happened to Bob since his abduction more than 13 years ago. As President Trump said, we call on the Iranian regime to provide a full accounting of Bob’s fate and will not rest until all Americans wrongfully detained by Iran are back home.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken
March 9, 2021
Today marks 14 years since Iran abducted beloved husband, father, grandfather and former FBI agent Robert “Bob” Levinson. In December, the United States sanctioned two high-ranking officials of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security who were involved in the abduction, detention and likely death of Bob Levinson. However, this case is not closed.
We call on the Iranian government to provide credible answers to what happened to Bob Levinson and to immediately and safely release all U.S. citizens who are unjustly held captive in Iran. The abhorrent act of unjust detentions for political gain must cease immediately.
I was honored to speak with the Levinson family yesterday. Since his abduction in 2007, Bob, a father and husband, has missed graduations, marriages, and the birth of all but one of his grandchildren. Bob’s family continues to advocate for the answers about what happened after he went to Kish Island in Iran 14 years ago.
Bob’s family has inspired the United States to partner with the families of every U.S. hostage and detainee held captive abroad. Bob’s legacy lives on through the newly passed Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act. This law is a fitting tribute to Bob, as it reaffirms the U.S. commitment to secure the freedom of every U.S. citizen unjustly imprisoned abroad and codifies our commitment to provide guidance and support for the families of U.S. hostages and wrongfully held detainees. The United States will never forget Bob Levinson.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki
March 9, 2021
Today, we again mark the tragic anniversary of the abduction in Iran of Robert Levinson -- the longest held hostage in U.S history.
After 14 years and repeated, persistent efforts to secure Iran’s cooperation in locating Mr. Levinson, we are still without answers. Nevertheless, we will continue to demand answers and to hold Iran accountable for his abduction, detention, and probable death. We will not relent until all of our citizens who continue to be wrongfully detained in Iran and around the world, are returned to their families.
The last 14 years have been heart-wrenching for Mr. Levinson’s wife and children. Nothing can bring back the lost years – more than 5,000 days in all –to his family, friends and loved ones.
But the United States will remain resolute in our support to the Levinson family and our commitment to pursuing justice for Mr. Levinson and his family.
Statement by Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi
March 26, 2020
“According to authentic evidence, the person (Levinson) had left the Iranian soil for an unknown destination years ago, and the then-U.S. Secretary of State has also acknowledged this fact.”
“In recent years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has done its utmost to obtain evidence for the exact fate of Mr. Levinson after leaving Iran but has not found any clue suggesting that he might be alive.”
“If the U.S. has become confident about his (Levinson’s) death, it can make this public without political exploitation and trying to abuse the feelings of Levinson’s family.”