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Opinion Op-Ed

My dad, held in Iran

Seven years ago Sunday, my father, Robert Levinson, was taken hostage while visiting Kish Island, Iran. He is currently the longest-held hostage in U.S. history, and will likely be marking his 66th birthday Monday in captivity, thousands of miles from his wife, seven children and four grandchildren — three of whom have been born since he was kidnapped. We have not been able to communicate with him at all in those seven years.

Nearly three months ago, against my family's wishes, the Associated Press disclosed that my father was working on contract for the CIA. The AP and the New York Times had known this but, out of concern for my father's safety, withheld publishing the information at our request. The AP rationalized its decision, with no admission that journalistic politics might have played a role over my father's well-being.

Lost in the controversy surrounding that report was the failure of U.S. officials to secure my father's release in the early weeks following his capture. He was there on behalf of the U.S. government and, as such, believed it would do what was necessary to bring home one of its own if something were to happen to him. Unfortunately, the government has thus far failed to fulfill its duty in the seven years since his kidnapping.

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We believe everyone — especially the U.S. government and the media — must operate under the assumption he is still alive. He suffers from a number of health problems, but he was alive in a video sent 3 1/2 years after he was taken; he was alive less than three years ago when we received photos of him; and there is no reason to think he isn't alive now. Those holding my dad understand how valuable he is, and I am certain they have had some of their best doctors monitoring his health. Type II diabetes is aided by weight loss, so his most serious health problem could very well have been improved while in captivity.

Less than three weeks after my dad's abduction, Iran's state-sanctioned Press TV reported he was "in the hands of Iranian security forces since the early hours of March 9," that he was "being well looked after" and that he should be "freed in a matter of days." The last man known to have seen my father before the alleged detention says he watched as four Iranian officials surrounded him in their hotel lobby for questioning, and he is certain my father was taken into custody. U.S. officials knew these details in the earliest days but did nothing publicly to follow up on them at the time.

Two weeks after my father's abduction, 15 members of Britain's Royal Navy were detained by Iran. The British government took swift and decisive action to bring them home. However, as far as reporters and my family can tell, the United States did not pursue a deal to secure my dad's release in those critical early days. This sets a dangerous precedent. Americans serving our country overseas need to know the government will come to their aid, even if it means taking actions that are difficult to swallow. Our allies do this, because they understand how important it is for the morale of those working on their behalf.

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Now, the U.S. government should make bringing my father home its top priority in its negotiations with Iran. It should be the first topic of any discussions with the Islamic Republic, and a prerequisite for any final deal related to its nuclear program.

My family and I are grateful for the efforts thus far of President Obama, who noted his concern regarding my father during his phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in September, as well as those of Secretary of State John F. Kerry and other officials now working on my father's case. We have been encouraged by the diplomatic progress made by our two countries, and we are hopeful that continued discussions between officials in both governments can finally lead to my father's homecoming.

My family, and more importantly my father, have suffered this unimaginable nightmare for far too long.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Dan Levinson is the eldest son of Christine and Robert Levinson. His family runs the website helpboblevinson.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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