Minnesota native Bruce Laingen, who was taken hostage in Tehran in 1979 and held with dozens of others for 444 days, said Sunday that he didn’t want to comment on the compensation bill that President Obama signed into law Dec. 18.
The compensation plan would give the 53 hostages or their estates up to $4.4 million each. Victims of other state-sponsored terrorist attacks also would be eligible for benefits.
Laingen, 93, who lives in Bethesda, Md., said he was one of the former hostages who fought for a compensation plan.
“I’m not qualified to speak to that yet,” he said by phone on Sunday. “I’m resisting any commentary while the issue is still unresolved.”
While the bill has been signed into law, “implementation is another matter,” he said.
Laingen was raised on a farm in Watonwan County, near Butterfield, Minn. He graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Philippines during World War II. He studied at the National War College and earned a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Minnesota.
Laingen was the U.S. chargé d’affaires on Nov. 4, 1979, when several hundred militant Iranian students climbed the gates and stormed the U.S. Embassy compound, taking hostages. Thirteen hostages were released a few weeks later. Fifty-two, including Laingen, were released Jan. 20, 1981; a 53rd had been released earlier because of illness. Thirty-seven of the 53 are still living.
The compensation plan came about after a court decision that forced the Paris-based bank BNP Paribas to pay a $9 billion penalty for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba. Some of the money became available to compensate victims of state-sponsored terrorism.
It is not yet clear whether all the former hostages or their families will receive full payments. Although Congress authorized up to $4.4 million each, the money depends on the outcome of efforts to collect on judgments won in earlier court rulings involving victims of terrorist attacks as well as the number of victims who file claims.
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