Compensation for Iran hostages is belated justice

"I don't know that money is the balm for everything that burns us, but short of an apology from Iran, this is pretty special."

Joe Hall, Lenox, Ga.

Former hostage

You have to be beyond a certain age to remember the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. Every American for whom it had any real meaning at the time remembers the anger and the shared sense of helpless frustration. The most powerful nation in human history was seemingly powerless to do anything about a rogue state, in the midst of revolutionary chaos, seizing 52 of our fellow Americans in an embassy that the world community is supposed to recognize as sovereign ground.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had been overthrown in February 1979 by an insurgency of Islamist fanatics. News footage of Iranian "students" burning American flags in the streets of Tehran, and posters bearing the scowling visage of the revolution's theocratic leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khokmeini, would be familiar images long before the embassy takeover in November. It all helped make Jimmy Carter an ex-president four years before he and his supporters wanted, and ABC's "Nightline" with Ted Koppel a late-night broadcast institution years longer than anyone expected.

Thirty-five years to the day after the hostages were released (Jan. 20, 1981, the day of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration), some of them met in Washington with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and other members of a bipartisan majority who approved funding to compensate the former hostages and their families.

Thanks in large part to the leadership of Georgia's senior U.S. senator, the omnibus spending bill of 2015 includes a $1 billion line item for the former hostages and their families, under the Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

One of Isakson's allies in this effort, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said time is an issue (as if it weren't already after 35 years): Most of the surviving ex-hostages (15 have died) are elderly and many have health issues that require expensive treatment.

Maybe the best part of this story -- aside from the overdue reparations themselves -- is the fact that the money will come not from American taxpayers, but from a source complicit in illegal dealings with Iran while that nation was under American economic sanctions. The Department of Justice successfully pursued a judgment against U.S.-based assets of BNP Paribas, a French bank that had multiple financial dealings with Iran and Iranian interests in the years since the embassy takeover.

"Once the Paribas money became accessible," Isakson told Associated Press, "and [Justice] had access to it and we had statutory authority in Congress to pass the deal that we did in the omnibus, and the support of the administration, things all came together."

Too much time and too much suffering make it hard to call this a "happy" outcome. Let's instead call it an immensely gratifying one.