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Lankford: Iran Hostage Bill the Right Legacy for Hero

You want the truth; I’ll give you the truth. He died a week ago Thursday. All alone. He took his life, but in reality his life was taken from him 33 years ago in Tehran, Iran. He never actually made it back. He had become an alcoholic. He was reclusive. He was estranged from many, from almost all. He was broken — body and soul. His body was covered with scars — purple and ugly. And his soul was scarred, too, by those in the U.S. government who denied him his right to a little sweetness after all the pain and loss.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard thugs seized the embassy and kidnapped Phillip Ward and his colleagues. Fifty-three were held for 444 long days and nights. He was physically beaten and mentally abused. You see, they found out he was CIA and they were determined to break him. Just ask Bill Daugherty, an intelligence officer who was held hostage, what they did. 

Ward came home but never returned. He was never the same. He could not drink his coffee from a cup because he shook so violently. A mean co-worker at the only job he could find would catch him napping, drop a book behind his back and bet on how high he would jump. And then there was the alcohol.

They buried him on a grassy knoll in the Culpepper Cemetery under a cloudless Virginia bluebird sky. There were just a few there. They had all seen beyond the crustiness and anger and alcohol to the man he was before the beatings in his Iranian cell and before the mock firing squads where brave, courageous men fouled their pants and cried in anguish before collapsing in the dirt as their captors guffawed.

All 53 wanted to hold Iran responsible, wanted justice. The State Department answered “no,” saying the executive agreement that gave U.S. commercial companies a process and billions of dollars in a fund to recover their losses and negotiated the release of the hostages prevented it. They said that even though the hostages’ release was negotiated at the point of a gun — the threatened hanging or firing squad — the U.S. government must keep its word to the Iranian thugs. I wonder if this applies to banks who promise the masked robber they won’t call the police?

So the 53 and their families lost in court. Now the opportunity comes again. H.R. 5796 would levy a surcharge on businesses that illegally trade with Iran. You want effective sanctions, Mr. President, Members of the House, Senators. What would be more effective? You want to protect our diplomats around the world. You want no more Benghazis. 

Enactment of this bill would be a big step to accomplishing that goal.

Phillip Ward will not know the “sweetness” he hungered for, of holding accountable those who stole his life. But he, with all of his pain and anger, is still an American hero who can lead us to that moment. 

Phil, rest in peace. Shame on any entity or person that stands against this good man and this rightful cause.

Tom Lankford is the lead counsel for the former hostages held in Iran. He was a friend of Phillip Ward.

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