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Family Of Missing American Sues Iran 10 Years After Disappearance

A photograph of Robert Levinson received by his family in April 2011.

The family of a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran a decade ago has filed a lawsuit against Tehran, claiming that it has held Robert Levinson captive and falsely denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.

"We decided to sue because after 10 years they still have not taken responsibility for Bob, and we believe that he is in their country and that they have the ability to send him home to his family," Levinson's wife, Christine Levinson, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview on March 22.

The lawsuit was filed in a Washington, D.C. court on March 21 on behalf of the couple and their seven children. It seeks "compensational and consequential damages for injuries suffered by each of them as a result of Iran's unlawful acts of hostage taking, torture and other torts."

Levinson disappeared when he traveled to Iran's Kish Island resort in March 2007 to meet with with Daoud Salahuddin, an American Islamic militant who fled to Iran while facing charges concerning the murder of an Iranian Embassy official based in Washington.

He was working for the CIA as a contractor at the time.

Iranian officials have repeatedly said that they have no information about his fate.

The lawsuit says that such claims are false and deceitful.

"In a cynical effort to convince the government of the United States and the Levinson family that it is others who are holding Robert Levinson, Iran has arranged for extortion demands to be sent to the Levinson family, purportedly from some unidentified terrorist group," it says.

The lawsuit says FBI experts have concluded that a hostage video and photographs of Levinson sent to his family in 2010 and 2011 "were part of an Iranian attempt to create a false scenario that Robert Levinson was being held by some entity, other than the Iranian government, so that Iran would not be held responsible for his ultimate fate.”

Levinson’s wife told RFE/RL that FBI officials have told them privately that they believe Levinson was being held by Tehran.

"As a family we were told they believe that Iran was holding him. But that is not an official statement by the FBI," she said.

The lawsuit says that Levinson has suffered "physically and emotionally" from "his cruel treatment."

"They have used him as a hostage to attempt to extort favorable concessions from the United States government," the lawsuit made available to RFE/RL said.

Levinson’s family has also suffered "grievously" and continues to suffer, the lawsuit says.

"To deprive a prisoner of any contact with his family or his homeland for ten years constitutes psychological torture. To deprive the prisoner's family of any contact with him as well as any knowledge of his status, his whereabouts or his well-being is wanton cruelty," the 14-page complaint says.

Christine Levinson said the family is still hoping for Levinson’s return.

"Bob is a strong person who wants to return home to his family and do whatever is necessary to try and make that happen. I'm sure that he has established a routine that will help him stay alive so that he can get home," she said.

Tehran has not yet publicly reacted to the lawsuit.

Earlier this month, the State Department called on Iran to help the United States in locating Levinson and bringing him home.

"Iran committed to cooperating with the United States to assist us in bringing Robert Levinson home and we call on Iran to fulfill this commitment," the State Department said in a March 9 statement marking a decade since Levinson’s disappearance.