U.S. Napping on Kidnapping?

(Photo from Telegraph.co.uk)

Robert Levinson is an American private investigator and former FBI agent. He was kidnapped while conducting an investigation on the Iranian island of Kish in 2007 and was thought by most to be dead. In 2011, Levinson’s family received an anonymous email, which contained five pictures of Levinson and a video of Levinson begging the United States for help. The family brought the photos to Washington, but refused to release the information to the public, until now. When asked why Levinson’s wife decided to bring the photos and video to the Associated Press, she replied that the people in Washington were not making her husband’s freedom a priority.

The U.S. government has determined that a group of captors are holding Levinson in Iran. In each of the five photos that were sent to Levinson’s family, Levinson is holding a different sign. One says, ‘Help me.’ In the photo above, the sign makes a reference to Guantanamo Bay, which has led authorities to think that Al Qaeda could be behind this kidnapping.

Levinson just prior to kidnapping       (Photo from NYDailyNews.com) 

Levinson pleads in the video (see link below) for the U.S. government to come to his aid. He states that he served the U.S. for thirty-three years and deserves more attention. A father of seven, Levinson likely does not even know that he is now a grandfather to a four-year-old grandson.

Levinson’s family wanted to wait until after the Presidential campaign to release this story to the news so that it would not become a partisan campaign issue. Now they are waiting for the politicians to act. Perhaps by going public with this story, Levinson’s family feels that Washington will feel more pressure to act.

What do you think the United States should do under these circumstances? Levinson’s exact whereabouts are unknown, but he is somewhere in Iran and some sources say that the photos and video were produced with aid from the Iranian government. Has Washington put enough effort into recovering this U.S. national, who is most likely living a life of torture and horror?

Source:  ABC News


  1. This is an extraordinary story and one that I think perfectly encapsulates how the world and internal affairs has changed in a very short period of time. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union exchanged captives in deals many times during the course of that conflict. More recently, the two American journalists who were caught by North Korea were released when President Clinton flew over and negotiated for their release. The biggest difference between those examples and the current one is this: those captives were being held by nations, not independent groups such as Al Qaeda. Instead of fighting or negotiating with legitimate nation-states, the new “enemy” is faceless and nationless, not to mention the fact that they are not settled in one area.
    I also want to point out that while Levinson has been captured for four years, we do not know what the government or the military has been doing to gain his release. Perhaps publicizing negotiations is something that whomever is holding him does not want. Or perhaps the CIA or military has plans in the works for a rescue that do not need to be made public. Look at the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden, that mission came as a shock to everyone in the public sphere. I do not want to sound naive and leave out another important point. It could be that in terms of international affairs, especially with the Iranian arms reduction being an important factor, that the U.S. does not want to shake up the status quo and upset Iran.
    There is also the reason of why Levinson was in Iran. Let’s be serious and consider for a second who would go over to a country that is so hostile to Americans. He was a private investigator and thus had no diplomatic or governmental reason for him to be there. There is definitely more to this story and it probably includes the letters C I A.

  2. I think that the US government should feel pressure to help Levinson, and rightly so. Levinson was not just a US citizen (not that this would lessen the necessity to aid him), but Levinson served our country while he was in the FBI. The fact that this man is one of Washington’s own should make those in D.C. want to act with more haste, as he put his life on the line for this country surely in hopes that if his life was on the line someone would help him. The fact that the photos and videos of Levinson alive were taken in 2011 and as of 2013 nothing has been done is shocking, and hopefully the family going public pushes the US to act on this issue. Furthermore, I agree with Andrew that no one would just go to Iran without a motive, most likely a government provided motive, which makes the fact that his return has not been a priority even more saddening.

  3. Under these circumstances, I do feel as though the United States has an obligation to help Robert Levinson. It is likely that Levinson was doing work for the United States government in some capacity, so I do believe that as a prisoner and a captured United States citizen, the United States government and military should put forth its best efforts to rescue Levinson. However, with that being said, I agree with Andrew’s point that we do not necessarily know what the government or military has been doing to assist in helping to regain Levinson’s freedom. Without knowing that I think it is hard to say that the United States is not putting enough effort forward. Regardless of our lack of knowledge as to the government’s efforts, it is certain that the publicity this story has received will put more pressure on the United States to act with more of a sense of urgency.

  4. I believe that there are many possibilities here. The first action that comes to mind is for the United States to engage the Iranians over the issue. This country (U.S.) has been more than apprehensive to engage the Iranians diplomatically; I believe that this is a mistake in all cases, but especially in cases as sensitive as an American citizen’s unlawful detention. In short, diplomatic relations are imminently important to ensuring this man’s return home.

    Alternatively, the United States may consider making concessions, albeit small concessions. Perhaps a prisoner exchange could be a possibility. Prisoner exchanges exhibit equity, which most nations (even those like Iran which act incoherently at times) see as an attempt to deal in good-faith. I would imagine that if an Iranian citizen is being held by the United States that his release would secure the release of Levinson, assuming that the Iranian citizen is not being held for an unconscionable crime.

  5. The fact that Levinson’s family had to release the story to the news to get more attention from the government is disturbing. We should not have to pressure our own government to bring a captured United States citizen home. The government should also be concerned as to the reason why this man was captured. Is it an act of terrorism? Why is Levinson in pictures holding up signs that say, “Help me” and signs referencing Guantanamo? This seems like an urgent problem that the government should be paying great attention to. Andrew makes a valid point in saying that the government may in fact be doing a lot to discover Levinson’s whereabouts. But, at the same time, they should be communicating this to his family and now to the public.

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