- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

When Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran 25 years ago today and took American diplomats hostage, junior CIA officer William Daugherty thought it would last a couple of hours.

He was wrong.

Beginning Nov. 4, 1979, the militants held Mr. Daugherty and 51 of his colleagues captive for 444 days. Blindfolded and handcuffed, the American diplomats endured merciless beatings, mock firing squads and frightening interrogations. Mr. Daugherty, then 32, spent 425 days in solitary confinement and lost nearly 50 pounds during the 14-month ordeal.

The crisis marked America’s first major exposure to Islamist terrorists and captivated the nation. Americans snapped up yellow ribbons and drove with their headlights on in Washington to show support for the hostages.

When the hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981 — President Reagan’s inauguration day — crowds lined Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue to cheer their safe return.

A quarter of a century later, the former hostages and their families are lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would allow them to sue Iran for the physical and emotional torture they endured.

Mark Schaefer, whose father, Thomas E. Schaefer, was held hostage, said it is time that Iran take responsibility for its actions.

“The hostage affair unfortunately was our nation’s introduction to terrorism, and I think it is very important to send a clear message to states that sponsor terrorism that this is wrong,” the younger Mr. Schaefer said.

“If one is going to hold someone hostage and treat them in the horrific fashion they were treated, they need to know they will be held accountable for those actions,” he said.

This is not the first time that the former hostages and their families have tried to sue Iran.

In 2000, they filed a $33 billion class-action lawsuit against the Islamic Republic of Iran only to have the case dismissed after the State Department intervened.

State Department officials argued that the agreement that freed the hostages — known as the Algiers Accords — prohibited the victims and their families from suing the Iranian government. As part of the agreement, the United States released $7.9 billion in Iranian frozen assets.

The plaintiffs lost an appeal, and the Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.

The government’s interference enraged many of the former hostages, including David Roeder, a military attache stationed at the embassy that fateful day.

“How disappointed I am with how we have been treated by our own government after going through all that and maintaining our personal integrity [and] the integrity of our country,” Mr. Roeder said.

He added that the Algiers Accords should not be a factor because it was an agreement reached based on threats that the hostages would be executed.

“The country did what it needed to get people out,” Mr. Roeder said. “I mean, it would have been a bloodbath, and it looked very much like that was going to happen a couple of times.”

The former hostages and their families have turned their attention to Congress in hopes that it will pass a bill during the lame-duck session in support of their right to sue.

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