Iran hostages locked in struggle for compensation, tell their story of “colossal injustice”

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
Iran hostages locked in struggle for compensation, tell their story of “colossal injustice”

Politics Confidential

Hollywood portrays the Iran hostage crisis as a thriller story with a triumphant ending in the film “Argo.” But the real story of the 52 hostages who were held in captivity for 444 days, 39 of whom are still alive today, didn’t end with their homecoming to the U.S.

Thirty-two years after their release, two former hostages tell Politics Confidential about their harrowing tales of captivity and their subsequent legal battle to receive compensation for the ordeal they endured.

One of the hostages, Rick Kupke, describes their 17-year-long legal struggle, saying “it’s almost as if our noses have been rubbed in the dirt.”

“It's a colossal injustice, what happened to us,” says Kupke, who is now retired from the State Department and was repeatedly tortured at the hands of the Iranian captors. “People ask me, do you have nightmares, did you come out of this nightmare is the Algiers Accord.”

The Algiers Accord is the agreement that led to the hostages’ release, but it also barred them from seeking damages in court against the Iranian government. And repeated attempts to have the U.S. government overturn the agreement have all failed.

“All the attempts to hold the Iranians accountable, to change the message that you got away with it, had been frustrated…by some very skilled obstinate lawyers within the US government,” says John Limbert, who was the highest-ranking political officer in the embassy at the time of the takeover and retired recently from the State Department.

Kupke says all the memories of his time in captivity came rushing back last year when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked, and U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.

Kupke hid on the roof of the embassy building when the embassy was stormed and called the State Department. “I'm on the phone and the person gives me the news, ‘we don't have anyone in the area that can come see you,’ and then there was a pause and a pause by me…And the next words were ‘you are on your own,’” says Kupke, who subsequently came down to the roof, becoming the last to surrender.

“To me that made me realize, maybe they went through some of the same things I did,” Kupke says of those who were killed in the Benghazi consulate attack.

For more of Kupke’s and Limbert’s stories from captivity, and to hear what events they say “Argo” got right, check out this episode of Politics Confidential.

ABC's Betsy Klein, Eric Wray, Chris Carlson, and John Knott contributed to this episode.