The 53 Americans taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979 have finally won compensation after battling more than three decades for restitution.
The victims or their estates will receive up to $4.4 million each because of the $1.14 trillion spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law on Friday, The New York Times reports.
Victims of other state-sponsored terrorist attacks — the bombings at the American Embassy in East Africa in 1979, for instance — could also receive benefits under the law.
Likewise for victims and families of the 9/11 attacks, according to the report.
"I had to pull over to the side of the road, and I basically cried," Rodney Sickmann, who was a Marine sergeant working as a security guard in Tehran, told the Times.
Sickmann, who now lives in St. Louis, and other Americans were seized by angry Iranians on Nov. 4, 1979. They were held captive for 444 days.
"It has been 36 years, one month, 14 days, obviously, until President Obama signed the actual bill, until Iran was held accountable," he said.
The law financing the reparations was included in the omnibus bill that was passed by both houses of the Republican-controlled Congress.
It overrides the agreement that freed the hostages in 1981, which barred them from seeking restitution, the Times reports.
Legal claims were regularly blocked by the courts, including an appeal to the Supreme Court — and Congress has failed to pass laws granting the hostages relief over the years.
Republicans stepped up their efforts after the Iran nuclear deal was passed in September.
"Time and time again, we thought we’d get a bill," David Roeder, a retired Air Force colonel, told the Times. He was an attaché at the embassy in Tehran at the time of the uprising.
"We were pushing toward the goal line, and our portion would get stripped out."
He described the compensation experience as "the epitome of the roller-coaster ride.
"We were sent into harm’s way by our government and then nobody seemed to want to do anything about it."
Under the law, payments of up to $10,000 per day of captivity would ultimately be paid to each of the 53 hostages, 37 of whom are still living, the Times reports.
Fifty-two hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981, while a 53rd hostage was released earlier because of illness. Spouses and children have been authorized to receive a lump payment of as much as $600,000.
The initial payments would be made within a year, based on a formula to be overseen by a special master appointed by the Justice Department, the Times reports. The formula also limits payments to victims who have already won judgments of more than $20 million.
The first payments are expected to fall far short of the maximum, according to the report.
"It became clear that we were sort of inextricably linked to the nuclear negotiations," V. Thomas Lankford, the primary lawyer representing the victims, told the Times. "Those negotiations resulted in an understanding that an inevitable next step in securing a relationship was to address the reason for the rupture, which was our kidnapping and torture.
"As valuable as stopping the spread of nuclear arms is," Lankford added, "it's equally important to establish the precedent that in one way, shape, form or another, a state sponsor of terrorism will not be permitted to walk away."
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