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US lawmakers unveil American hostage task force

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) announced the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad, a bipartisan working group aimed at helping the families of detained US citizens.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) speaks about his experiences during a trip to Israel and Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of a bipartisan delegation from the House of Representatives, Washington, Jan. 28, 2020.

Members of Congress on Thursday announced a dedicated working group aimed at helping Americans unjustly held by hostile governments and terrorist organizations.  

On Thursday, Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and French Hill (R-Ark.) announced the launch of the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad, which will serve as a resource for families and former hostages.

“It’s only through a comprehensive and all of government approach with Congress and with the administration working together that we can bring Americans home, take care of those affected families and disincentivize those corrupt government and non-state actors that would take an American hostage,” Hill said at an event unveiling the task force. 

Hill represents the family of former Arkansas resident Majd Kamalmaz, who along with journalist Austin Tice, is believed to be held by the Syrian regime or allied forces. In February 2017, the psychotherapist was stopped at a government checkpoint near Damascus and hasn’t been heard from since. 

The two men are among at least 53 publicly known cases of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained worldwide, according to a tally by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. 

The organization’s recent annual report found that former hostages and their families continue to benefit from reforms introduced by the Barack Obama administration in 2015, but “there remain some gaps in the support provided to these hostage families and in the US government’s ability or willingness to prioritize the recovery of U.S. hostages.” Released earlier this month, the Foley Foundation report also called for more mental health and reintegration support for Americans who return home after their detention. 

Retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was considered the longest-held hostage in American history, was a constituent of Deutsch. Levinson disappeared off the remote Iranian island of Kish in 2007 and is believed to have died in Iranian custody, his family says.

The Florida Democrat co-sponsored the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, a law that aims to shore up existing US government resources for missing Americans.

The Biden administration is currently seeking the release of at least four Iranian-Americans held by Tehran, including businessman Siamak Namazi, former UNICEF official Baquer Namazi, conservationist Morad Tahbaz and businessman Emad Shargi. 

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