MOUNT DESERT, Maine — A man who vividly remembers being held hostage in Iran for more than 400 days three decades ago stands to benefit if a bill introduced to Congress is passed into law.

Moorhead Kennedy, 81, a former economist for the State Department, said this week that the bill would allow the former hostages and their families to receive compensation for their ordeal. The 31-year-old agreement between the United States and Iran that resulted in the 52 hostages being released explicitly prohibited them or their families from seeking such compensation.

The money is not so important, at least not to Kennedy, who says he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for a few years after being released in January 1981. The bigger issue, he said, is one of justice.

Other victims of state-sponsored terrorism have been allowed to sue the governments responsible in international court and have been compensated, he said. He added that it would be only fair to let the Iran hostages and their families do the same.

“When we came home, the question of suing Iran was not a possibility,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “That’s wrong. We think Iran should be made to pay for what they did.”

According to Kennedy, who lives in Somesville, the bill would allow him to receive $10,000 for each of the 444 days he spent being held captive at the American embassy in Tehran between November 1979 to January 1981.
That amount, he said, adds up to $4,440,000.

In addition, the estate of his deceased wife, Louisa Kennedy, and each of his three sons would be able to receive $5,000 a day for each day he was held against his will. That adds up to $2,220,000 for each of his family members, or $8,880,000 total, not including the $4.44 million he would receive directly.

Kennedy said the bill provides two possible means for paying the hostages and their families, neither of which involves the use of taxpayer funds.

One option is to use Iranian funds in the United States that were frozen after Iranian students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979. The U.S. Treasury still has the money, Kennedy said, which is believed to be between $400 million and $500 million.

Another option is to use money collected in fines that have been assessed on companies that have violated U.S. sanctions on Iran, he said. Such fines are believed to have added up to hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more.

Kennedy said he is not sure how many people might benefit from the legislation. More than 60 hostages were taken when Iranian students took over the embassy, but about a dozen were allowed to leave Iran within a few weeks of the embassy takeover. He said he has heard that between 150 and 180 hostages and their relatives could receive funds but he is not sure how many of each group.

Kennedy said he emerged from his hostage experience “very well in the long run,” but many of his fellow hostages did not.

“Some of our number have not been able to keep jobs or marriages. They just fell apart,” he said. “The families went through hell also.”

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....