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'People remain upset': 'Argo' renews attention to Iran hostages left behind

Feb. 26, 2013 at 10:14 AM ET

A group of Americans held hostage in Iran is hoping the publicity generated by the Best Picture Oscar for “Argo” will finally shine the spotlight on their ordeal 32 years ago, one that didn’t have the same happy ending depicted in the film.

"Argo" told the story of the CIA’s successful efforts to secretly rescue six U.S. Embassy workers out of Iran. Now, survivors among 52 other Americans held hostage in Iran are seeking retribution for the 444 days they were held captive beginning in 1979.

Those hostages endured brutal interrogations and were kept naked in cells in subfreezing temperatures. Steve Kirtley, a former Marine guard, recalled being subjected to mock executions twice.

“They stood me up, blindfolded me, tied my hands behind my back,” he told NBC’s Michael Isikoff.

Kirtley and other former hostages are seeking compensation from the Iranian government for their ordeal. Their previous attempts were blocked by the 1981 Algiers Accords, an agreement that led to the hostages’ release but barred them from suing their captors.

“It’s literally like having a gun to your head and giving up your rights,” said Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa. “That’s why now is a perfect time when this movie has created so much attention, to educate the American people as to what they went through.”

Braley is about to introduce legislation backed by dozens of co-sponsors that would create a $400 million fund to compensate the hostages using proceeds of fines paid by companies that violate U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Some hostages said such relief needs to come as soon as possible.

“I don’t want to go to any more memorial services before this is settled,” said former hostage John Limbert, a former U.S. diplomat.

“People remain upset and every year — we’re up to 12 — we watch someone else pass away,” Kirtley said,

Bill sponsors have expressed confidence in passage of the legislation, saying there will be more than enough money to compensate the former hostages. They cite an increasing number of companies being hit with fines because of tighter U.S. sanctions aimed at pressuring Iranians over the nation’s nuclear program.

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