WATERLOO — An Iowa woman released after 444 days of captivity in Iran nearly 35 years ago can finally look to the future.
Kathryn Koob, 77, of Waterloo, had been fighting for years to vindicate the suffering she and 52 others experienced in the Iranian hostage crisis. Koob learned just before Christmas they won.
“When you have waited for something for as long as we had, it’s one of those things, it takes a while to shift gears to say we no longer have to worry about this, now how do we use this,” Koob said this week.
She still is processing her latter sentiment.
The 37 surviving hostages and the estates of hostages who’ve since died are entitled to up to $4.4 million — $10,000 for each day of captivity — through a Congressional spending bill signed Dec. 18 by President Barack Obama. The plan came together after a court ordered the French bank BNP Paribas to pay a $9 billion penalty for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba. The compensation will come from that — and not from Iran itself.
"I’ll always be one of the hostages captured in Iran, so yes it is an undercurrent of everything I do."
- Kathryn Koob
After learning of comensation plan
for hostages formerly held in Iran
On the day Obama signed the bill, Koob was sitting in a friend’s living room when she learned the deal was done. The compensation was in line with an earlier proposal but much higher than a more recent scenario, she said.
“There was just silence,” Koob said. “It was like a collective sigh of relief.”
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Media outlets didn’t pick up on the deal, which was buried in the bill, until Christmas Eve. Koob said survivors needed time to process what had happened, but eventually they broke the news.
“I spent Christmas with my sisters and their husbands and we were able to talk about it as a group,” she said. “It was more significant in the background of my mind than I realized.”
Koob, who graduated from Jesup High School and Wartburg College, applied to the foreign service in 1967 and was called in 1969 to work for the U.S. Information Agency, according to a report last year in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.
She was working as director of the Iran-America Center on Nov. 4, 1979, when militants stormed the U.S. Embassy and took hostages.
Koob was one of just two female captives, and the only hostage from Iowa. Male captives endured mock executions and other torments, while the female captives were treated more humanely, she said. She said they were fortunate, in light of recent hostages situations, to be held by the Iranians.
The hostages weren’t released until Jan. 20, 1981. As a condition of their release under the 1981 Algiers Accords, the freed hostages were barred from taking legal action.
With courts, the State Department and presidents opposed to suing, the hostages sought other avenues for remedy, including Congress. Koob had advocates, including former Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Bruce Braley, she said. But no urgency existed until recently to strike a deal.
One detail Koob hopes people know is the compensation plan does not come from tax dollars.
Koob was active in the years after her release, including teaching at Wartburg College, volunteering to teach English to international students at the University of Northern Iowa and speaking about her experience. But her time as a hostage and the fight for compensation was an undercurrent.
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“I’ll always be one of the hostages captured in Iran, so yes it is an undercurrent of everything I do,” she said.
While she is pleased a deal has been reached, a lingering feeling of “is this real?” remains. The doubt comes in part because many details aren’t known.
The total dollar amount available will depend on the ability to collect on earlier court judgments, which could leave hostages and estates getting less than the $10,000 per day target.
Koob said she doesn’t yet know how much money she will receive, and because of the uncertainty she doesn’t know what she will do with it. Some money may go to her international projects, and she may do something to “make up for some of the suffering my sisters and their families went through.”
Koob said eight months may pass before the picture clears. The U.S. Treasury must develop a process, receive claims, process the claims and settle on amounts, she said. She said the hostages were told to hope for at least a portion of their payments by the end of 2016.
“This is signed, but there still is a lot of that needs to happen,” she said. “I am not sure I have processed it all entirely.”