The White House issued a statement Wednesday that, at one and the same time, was encouraging … and deeply disturbing.
The statement said, in part:
“Today marks the ninth year since retired FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared during a trip to Kish Island, Iran. We continue to call upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to provide assistance in his case, as agreed to as part of the prisoner exchange finalized earlier this year, so that we can bring Mr. Levinson home.”
It went on to declare that the administration considers it a top priority to find Mr. Levinson and will remain committed to bringing him home. It ended with words of commiseration to the Levinson family, who “have endured the pain and suffering of his disappearance for far too long.”
The statement was encouraging because it means Robert Levinson hasn’t fallen off the radar.
It’s disturbing because it can also be read to imply, don’t call us; we’ll call you.
That doesn’t mean to suggest a brush-off. But it does tend to aggravate the lack of any definite information coming forth since 2011 on Levinson’s status. When Secretary of State John Kerry was asked whether Levinson was still alive, he said, “We have no idea.” We can only hope that yesterday’s statement is more promising.
The FBI issued a similar statement and has offered a reward of $5 million “for information leading directly to the safe location, recovery and return of Mr. Levinson.” And the FBI circulated announcements in English, Arabic, Dari (dialect of Persian), Farsi (Persian), Pashto (language of Afghanistan) and Urdu (language of Pakistan).
On February 11, the United States Senate passed a resolution:
“Calling on the Government of Iran to follow through on repeated promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history.”
And yet … and yet … the statements, the resolutions and even the reward have failed to produce any tangible results.
On Wednesday, the FBI said the United States is encouraged by the recent cooperation from the Iranian government. A 2013 Associated Press investigation found he was working for the CIA on an unauthorized intelligence-gathering mission to glean information about Iran’s nuclear program.
However, U.S. officials have said they are no longer certain he remains in Iran.
For its part, the family feels that not enough is being done.
It is ironic that the administration hailed the release of the other Americans who were held prisoner in Iran as a “victory for smart diplomacy” and declaring it “a good day … when Americans are freed and returned to their families,” adding that it was “something we can all celebrate.”
Not all. Not the family of the one left behind.
While it is heartening that the administration continues to call upon its new negotiating partners in Iran to help find Robert Levinson, the efforts seem more studied than substantive.
Sadly, there is something even more disturbing. And for this we have to take a deep look within ourselves.
Too many of us, even some of us ostensibly knowledgeable in current affairs, have been inactive or even ignorant about the plight of Robert Levinson.
True, the events playing out on the world and local stages have been so horrific that we — all of us — can become numbed by the news. There is a point beyond which we stop seeing what we’re reading or hearing what we’re listening to. An unkind synonym for this numbness is “indifference,” an attribute that ought to be avoided at all costs.
We can only hope and pray that Levinson is still alive. Even if, R”l, he is no longer among the living, every effort must be made to bring his body to burial, and at the very least, allow his family to have closure.
This is a time for all Americans to remember Robert Levinson. It is a time to write to the White House thanking the president for, as the statement said, renewing “its unrelenting commitment to securing Mr. Levinson’s return.” And then let’s ask to increase those efforts. And let’s write to our senators and congressmen and hold their feet to the fire.