Gulf War Hostages: Where's The Money?

For James Roach and his wife Young Hee, America's walk towards war with Iraq is a familiar one.

The last time the U.S. prepared to take aim at Saddam Hussein, Roach was an American businessman in Baghdad turned human shield.

"I said to myself, 'this is it,'" recalls Roach. "I was very scared, when it all sunk in that I might not get out of Iraq alive."

Paul Eliopoulos felt the same.

"We were lined up on walls, and we had armed people in front of us with machine guns," says Eliopoulos, also a former hostage. "There were several times we thought we were going to die."

It was four and a half months of emotional and physical abuse. Dehumanizing.

"Even when you had to go to the bathroom, there were always armed people there looking at you," says Eliopoulos. "You were not a human being."

Eventually, the hostages - human currency - were freed as Saddam turned them loose in an effort to avoid war. First stop, Frankfurt.

But, as CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports, it was the end of one ordeal, and the beginning of another.

The victims filed a civil lawsuit against Saddam for acts of terrorism. They won a judgment of $93 million in damages. The money came from Iraqi assets frozen by the U.S. government. Now, the U.S. Treasury and the State Department are refusing to turn over the money.

The money, Roach says, doesn't matter to him.

"The important thing is to let Hussein know that he has no right to do what he did," he says.

The Bush administration says it is sympathetic to the hostages, but it resists compensation with frozen assets awarded by the courts and is fighting a Congressional mandate to pay as well.

During the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. froze Afghan assets. When a new interim government took control, the U.S. released those funds to help jump-start the new leadership.

However, there is precedent for collecting frozen assets in such cases.
More than $150 million in frozen assets of Iran have been claimed by eight American terror victims or their families since passage of a 1996 law that permitted lawsuits against countries identified by the State Department as sponsors of international terrorism.

Former Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson, who was held captive in Lebanon for nearly seven years, secured a judgment against Iran and collected $26.2 million in frozen assets.

The decision by the Bush administration to resist compensation has left those former Iraq human shields and their lawyers angry and in limbo.

"That the State Department would stand in the way of American citizens receiving compensation for terrorist acts from the money belonging to the terrorists is an abolute outrage," says Dan Wolf, attorney for the plaintiffs.

During his time in captivity, Roach's sister kept a journal: a calendar of key moments. The day Roach was captured. That first phone call home when he broke down and cried.

Those memories will linger with him a lifetime, whether or not he ever receives a dime.