Under a 1996 law that allows citizens to bring suit against foreign governments in federal court, the hostages sought and won $33 billion in compensatory and punitive damages in 2001. But just prior to a hearing to determine the final damages, the Bush administration in 2002 stepped in and said the case violated the Algiers Accords, preventing the hostages from receiving anything.
The Algiers Accords was the deal between Iran and the Carter administration that freed the hostages, and included a clause preventing the hostages from suing the Iranian regime.
In 2003, the hostages filed another class action lawsuit. The Bush administration offered them a few thousand dollars apiece, but the hostages refused and Congress never acted. In 2004, the Supreme Court refused to hear their case.
Since then, the former hostages have bided their time, hoping a Congress increasingly concerned with the rise of a even more radicalized and nuclear Iran will be spurred to action.
"Thirty years ago, Iran defied the world and international law by taking U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days. Iran continues its defiance today, as it ignores repeated calls by the United Nations Security Council to cease enrichment of uranium. The U.S. needs to increase diplomatic and economic isolation of Iran. We need justice for the American hostages and an end to Iran's nuclear weapons program," said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation and has been a strong Congressional supporter of the hostages.
A State Department official said that though the United States understood the "frustration of former hostages," the government "was bound" by the obligations it committed to in the Algiers Accords.
"Pursuant to the Algiers Accords, the United States agreed to withdraw its claim against Iran before the International Court of Justice and bar claims arising out of the hostage taking from U.S. courts. Although we understand the frustration of the former hostages, we are bound by this obligation and must continue to honor it, as it was an essential condition of their release from captivity," the official said.