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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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March 27th, 2013
05:39 PM ET

"Argo" may make money for Iran hostages

It won an Academy Award, made people forget "Gigli" when they think of Ben Affleck, and now, "Argo" may even pull off another feat - help move legislation through Congress.

John Limbert was portrayed in the movie as a frustrated Foreign Service officer on the phone as the U.S. embassy was under assault.

"That part of it was quite real," says Limbert.

"Argo" told the story of the American embassy works that got out of Iran, what it didn't tell, was the ordeal of the 52 Americans held and tortured by Iranians for 14 months.

"I had a gun to my head, I was in solitary for nine months," says Limbert.

Keepsakes on Limbert's walls constantly remind him of his harrowing 444 days as a hostage. Not that he would ever forget. But for most in America - the Iran hostage crisis some 34 years ago was a distant memory, until "Argo" brought it all back.

The mock executions shown depicted in the movie, says Limbert, were very real.

"They came in at two in the morning," recalls Limbert, "pulled us out together to a place, lined us up against the wall, started chambering rounds into their guns, yelling orders, we didn't know what was going to happen."

At that moment, says Limbert, "I thought we were gone."

When Limbert and his fellow hostages were finally freed, they learned the U.S. government gave up something big in return. As part of the 1981 Algiers Accords, the hostages were barred from suing Iran in U.S. court for compensation.

Decades of court challenges to the Algiers Accords have gone nowhere.

Now, Georgia senator Johnny Isakson is pushing legislation to get former hostages financial reward a different way, by putting a surcharge on fines against companies that violate sanctions against Iran, and using that money to create a compensation fund.

Isakson says the popularity of "Argo" is helping.

"A lot of people have seen it, they understand the abject horror that these people went through," says the Georgia senator. "Hopefully it will give us the impetus and the momentum to see to it that all these many years they're actually compensated for their treatment."

His bill would allow hostages to get $10,000 a day for each day of captivity, $4.4 million total for each hostage.

Isakson argues finally compensating the hostages is critical, it sends a message to Iran, and to U.S. personnel in harm's way all around the world.

"They need to also know that if they get violated, if they are captured, if they are tortured, that we'll have their back."

After John Limbert was freed, he returned to the Foreign Service for the rest of his career, and became the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran under the Obama administration. He retired in 2010. Limbert says he has a comfortable life, and is not fighting for the money, but for justice.

"It's about accounting for it. To hold people responsible for what they did," says Limbert. "Because the message has been so far, frankly, has been, to the Islamic Republic: You got away with it."

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