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SUTHERLAND v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
June 25, 2001
THOMAS M. SUTHERLAND, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, AND THE IRANIAN MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND FINANCE, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge.
On December 13, 1999, the plaintiffs, Thomas Sutherland and his
family, filed a multi-count complaint alleging that the defendants were
responsible for Thomas Sutherland's kidnapping, detention, and torture
over a 6 1/2; year period. The defendants, despite being properly served
with process, failed to answer this charge in any way. Thus, Judge
Thomas Penfield Jackson entered the defendants' default on December 1,
Notwithstanding this entry of default, a default judgment against a
foreign state may not be entered until the plaintiffs have "establishe[d]
[their] claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the
Court." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). Thus, after this case was transferred
to the undersigned judge, the Court held a bench trial to receive
evidence from the plaintiffs. Again, the defendants failed to appear.
Based on the evidence presented in that trial, and the law applicable
to this case, the Court finds a default judgment merited. Further, the
Court finds that the plaintiffs are entitled to the following
Thomas M. Sutherland US$23,540,000
Jean Sutherland US$10,000,000
Ann Elizabeth Sutherland US$6,500,000
Katherine Lee Sutherland US$6,500,000
Joan Murray Sutherland US$6,500,000
Finally, the Court finds that the Thomas M. Sutherland is entitled
to US$300,000,000 in punitive damages.
2. Plaintiff Thomas M. Sutherland, his wife Jean Sutherland, and their
daughters, Ann Elizabeth Sutherland, Katherine Lee Sutherland, and Joan
Murray Sutherland, now bring this action against the Islamic Republic of
Iran ("Iran") and its Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS"), as
the principals responsible for the multiple tortious injuries done to the
Sutherland family by Hizbollah, a terrorist organization financially
backed and directed by Iran and MOIS. Jurisdiction of the Plaintiffs'
case is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1330(b) and 1605(a)(7), the latter being
a 1996 amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act,
28 U.S.C. § 1602-1611.
3. Professor Thomas Sutherland was born in Scotland on May 3, 1931.
He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1963.
4. Professor Sutherland first came to the United States in 1954 and
obtained his Ph.D. from Iowa State University in 1958. While at Iowa
State he married Jean Sutherland and between them they had three
daughters, Ann, Katherine (also known as "Kit") and Joan.
5. The Sutherlands also moved to Fort Collins, Colorado in 1958 and
Thomas M. Sutherland became a Professor at Colorado State University
specializing in various agricultural matters. In the ensuing years
Professor Sutherland traveled to and had teaching assignments in other
countries. For example, in 1976-78, Professor Sutherland was Director of
Training for two full years at the International Livestock Center for
Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
6. In 1981, Professor Sutherland was offered the position of Dean of
the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at AUB in Beirut, Lebanon.
Although he had mixed feelings about leaving his post at Colorado State
University, he and his wife Jean decided to go to Beirut as a team. In
mid-1983, he signed a three-year contract with AUB. Initially, the
Sutherlands' two youngest daughters, Kit and Joan, also went to Beirut.
At the time Kit was a junior at the University of Colorado. She stayed
in Beirut until mid-1984 and completed her junior year abroad at AUB.
Joan stayed in Beirut until February 1984, at which time she decided to
return home. The Sutherlands' oldest daughter, Ann, remained in the
United States where she was completing her post-graduate education at the
University of California San Francisco.
8. When the Sutherlands arrived in Lebanon in mid-1983, the country
was in turmoil that was effectively a state of civil war. The United
States Embassy in Beirut had been bombed on April 18, 1983. Periodically
bombs, shells, and sniper fire would erupt in various parts of the city.
A line running roughly from north to south in Beirut, known as "the green
line," separated Muslims from Christians. The Muslims were on the
western side of the city, with Christians to the east. Crossing the line
in either direction was sometimes dangerous and always time consuming.
Not long after the Sutherlands arrived, on October 23, 1983, the United
States Marine barracks near the airport south of Beirut, exploded when a
suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden truck into the barracks. 241
U.S. servicemen were killed.
9. The AUB campus was an enclave on the western side of the city next
to the Mediterranean Sea. The Sutherlands lived in a house on campus
and, at least for the first several months they lived in Beirut, the
campus was somewhat sacrosanct from the turmoil around it.
10. On January 18, 1984, however, Malcolm Kerr, President of AUB, was
assassinated by a bullet fired into the back of his head just outside the
elevator near his office in the AUB Administration Building.
11. These events shook and worried the Sutherlands, but they felt
their mission in Beirut was important and that they, as people there to
help the Lebanese, were unlikely targets for any nefarious activity.
Thus, they returned for the 1984-85 school year and Professor Sutherland
likewise planned to return for the 1985-86 school year to complete his
12. During the 1983-85 time period, incidents of kidnapping of
Americans and citizens of various Western European countries began to
occur. Among those kidnapped were: William Buckley, the local Central
Intelligence Agency ("CIA") station chief, kidnapped on March 16, 1984;
Reverend Benjamin Weir of the Episcopal Church, kidnapped on May 8,
1984; Father Lawrence Martin Jenco of the Catholic Church, kidnapped on
January 8, 1985; Terry Anderson of the Associated Press, kidnapped on
March 16, 1985; and David Jacobsen of the AUB Medical School, kidnapped
on May 28, 1985. See Appendix III to At Your Own Risk, by Tom & Jean
Sutherland. Pls' Exh. 92.
13. At the end of the 1984-85 academic year, Professor Sutherland flew
home to Colorado on May 19, 1985, to attend Kit's college graduation from
the University of Colorado, to attend a conference in California and to
get a few days rest. As part of his rest, Professor Sutherland spent a
few days at the family cabin just outside Estes Park, Colorado. Ann and
Joan both recall a conversation at that time in which their father said
he would rather die than be kidnapped, but that in any event he was not
concerned because he did not see himself as a likely target.
15. Upon his arrival in Beirut, Professor Sutherland was met by his
driver Sharif and three bodyguards. Professor Sutherland, noting that it
was only six miles to AUB, waved off the bodyguards, not believing them
necessary. He and Sharif got into the front seat of Sharif's Chevrolet
Caprice and left the airport, first towards the main road and then
towards the coastal road that would take them north the short distance to
16. Not long after leaving the airport, two cars pulled alongside
Professor Sutherland's car. Suddenly, one of the cars pulled in front of
the Caprice, cutting it off. Eight armed men emerged from the two cars
and began spraying submachine gun fire in various directions. Professor
Sutherland was forced into one car with four of his captors and spirited
off to a location in the southern suburbs of Beirut. During the ride
most of Professor Sutherland's personal effects were taken from him. In
southern Beirut the car stopped, and Professor Sutherland was taken out
and forced into the vehicle's trunk. He was then driven for
approximately ten minutes to another spot in southern Beirut. When the
vehicle stopped, Professor Sutherland was removed from the trunk and he
found himself standing on a concrete slab in front of a 10 or 12 story
building. At that point a blindfold was placed over his eyes. This was
the last time Professor Sutherland would see the sun for six and one-half
17. Professor Sutherland was then taken to a double basement in what
would be the first of many places he would be held captive over the
ensuing six and one-half years. During the next four weeks he was held
alone. Thereafter, he was moved to another location and held captive for
some months with Father Jenco, Reverend Weir, Terry Anderson and David
18. In these and other locations the conditions were generally
horrible. Professor Sutherland was nearly always chained to the floor or
to a wall, or to another hostage who was also chained to the floor or to
a wall. His clothes were taken from him and at various times he was
provided only a pair of boxer shorts or "Chinese pajamas" as clothing.
Professor Sutherland and Terry Anderson termed one place they were held
as the "Horse Stalls." They were so-named because each "cell" consisted
of a steel cage with a heavy mesh ceiling. The cage was roughly six feet
by two feet and Professor Sutherland could barely stand up straight
inside it. In spite of the small confines, Professor Sutherland was
nevertheless forced to wear a heavy rusted metal chain while caged within
the Horse Stalls. Pls' Exh. 92 at 88-89.
20. Likewise, Professor Sutherland and his fellow hostages were
provided with inadequate and infrequent opportunities to bathe or shower.
The hostages and their clothes were frequently filthy, owing to the
generally poor and inadequate conditions in which they were forced to
21. The dungeons in which the hostages were forced to live were often
too hot and steamy in warm weather and too cold in the winter. In
addition, the outside air flow was always poor, at best. Professor
Sutherland and his fellow hostages were forced to endure months and years
of these conditions with no relief from the hot weather, and insufficient
blankets and clothes for the cold weather.
22. Professor Sutherland and his fellow hostages were also forced to
wear their blindfolds at all times. Although they would pull them up
when their Hizbollah captors were not present, any time the captors were
present they insisted that the hostages wear blindfolds. At trial,
Professor Sutherland demonstrated for the Court the blindfold he was
wearing when he was released in 1991, see Pls' Exh. 90, and the manner in
which he wore it.
23. Because the hostages were usually chained to the floor, a wall,
and/or to another hostage, they also suffered from a lack of regular
exercise. Professor Sutherland and Terry Anderson both testified about
the difficulty, in many of the locations in which they were held, of
moving around and getting their muscles working. Professor Sutherland's
daughters testified that when he was released from captivity in 1991,
Professor Sutherland had a great deal of difficulty lifting things and
standing up straight. He also had very swollen feet and had difficulty
wearing shoes and walking for many months following his release.
24. Professor Sutherland and his fellow hostages also had to subsist
on a bland and mundane diet consisting usually of bread, cheese, and
tea. Although sometimes they were provided with fruit, the hostages
generally received little variety in their diet.
25. Professor Sutherland and Terry Anderson also testified about the
manner by which they were transported between dungeons in the city to
those in the Bekaa Valley and vice versa. On those occasions, which took
place at least a half-dozen times, Professor Sutherland and the other
hostages were wrapped like mummies from head to toe in brown duct tape.
They were left with only a small slit around the nose from which they
were to breathe. Each were then slid under the false bottom of a
transport truck, where they sometimes had to breathe the truck's exhaust
for the several hour journey to their next dungeon. Upon arrival, the
hostages then had the duct tape "ripped" unceremoniously from their
body, which caused a great deal of pain, especially on places containing
27. On another occasion, according to Professor Sutherland, the
Hizbollah captors came into the dungeon one evening and escorted Father
Jenco out, telling him to "prepare to die." Father Jenco was taken
blindfolded to the roof of the twelve-story building and again told to
"prepare to die." Father Jenco said some prayers and announced, "I am
ready." His Hizbollah captors ripped off his blindfold and laughed
hysterically. They said to Father Jenco, "you no die, you no die" and
"look, see moon." Father Jenco was taken back to his dungeon cell where,
according to Professor Sutherland, he was shaking like a leaf as he
retold the story to the other hostages.
28. In Professor Sutherland's case, the Hizbollah captors, in the
entire six and one-half years of his captivity, permitted only two
letters written by him to reach the outside world. See Pls' Exhs. 2, 3.
Both were written in mid to late 1985, meaning that Professor
Sutherland's family had no word from him in a period of more than six
years. Similarly, with only two or three exceptions, no messages from
Professor Sutherland's family — of which there were many —
were received by Professor Sutherland in the entire time of his
captivity. The only exceptions were messages printed in the local Arabic
press that Jean Sutherland had published on important dates like
birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas, and Valentine's Day. See
Pls' Exh. 4. Professor Sutherland testified that he was once shown such a
message with a family photograph on Valentine's Day, 1988. See Pls'
Exh. 92 at 243. This was the first time he had learned about Simone, his
granddaughter. He wondered who she was and concluded, after some
thought, that Ann must have married and that Simone was his first
29. Importantly, however, things like the compelling 1988 video
Christmas message prepared by daughters Kit and Joan, and reviewed by the
Court — as well as the annual Remembrance Day and numerous other
activities engaged in by the family — never reached Professor
Sutherland. This lack of communication, indeed, the almost total absence
of family information, was devastating to Professor Sutherland's morale,
and to the hopes and spirits of his family. So total was this
devastation that when Professor Sutherland was released he openly
wondered to his family why they had not done anything on his behalf or
tried to contact him. His family, of course, was devastated by this
remark, because each had in one way or another immersed themselves in
ways to keep Professor Sutherland's plight and memory alive and to obtain
his early release.
31. When questioned about the document, Professor Sutherland denied
knowing of its existence. His Hizbollah captors did not believe him,
however, and began calling Professor Sutherland "kizzab, kizzab," which
meant "liar, liar." Professor Sutherland's denials seemed only to fuel
his captors' harassment of him. They harassed him on and off for years
about being a CIA member.
32. On other occasions, the Hizbollah captors physically abused and
tortured Professor Sutherland and the other hostages. In November 1986,
Professor Sutherland reached his nadir as a hostage. He was brutally
beaten for having been caught looking out a window at night while waiting
for his turn to urinate. Upon being caught, Professor Sutherland was
taken to a room and forced to lie on his back. While one Hizbollah
captor held Professor Sutherland's feet up, another beat the soles of his
feet with a rubber truncheon. The captors then beat Professor Sutherland
from head to toe with the rubber truncheon, leaving him black and blue
all over his body. See Pls' Exh. 92 at 170-72.
33. For the next several weeks, Professor Sutherland was kept
underground in solitary confinement in total darkness, with no candle or
other source of light. He was fed food in a way that left him with no
idea what he was being fed or how he was to eat it. Professor
Sutherland's anger and frustration with this inhumane treatment led him
to attempt suicide on three occasions. He described at trial how he
attempted suffocation by placing a plastic trash bag over his head and
then experimenting with it to cut off the air flow. On each of the three
occasions, Professor Sutherland started feeling woozy and lightheaded.
He testified, however, that each time he started losing consciousness and
had reached a state of "semistupor," he had a vision of a photograph of
his wife and three daughters. The photograph depicts Jean and the three
Sutherland daughters with big, beautiful smiles in front of a stone
fireplace. Pls' Exh. 16. That vision led him to conclude that he could
not carry out his suicide. See Pls' Exh. 92 at 172-73.
34. From this nadir, things gradually improved, as Professor
Sutherland pulled out of the depression into which he had sunk. Terry
Anderson testified at trial about how low Professor Sutherland had sunk,
and how hard his fellow hostages worked to "bring him back." Even so,
conditions generally remained very poor and, in reality, Professor
Sutherland being "brought back" only meant that he, like the other
hostages, simply learned how to deal with the circumstances with which
they were presented.
35. Each hostage found his own way to deal with his particular
circumstances. Professor Sutherland, a native of Scotland, testified
that he found great solace and comfort in the poems of Robert Burns, many
of which he knew by heart. When not in solitary confinement, Professor
Sutherland and his hostages attempted to deal with the unending boredom
by spending hours and hours talking amongst themselves about all manner
36. In the latter years of their captivity, Professor Sutherland and
the other hostages were sometimes provided with a radio, sometimes with a
television, and sometimes with books. Of course, these meager and
late-arriving efforts at humanity on the part of the Hizbollah captors in
no way compensated for the enduring hell the hostages suffered.
37. It was clear to Professor Sutherland and the other hostages that
they were being held by Hizbollah at Iran's direction. Several events
pointed to this conclusion. Among other clues, the captors variously
identified themselves as part of Hizbollah, the Islamic Jihad, and other
organizations that Anderson and Sutherland knew were agents of Iran. In
addition, throughout much of their captivity, the Iran-Iraq war was
ongoing. Professor Sutherland testified that the captors' demeanor
improved when Iranian troops scored a victory or were nearing Baghdad.
Conversely, when there was an Iranian setback, the captors' demeanor
worsened. Perhaps most tellingly, when the Ayatollah Khomeini died in
June 1989, the captors went into mourning. Pls' Exh. 92 at 296. In
addition, just prior to Professor Sutherland's release from captivity on
November 18, 1991, the Tehran Times "predicted" that British hostage
Terry Waite and an American hostage would be released "soon." Id. at
38. As the trial testimony revealed, Weir, Jenco, and Jacobsen were
released from captivity in 1985 and 1986 as a result of the ill-fated
Iran/Contra arms for hostages deal. When that arrangement became
public, the release of American hostages ceased, although citizens of the
United States continued to be taken hostage. See Appendix III to Pls'
Exh. 92. It was not until 1990 that releases of American hostages
resumed, with the bulk of the hostage releases occurring in 1991.
39. Professor Sutherland was released on November 18, 1991. He was
taken blindfolded to a spot in the Bekaa Valley where his blindfold was
removed and he was turned over to Syrian authorities. He and Terry
Waite, who was also released that day, were taken to Damascus, Syria,
where they held an impromptu press conference. From there, Professor
Sutherland was flown to Wiesbaden, Germany where he was given a physical
and other examinations. It was in Wiesbaden that Professor Sutherland
finally met up with Jean and his daughters Kit and Joan. Ann was unable
to make the trip because she was nearly nine months pregnant with her
second child, William.
40. Unfortunately, Professor Sutherland's release coincided with a
family tragedy. Only thirty-six hours prior to his release, his
father-in-law, Jean's father, died of cancer in Ames, Iowa. Professor
Sutherland emotionally testified at trial that when he learned of the
news, he could not have been hurt more "had he been hit with a hammer."
41. Following several days in Germany, Professor Sutherland and his
family flew to San Francisco, where they met Ann and her husband Ray,
and, for the first time, his granddaughter Simone. Although he picked
Simone up and held her, Professor Sutherland's daughters testified that
he had to brace himself to do it and that he could not hold her long,
given that he had gone without regular exercise for so long. The family
celebrated Thanksgiving together before Tom and Jean returned to
42. Upon his return to Colorado, Professor Sutherland received
invitations from all over the country to speak about his experience.
Professor Sutherland accepted nearly every invitation he received,
effectively becoming a "hostage to being a hostage."
44. When no academic positions became available, Professor Sutherland
and Jean returned to Beirut in 1993 to visit AUB as part of an NBC News
documentary. He was denied entry to AUB, however, because he was told he
was a controversial ...