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SUTHERLAND v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN

June 25, 2001

THOMAS M. SUTHERLAND, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
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.

    MEMORANDUM OPINION
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, 2000.
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 compensatory relief:
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.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

Introduction

1. In June 1985, Thomas M. Sutherland was serving as Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the American University of Beirut ("AUB") in Lebanon and had held that position for approximately two years. On June 9, 1985, Professor Sutherland arrived in Lebanon from a trip to the United States and was being driven from the airport to his office at AUB when his automobile was sideswiped and stopped by another vehicle containing eight young men carrying submachine guns. Professor Sutherland was forcibly dragged from his vehicle and kidnapped at gunpoint by members of the Hizbollah. He spent the next 2,354 days, approximately six and one-half years, imprisoned in dungeons in various parts of Lebanon, including the southern suburbs of Beirut and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Conditions in these dungeons were horrific and inhumane. Professor Sutherland, and the other hostages held with or near him — all by the Hizbollah — were physically and psychologically abused by their captors. Professor Sutherland was released from captivity on November 18, 1991.*fn1
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.

Background Facts

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.

Thomas M. Sutherland

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 contract.
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.
14. Professor Sutherland returned to Beirut alone on June 9, 1985. The night before, Jean had placed in his briefcase a lengthy paper prepared by a friend on Islam, entitled Islam Today, that discussed various sects and aspects of Islam. The document had been formatted and printed so that its margins were "right justified." Jean thought Tom would find the paper interesting and informative. Because Professor Sutherland did not open his briefcase during the trip from his home to Beirut, he was not aware of this paper. Unfortunately, the paper would prove to be very important to Professor Sutherland's "well-being." Although Professor Sutherland arrived in Beirut on June 9, he intended to remain for only a couple of weeks, as he planned to return to Colorado in time for Joan's twenty-first birthday party on July 2, 1985.
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 AUB.
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 years.
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 Jacobsen.
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.
19. Sanitation conditions were likewise horrible. Although the hostages were provided with a "urine bottle" into which they could urinate when necessary, they were permitted only one brief trip a day to the toilet facilities, regardless of whether they were ill or had a need to go more often. On some occasions even the urine bottles were taken away from the hostages as punishment. See Pls' Exh. 92 at 170-71. When the hostages had diarrhea or otherwise had to use the toilet facilities, they were forced to make do with what they had, wherever they were at the time, thereby leaving them in various unhealthy and embarrassing situations. Flies, cockroaches, mosquitoes, and other bugs were always present in large numbers and were another aspect of the filthy conditions in which the hostages were forced to live.
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 subsist.
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 body hair.
26. Throughout his captivity, Professor Sutherland and his fellow hostages were subjected to various degrees of psychological torture and abuse. Professor Sutherland (and Father Jenco via an old audiotape) testified, for example, about one occasion in which the five hostages together in 1985 — Sutherland, Anderson, Jenco, Jacobsen and Weir — had to vote on which among them would be released. Sutherland was told by his captors that he would not be released. The vote was thus between the other four. After several ballots in which Terry Anderson uniformly received four votes to David Jacobsen's one vote, the hostages decided that Anderson would be the one released. Each hostage then wrote letters and otherwise prepared for Anderson's departure. The Hizbollah captors then informed the hostages that Reverend Weir would be the one released, not Terry Anderson. This experience devastated Anderson for a period of time.
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 grandchild. Id.
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.
30. Professor Sutherland was treated particularly badly by his Hizbollah captors because they erroneously believed he was an agent of the CIA. This ill treatment was consistent with his captors' treatment of other CIA personnel. They previously had killed hostage William Buckley in June, 1985, the same month Professor Sutherland was taken hostage. In fact, Professor Sutherland was not part of the CIA and had no association with the CIA. His Hizbollah captors nevertheless suspected he was in the CIA, because they had discovered the Islam Today paper that Jean Sutherland had placed in Professor Sutherland's briefcase, unbeknownst to him. The subject matter of the paper, combined with the fact that at that time there were no word processors or computers in Lebanon that could "right justify" the margins of a document, aroused the suspicions of the Hizbollah captors.
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 of topics.
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 361.
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 Colorado.
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 ...

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