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JENCO v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN

August 2, 2001

JOSEPH M. JENCO, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF LAWRENCE M. JENCO, 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 March 15, 2000, the plaintiffs*fn1 filed a multi-count complaint alleging that the defendants were responsible for Lawrence M. Jenco's kidnapping, detention, and torture over a 1 1/2 year period. The defendants, despite being properly served with process, failed to answer this charge in any way. Thus, the Court entered the defendants' default on January 5, 2001.

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, the Court held a bench trial to receive evidence from the plaintiffs. Again, the defendants failed to appear.
Based on the evidence presented to the Court, and the law applicable to this case, the Court finds a default judgment merited. Further, the Court awards appropriate compensatory relief. Finally, the Court finds that the Estate of Fr. Jenco is entitled to punitive damages.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

A. Father Jenco's Experience*fn2

In early 1985, Lawrence M. Jenco, an ordained priest in the Catholic church, was working in Beirut, Lebanon as the Director of Catholic Relief Services. On the morning of January 8, he was abducted by five armed men and imprisoned for the next for 564 days. After his release, he returned to the United States and served as a parish priest until his death on July 19, 1996.
From the moment he was abducted, Father Jenco was treated little better than a caged animal. He was chained, beaten, and almost constantly blindfolded. His access to toilet facilities was extremely limited, if permitted at all. He was routinely required to urinate in a cup and maintain the urine in his cell. His food and clothing were spare, as was even the most basic medical care
He also withstood repeated psychological torture. Most notably, at one point, his captors held a gun to his head and told him that he was about to die. The captors pulled the trigger and laughed as Father Jenco reacted to the small click of the unloaded gun. At other times, the captors misled Fr. Jenco into thinking he was going home. They told him to dress up in his good clothes, took pictures of him, and then said "ha, ha, we're just kidding." Fr. Jenco Interview, Plaintiffs' Exhibit 21, at 93.
In sum, the last 11 years of Fr. Jenco's life were indelibly marred by his kidnapping and torture. With that established, the Court turns to the next issue: who were his captors?

B. Father Jenco's Captors and Their Connections to the Iranian Government

The testimony of numerous witnesses at trial convinces the Court that Father Jenco's captors were members of the Islamic group Hizbollah and that Hizbollah was funded and controlled by the Iranian government and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security.

1. Fr. Jenco's Captors

Based on the evidence presented at trial, it is clear that Fr. Jenco was kidnapped and detained by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hizbollah. This conclusion is supported by the testimony of several witnesses. For example, Jenco's co-hostage, Terry Anderson, testified that their captors were "very, very pro-Iranian," and that Iranian Revolutionary Guards were involved in the kidnapping and detention of the hostages. See Tr. at 116. Anderson further testified that he and his co-hostages knew that they were being held in Hizbollah territory, and at one point, were even held at Hizbollah headquarters. See Tr. at 116. Moreover, several years after his release, Anderson interviewed the secretary general of Hizbollah who as much as admitted to the kidnappings. See Tr. at 118. Thomas Sutherland, another co-hostage of Jenco's, also testified as to the identity of his captors. The captors, according to Sutherland, were clearly part of an Islamic Jihad group, who, when the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini was reported, wept quite openly. See Tr. at 238.
Perhaps that most persuasive evidence that Jenco's captors were members of Hizbollah came from Ambassador Robert Oakley and Dr. Patrick Clawson. Oakley, a former advisor to the National Security Council on Middle East affairs, testified bluntly on this subject. Consider the following colloquy from trial:
Q. Is there any doubt in your mind [Ambassador Oakley] that through that period of 1985 through 1991 that the Hizbollah, backed by Iran, financially and otherwise, was holding Tom Sutherland as a hostage?

A. No, there [is] none.

See Tr. at 21. Dr. Patrick Clawson, an experienced researcher and writer on Iranian politics, testified similarly. When asked by the Court whether Sutherland, Jenco's co-hostage, was "initially seized by Hizbollah . . . and held by them throughout the time?", Clawson responded "Yes, your Honor." Tr. at 58.
Further support for the conclusion that Fr. Jenco was captured and detained by Hizbollah is provided by precedent. For instance, in Anderson v. The Islamic Republic of Iran, 90 F. Supp.2d 107, 113 (D.D.C. 2000), the Court found that Terry Anderson, Sutherland's co-hostage for almost his entire captivity, was captured by Hizbollah and that "Iran provided Hizbollah*fn3 with funding, direction and training for its terrorist activities in Lebanon, including the kidnapping and torture of Terry Anderson." See also Cicippio v. The Islamic Republic of Iran, 18 F. Supp.2d 62, 68 (D.D.C. 1998) (finding that Hizbollah was responsible for the kidnapping and detention of David Jacobson, a co-hostage of Sutherland, Anderson, and Jenco).

2. Hizbollah's Connection to the Iranian Government

In addition to finding that Fr. Jenco was seized by Hizbollah, the Court also finds that The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian MOIS provided support, guidance, and resources to Hizbollah. The most persuasive testimony on this issue came from Jenco's experts: Ambassador Oakley, Robert McFarlane, and Dr. Clawson. Ambassador Oakley testified that "radical elements highly placed within the government of Iran are giving operational policy advice to terrorists in Iran, specifically terrorists operating under the name Islamic Jihad or Hizbollah." Tr. at 19. Similarly, Robert McFarlane, former National Security Advisor, testified that Hizbollah was a "terrorist group . . . formed in the early 1980s under the sponsorship of the government of Iran." Tr. at 29; see also Tr. at 31 (opining that Hizbollah was formed with the "volunteering of [Iranian] financial support" as well as "Iranian personnel"). As well, Dr. Clawson testified that the Iranian government and the Iranian MOIS were behind the formation and funding of Hizbollah, and that Hizbollah is very much under the control of the Iranian government. See Tr. at 41-42. Finally, Middle East expert Dr. Reuven Paz testified that almost all of Hizbollah's activities — whether social, religious, or terrorist — were funded by the Iranian government. Dr. Paz added that the Iranian government also provides Hizbollah substantial non-financial support, such as arms and ammunition. See Videotape Testimony of Ruven Paz, Feb. 7, 2001.

C. The Pain and Suffering of Father Jenco's Family

While Father Jenco was being held prisoner, his many siblings and relatives banded together and fought for his release. The family made a practice of meeting every Monday night to discuss what steps they could take to help secure his release. Family members took on various responsibilities, such as communicating with the public, dealing with the media, maintaining contact with the State Department, and raising money to cover the various costs of such a massive effort.
Andrew Mihelich and John Jenco, both nephews of Fr. Jenco, testified that, because of their massive dedication to free Fr. Jenco, the whole family, in effect, became a hostage in one way or another. As a result, many of the traditional family events, such as birthdays, graduations, or religious holidays were overshadowed-or overlooked altogether-on account of the campaign to free Fr. Jenco. Apart from the campaign, the family felt the very personal loss of not having their beloved relative at many family milestones, such as weddings, births, and baptisms. On the whole, according to John Jenco, the family spent the 19 months of Fr. Jenco's captivity on an emotional roller coaster, never knowing how close or far Fr. Jenco was to being released, not to mention returning home unharmed.
Jenco relatives also testified as to the specific effects that the captivity had of Fr. Jenco's brother, John Jenco. John Jenco Jr. testified that, from the first day of captivity to the last day of his own life, John Jenco Sr. was distraught in a way he had never been before. He was able to celebrate the return of Fr. Jenco, but was never fully able, according to John Jenco Jr., become himself again. Similarly, Joseph Jenco testified that the stress of the captivity on Verna Mae Mihelich likely was a factor in her premature death.

II. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

Based on the events described above, the plaintiffs make the following allegations:

(1) The estate of Fr. Jenco alleges battery, assault, and false imprisonment.
(2) All plaintiffs allege the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Given these claims, the Court is faced with the following three questions, which it answers in the order presented:

(1) Are The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian MOIS, immune under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ...

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