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CRONIN v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
December 18, 2002
JOHN R. CRONIN, PLAINTIFF,
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge
This personal injury action against the Islamic Republic of Iran
("Iran") and the
Iranian Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS")
arises from a deplorable act of state-sponsored terrorism. The
plaintiff, John R. Cronin, alleges that in November 1984, when he was a
graduate student in Beirut, Lebanon, he was kidnapped at gunpoint from a
hospital by members of Amal, Islamic Amal, and Hizbollah. Cronin
contends that these paramilitary groups were organized, funded, trained,
and controlled by the defendants. He further alleges that after being
taken to the headquarters of Amal, he was repeatedly beaten,
interrogated, and threatened. When he was released four days later, he
alleges that he was near death, not able to even stand on his own.
Cronin brought this action under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
("FSIA") of 1976, 28 U.S.C. § 1602-1611. The FSIA grants federal
courts jurisdiction over suits involving foreign states and their
officials, employees, and agents in certain enumerated instances. One
instance is claims of personal injury or wrongful death resulting from
acts of state-sponsored terrorism. 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7). The FSIA
explicitly eliminates foreign governments' sovereign immunity in suits
for money damages based on acts of torture, hostage taking, or the
provision of material support for such acts. Id.
The defendants have failed to enter an appearance in this matter
despite being properly served with process. 28 U.S.C. § 1608. As a
result, the Court entered default against them under
28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). Before a judgment of default may be entered
against a foreign state, however, the plaintiff must "establish his
claim or right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the court."
28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). Thus, the Court held a hearing to receive
evidence from the plaintiff. Again, the defendants failed to appear.
Based upon the extensive evidence presented and the applicable law, the
Court concludes that the plaintiff has established his right to relief,
and that a default judgment is merited. The Court further finds that the
plaintiff is entitled to compensatory and punitive damages. The Court's
findings of fact and conclusions of law are set forth below.
The following findings of fact are based upon the sworn testimony and
documents entered into evidence at the hearing held pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). The Court finds the following facts to be
established by clear and convincing evidence, which would have been
sufficient to establish a prima-facie case in a contested proceeding.
A. Background Information
John R. Cronin was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky on November 8, 1946, and
has been a United States citizen since that date. Tr. at 15. In 1966,
at the age of nineteen, he enlisted in the Marines. Id. While in the
Marines, Cronin served two tours in Vietnam. Tr. at 16. During his
first tour, he was shot in the abdomen by a North Vietnamese soldier when
his unit was ambushed in an area outside of Da Nang. Tr. at 17. Because
of his injuries, he had to undergo a laparotomy and "an end-to-end
ileostomy where they sewed the intestine back together again because
quite a bit of it had been removed." Tr. at 17; Ex. 8 at CR-00128.
Although he was not required to return to combat, he voluntarily went
back to Vietnam for a second tour after recovering from his injuries.
Tr. at 17-18. Cronin was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1969,
having been awarded two Purple Hearts for bravery and several other
prestigious military awards. Exs. 4 and 5.
As a result of the gunshot wound to his abdomen, Cronin suffers from
recurring bouts of small bowel obstruction. Tr. at 19. Dr. Kevin
Weaver, his treating physician, explained that the bowel obstruction is
caused by scar tissue around the areas of the intestine where surgeons
operated, and that occasionally his intestine will swell up and prevent
"the material that's in the intestine" from "mov[ing] through[.]" Ex. 3
at 5-8. Dr. Weaver testified that bowel obstructions, such as those
experienced by Cronin, are "very painful." Ex. 3 at 9. Fortunately,
such bowel obstructions do not require surgery, and are treated with a
short hospital stay in which the patient receives intravenous fluids
while his stomach is drained. Id. (noting that the fluids and lack of
oral ingestion allow the intestine to rest and the swelling to go down).
See also Tr. at 19 ("[I]t had always been resolved by placing a tube down
through the esophageal track and down into the stomach and then draining
the stomach for about four days."). The failure to receive treatment,
however, can be deadly because the obstruction prevents a person from
ingesting food or water orally. Ex. 3 at 9. Dr. Weaver also explained
that "[w]ith not treating it properly, the bowel obstruction will
continue to get worse. The person will get dehydrated. The swelling in
the intestine gets progressively worse." Ex. 3 at 14.
After leaving the Marines, Cronin received a bachelor's degree in
political science from the Citadel, a master's degree in Middle East
studies from the American University in Beirut ("AUB"), and a PhD in
Middle East politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies at
the University of London. Tr. at 15, 58-59; Ex. 6. During the course of
his studies, he spent significant time living in the Middle East,
including Cairo, Egypt and Beirut, Lebanon. As a result, Cronin spoke
Arabic quite well in the early 1980s. Tr. at 24. By virtue of his
knowledge, education, training, and experience, Cronin can fairly be
characterized as an expert in Middle East affairs. In fact, he currently
teaches comparative politics and Middle East affairs at Strayer
University in Virginia. Tr. at 15, 59.
B. Cronin's Abduction and Torture
In 1984, Beirut was a city in turmoil, dominated by various religious
and political factions vying for influence and power. Tr.at 26-27
("There were bombings in the city itself. There were assassination[s].
There were kidnappings. It really was complete chaos."). AUB, located
in west Beirut, was not immune from the religious and political strife
occurring outside its walls. Id. As Thomas Sutherland, acting President
of AUB in 1984 noted, "[w]ell by late 1984, things had been pretty much
on the boil for quite a while. There was a lot of unrest. There was a
lot of fighting even on the campus from time to time." Ex. 12 at 11.*fn1
In fact, Amal, Islamic Amal, and Hizbollah were "all either represented
on campus or certainly well represented in the environs of the
university." Tr. at 27.
Cronin was a graduate student at UAB in 1984. While at UAB he was
threatened several times, and testified that he "was marked from day one"
because he was an American. Tr. at 25. He was accused by other students
of being with "American Intelligence," and was even told by the leader of
the Hizbollah faction on campus to "watch [his] step because we are
watching you very carefully[.]" Tr. at 27.
On the morning of November 16, 1984, Cronin felt a "twinge" in his
upper abdominal region, which he suspected to be the onset of a bowel
obstruction. Tr. at 29. An hour later, when the pain intensified, he
was certain that he was suffering from a bowel obstruction. Id. Having
experienced several episodes of bowel obstructions in the past, he knew
that the obstruction could only be remedied through medical treatment and
hospitalization. Tr. at 19-20. Cronin walked hunched over from the pain
about four blocks to the AUB Medical Center, the University's hospital.
Tr. at 29.
While a physician was examining Cronin, four armed men burst into the
emergency room and walked over to the table where he was being examined.
Tr. at 30-31. One man placed a Togerov pistol under Cronin's ear and
said in Arabic "get up, you are coming with us." Tr. at 31. The doctor
and nurse pleaded with the other three men, who were carrying AK-47
assault rifles, not to take him because his condition was "very serious."
Tr. at 30-31. In response, one of the men pointed his weapon at the
doctor and said that Cronin was an Israeli spy and was going with them.
Cronin recognized two of the abductors as members of Hizbollah because
of the distinctive red headbands they were wearing. Tr. at 31 (noting
that only Hizbollah members wore this particular red headband with a
saying from the Koran written across it in Arabic.). He also knew that
the other two men were members of Islamic Amal because of the distinctive
leather jackets that they were wearing. Tr. at 31 (stating that black
leather jackets were "standard fare for Islamic Amal in those days.").
The various factions operating in Lebanon were identifiable by their
attire. Tr. at 32.
The men forced Cronin into the back seat of a car parked outside the
hospital. Tr. at 32. As they drove off, one of the men accused him of
being an Israeli spy and said that they were going to put him on trial
for espionage. Tr. at 34-35. After Cronin denied that he was a spy,
another abductor ordered him to sit on his hands and then began punching
him in the abdomen. Tr. at 34. Cronin explained that the man "would
take his left fist and hit me as hard as he could in the upper abdominal
region. If I moved my hands up, he'd hit me in the face . . . ." Id.
The man repeatedly hit him "exactly where the small bowel obstruction
was." Id. At one point the man pointed his AK-47 rifle at Cronin's head
and said over and over "you are dead. We've got you now. You are an
Israeli spy and you are ours." Id. After a further exchange of words,
the man turned the rifle around and hit Cronin on the side of his head
with the butt, creating a long gash over his right eye. Tr. at 35; Ex.
After riding in the car for about thirty minutes, the car stopped at
what was later identified as Amal headquarters. Tr. at 39. Cronin could
no longer stand because of the pain caused by the bowel obstruction and
the beating he received in the car. Id. After being kicked and punched
in the face yet again, Cronin was taken into the building. Id. After
spending a short time in a room with a man who identified himself as a
security officer for Amal, Cronin was carried down to a ...
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