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CRONIN v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN

December 18, 2002

JOHN R. CRONIN, PLAINTIFF,
V.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

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. Id.
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. 3.
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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