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Price v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

July 26, 2005


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


In this case, defendant Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya ("Libya") stands accused of physically and mentally torturing plaintiffs Michael H. Price and Roger K. Frey during a 105-day detention in 1980. Since plaintiffs filed this case in 1997, Libya has vigorously litigated several motions to dismiss in this Court and the Court of Appeals. See Price v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 389 F.3d 192, 194-96 (D.C. Cir. 2004). After failing to have plaintiffs' complaint dismissed in its entirety, Libya announced that it would no longer participate in the case. On May 26, 2005, the Court ordered that the clerk enter default against Libya and scheduled a trial for July 1, 2005 at which plaintiffs could present evidence supporting the entry of default judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e).

At trial, plaintiffs Price and Frey testified and plaintiffs introduced into evidence the depositions of Dr. Norman Decker, M.D., a board certified psychiatrist, and Dr. Barry Wilbratte, Ph.D., an economist, along with various other documents. Based on the evidence presented, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law and will, consistent with them, enter default judgment in favor of plaintiffs and against Libya.


1. At the time of the events at issue in this case, defendant Libya was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. See 31 C.F.R. § 596.201 (2001); Price v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 294 F.3d 82 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

2. Plaintiff Michael H. Price was born on September 28, 1948. Mr. Price is a citizen of the United States. Presently Mr. Price resides in Houston, Texas. Mr. Price graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, earning a Bachelor's Degree in Operations Research in 1973 and a Master's Degree in Operations Research in 1974. In 1975, Mr. Price earned a Master's Degree in Business Administration from the University of Chicago. The following year, he earned a Master's Degree in Economics from the London School of Economics. In 1982, Mr. Price earned a Master's Degree in Petroleum Engineering from Tulane University.

3. Plaintiff Roger K. Frey was born on June 16, 1947. Mr. Frey is a citizen of the United States. Mr. Frey currently lives in Del Mar, California. Mr. Frey earned a Bachelor's of Arts Degree from Dartmouth College in 1969. In 1973 and 1974, Mr. Frey attended the University of Chicago, from which he received a Master's in Business Administration, as well as the Universite de Louvain, Belgium, from which he earned a degree in Finance and Economics. In 1982, Mr. Frey earned a Master's Degree in Petroleum Engineering from Tulane University.

Plaintiffs' Detention in Libya

4. In February of 1980, plaintiffs were living in Tripoli, Libya. Each had recently become an employee of Oasis Oil Company of Libya, Inc. Mr. Price was employed as a Senior Engineer. Mr. Frey was employed as a Project Analyst.

5. Sometime in February of 1980, plaintiffs were taking photographs of construction projects in the area when policemen wearing plain clothes informed plaintiffs that their photography was illegal, led plaintiffs to the police station, and held plaintiffs' passports.

6. On March 19, 1980, plaintiffs were told that they could retrieve their passports at the Central Station. Plaintiffs went to the station, but were not given their passports. Instead, plaintiffs were detained, and plaintiffs remained incarcerated by Libya for the next 105 days.

7. During the 105 days of incarceration, plaintiffs were mentally and physically tortured by agents of the Libyan government acting in their official capacities. The torture inflicted upon plaintiffs was systematic and severe. The torture, at first, was directed at forcing plaintiffs to confess that they were covert employees of the CIA and were acting as spies for the United States. After plaintiffs were forced to confess, the torture continued in an effort to coerce plaintiffs to disclose the names of others with whom they were allegedly acting in concert.

8. Throughout their incarceration, plaintiffs were continuously*fn1 and systematically beaten, clubbed and kicked by agents of Libya. Plaintiffs suffered blows to their heads, torsos, and feet. Libyan agents beat plaintiffs using truncheons and sticks, as well as their hands. Each plaintiff sustained significant, permanent injuries from such beatings, as will be fully discussed.

9. On the morning of March 20, 1980, after spending their first night of incarceration in the police station, plaintiffs were transported to the offices of the Ministry of Justice. There, they were interrogated by a revolutionary prosecutor. During this interrogation, plaintiffs were accused of spying for the CIA and were directed to sign Arabic documents which were identified as pre-prepared confessions. Plaintiffs refused to sign the proffered confessions. When Libyan officials persisted, plaintiffs still refused to confess. The interrogators informed plaintiffs that they would be prosecuted and convicted as spies and then held as hostages that Libya might barter in exchange for Libyan agents whom Libya expected to be arrested at some later point in the United States for assassinating expatriate Libyan dissidents. (Frey Aff. ¶ 6.) Libyan officials also advised plaintiffs that they were being held in order to bolster that nation's political alliances with Iran and to allow Libya to gain political leverage worldwide. (Frey Aff. ¶ 8.)

10. After initial interrogations, plaintiffs were taken to Gedeidah Prison. Plaintiffs were told that Gedeidah was a prison for dissidents. While incarcerated at Gedeidah Prison, plaintiffs were confined with up to ten prisoners in cells no larger than twenty by fifteen feet. They slept on mattresses that wreaked of urine. Libya deprived plaintiffs of adequate food. They had to depend on the kindness of other inmates who were fortunate to have family or friends deliver food, as is the custom in Libya.

11. A few days into their incarceration, a junior prosecutor visited plaintiffs at the prison. He presented plaintiffs with the Arabic confessions and asked plaintiffs to sign them. Plaintiffs again requested a translation. Plaintiffs' request was refused and plaintiffs refused to sign. At that point, the junior prosecutor became very angry and threatened that he would teach plaintiffs a lesson. That night, prison guards pulled plaintiffs from their cell and brought them to a common area with latrines. The latrines were in poor condition, and during the day, they would clog with human excrement. The guards forced plaintiffs to clean the latrines. Plaintiffs used their bare hands, coat hangars for scraping, and a black garbage bag for collection. From time to time, a guard would defecate while plaintiffs labored and plaintiffs would have to clean the new excrement on the spot. After cleaning the toilets, plaintiffs were denied access to water or other means to remove feces from their bodies and clothes. Plaintiffs would use Price's nail clipper, which was not taken from him, to keep their nails as short as possible. These forced clearings continued nightly for two weeks.

12. On or about April 7, plaintiffs were visited in prison by a person claiming to be their attorney who informed them that if they chose not to confess to espionage, they would face a lengthy prison sentence or the death penalty. Again, plaintiffs refused to confess.

17. A few days later, Mr. Price was visited in prison by a revolutionary prosecutor who handed Mr. Price a forged telegram, purportedly from the U.S. State Department, indicating that his mother had passed away. The prosecutor advised Mr. Price that if he confessed that he had a relationship with the CIA, he would be permitted to attend his mother's funeral. In reality, Mr. Price's mother had not passed away, but was very much alive and living in Chicago. Mr. Price did not confess.

13. During their incarceration, plaintiffs constantly were awakened at night by the sounds of screams, doors slamming, and of other prisoners being beaten or shot.

14. Between April 13 and April 30, 1980, in a continued effort to induce them to confess, plaintiffs were pulled from nighttime lockup on three separate occasions. Each time, Messrs. Price and Frey were bound, taped to chairs, and forced to watch as other prisoners were beaten and killed by members of the Secret Police. Mr. Frey needed to close his eyes, but Mr. Price kept his eyes open.

15. The first victim, a Tunisian prisoner, had been a friend of Mr. Frey. Guards used a hammer to break the Tunisian's toes, fingers, feet, and arms. The beating took some 10 minutes and was systematic. Mr. Price recalls that it sounded like an animal being injured: like the shrill cry of a dog hit by a car. The Tunisian lay unconscious and blood was all around: he appeared dead. During this incident, the prison captain addressed plaintiffs as "CIA" and threatened that they would be next if they did not confess.

16. The second victim, a Libyan journalist, was beaten because he endeavored to give plaintiffs assistance in coping with their incarceration. The beating was less severe than the Tunisian's. Again, plaintiffs were told they would be next.

17. The third victim, Mahmood Banoon, was beaten because he dared to share food, given him by friends and relatives, with plaintiffs. Prison guards broke every bone is his body with a rubber truncheon and then put a hammer through his skull. Banoon died.

18. Following these three beatings, on or about April 30, plaintiffs were taken to a municipal building and interrogated by three prosecutors. During this interrogation, the Libyan Secretary of Justice was present. Plaintiffs were told by one prosecutor that they had one final chance to confess to being spies. They believed that If they refused to sign the written confessions, they would suffer the consequences similar to those that befell the three prisoners whose physical torture plaintiffs were forced to witness.

19. Fearing for their lives, plaintiffs signed several documents without the benefit of an English translation.

20. The Libyan officials, pleased by the confessions for a brief minute, quickly reestablished a confrontational posture. The officials then demanded that plaintiffs divulge the names of co-conspirators in Libya who had aided them. As Libya sought to elicit names, the torture of plaintiffs continued.

21. After the meeting at which plaintiffs confessed, Libyan agents blindfolded plaintiffs, and transported them to in a white Peugot to an undisclosed location.After leaving plaintiffs inside the car, windows closed, in the sweltering Libyan heat for one-half hour, plaintiffs passed out and came to in separate, solitary prison cells. These cells were not at Gedeidah. They lacked ventilation and toilet facilities. Plaintiffs were kept in these cells for seven days, during which they were severely and systematically beaten.

22. Mr. Price was beaten in his cell on a routine basis -- two to three times a day. Once, three people tipped him upside down and lashed his feet with iron barbs. On other occasions he was beaten on his head, which has since caused him permanent hearing deficit. He was subjected to mock executions on three occasions. The Libyan agent would place a pistol in his mouth and pull the trigger -- but the guns were not loaded. During these events, Price would hear his torturers ask, "who Libyans?," which he took to be a demand for names of co-conspirators.

23. Mr. Frey also suffered abuse. He was hit with truncheons every other day, but feared beatings each time a guard would come to his cell. To minimize the damage of the beatings, Frey would try to lie on his mattress so he could cover his head. He was subjected to mock executions on two occasions. Frey heard his tortures say, "you say," which he took to be a demand for names of co-conspirators.

24. After seven days, plaintiffs were taken back to Gedeidah Prison.

25. Around this time, plaintiffs gained access to a short-wave radio. Price and Frey heard international news reports stating that they were being held on charges of espionage. Plaintiffs were told by fellow prisoners that Libyan officials, angered by such worldwide exposure, would most certainly kill plaintiffs. Exacerbating such fears, Libyan guards entered plaintiffs' cells on several occasions and subjected them to mock executions by placing rifle barrels against their temples and dry firing the rifles. The combination of physical abuse, mock executions, and torture of others which plaintiffs were forced to witness led plaintiffs to believe their own deaths were imminent. Plaintiffs believed that their chances of surviving their incarceration were virtually nil.

26. On or about June 3, plaintiffs were transported to Political Section 4 of the Tripoli Central Prison, a prison run by the Libyan Army. Following plaintiffs' transfer to Central Prison, the incidents of torture became more frequent and more severe.

27. Plaintiffs were forced to lie in their beds and cover themselves with wool blankets even though the temperature was 120 degrees inside the prison.

28. They were often required to run along a long prison corridor, or to run in place while waiting in the food line, and were taken from the food line to be beaten with truncheons. Prisoners were required to look downwards. When Frey looked up on one occasion, he was taken to a triangular courtyard where the prison head demanded information and, ...

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