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Levin v. Islamic Republic of Iran

December 31, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge


This action came before the Court for an evidentiary hearing on August 14, 2007. Plaintiffs are Jeremy Levin ("Jerry Levin" or "Mr. Levin") and Dr. Lucille Levin ("Dr. Levin"). Defendants are the Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran"), the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS"), and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp. ("IRGC").

Based upon the testimony of the witnesses presented during the hearing, and the sworn affidavits and documents entered into evidence in accordance with the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.



A. Mr. Levin

1. In December 1983, Mr. Levin was employed by CCN as Bureau Chief and correspondent in its Beirut office in Lebanon. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 5.

2. On January 22, 1984, his wife, Dr. Levin, joined him in Beirut. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 1.

3. On March 7, 1984, Ash Wednesday, Mr. Levin was kidnapped on the street in Beirut while walking from his apartment to work. Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing, dated Aug. 14, 2007 ("Trial Tr."), at 11:12-14; Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 6. A gun was shoved at his waist, and he was forced into a car and threatened with death should he open his eyes. Trial Tr. at 11:21-13:22. He was blindfolded, beaten, and interrogated at a local apartment. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 6-7. He was accused of being a CIA spy and an Israeli spy. Trial Tr. at 17:25-20:22. When he denied these accusations, he was accused of being a liar, and threatened with death if he was lying. After hours of this treatment, he was gagged and wrapped from head to foot in packing tape, placed in the false bottom of a truck, and driven out of Beirut and into the Bekaa Valley, several hours away. Id. at 21:4-22:6; Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 8-12.

4. While in the Bekaa Valley, Mr. Levin was held in a tiny, unheated room and chained to the wall. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 13-17. Mr. Levin was severely restricted by the length of the chain, which was short and attached low to the wall, preventing Mr. Levin from being able to stand up. Id. ¶ 14. He was also unable to turn when he lay down, and was reduced to lying on one side of his body for the entire time of his captivity. Id. ¶ 16; Trial Tr. at 33:24-34:9. While in captivity, Mr. Levin was held in several different houses. Each time, he was held in a small, unheated room, and always kept either chained to the wall or, on one occasion, a radiator. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 14.

He was also kept in solitary confinement. Trial Tr. at 31:1-3. For a number of weeks, he was in total darkness and didn't remove his blindfold for fear of being shot. Part of the "training" by his captors was to put a gun to his head and say "you no see." Trial Tr. at 38:21-39:17. After a while, he dared to take his blindfold off some of the time, but only when his captors were out of the room. During those times, he tried to devise some means of escape. Id. at 63:9-23. During the 343 days of his captivity, Mr. Levin never saw another human face. He was told that if he did see any faces, he would be killed. Trial Tr. at 40:1-6.

5. Over the course of the eleven and a half months that he was held hostage, Mr. Levin's captors beat him, mocked him continuously, and threatened him with imminent death. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 18-20. His captors jumped on his legs, slapped and punched him, and told him they were going to kill him. Id. ¶¶ 18-20; Trial Tr. at 40:7-16. His captors would emphasize their threats by shoving the barrel of a gun under Mr. Levin's blindfold where he could see it and pulling the trigger so that Mr. Levin could hear the hammer click on an empty chamber. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 20; Trial Tr. at 38:21-39:25.

6. On one occasion, approximately four weeks into his captivity, Mr. Levin was told by his captors that he would be released. He was wrapped again from head to foot in packing tape but this time his captors wrapped the tape so tightly that it cut off the circulation in Mr. Levin's arms and legs. Trial Tr. at 36:25-38:20. Mr. Levin testified this was on of the most frightening and painful moments of his life. Id. He was again forced into the false bottom of the truck for the over two hour ride back to Beirut. About an hour into the drive, Mr. Levin was in so much pain that he began yelling for help. The truck pulled over and his captor told him to shut up or he would be killed. Id. When they finally arrived in Beirut and Mr. Levin was unwrapped, but he was unable to stand. He could not feel his arms or legs. Id. It took about four months for Mr. Levin to regain full feeling and function in his limbs. Id. Mr. Levin spent several days in Beirut, anxiously awaiting his release but his hopes of freedom were dashed when he was told he would not be released. He was then again wrapped from head to toe with packing tape, blindfolded, and gagged. Trial Tr. at 55:21-58:17. In this condition, without water or any chance to relieve himself, he was taken back to the Bekka Valley. Mr. Levin experienced the mental anguish of being told that he would be released and then abruptly returned to captivity. Id. No explanation was given to him for this treatment but he believes this may have been more of his training as a prisoner to break his spirit and will. Id.

7. Mr. Levin's captors deprived him of food and the most basic hygienic care. Id. at 43:17-44:7, 45:4-13; Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 21-22. He was only allowed to use the toilet once a day, and was watched and mocked by his captors while he urinated. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 19. In his first three months of captivity, Mr. Levin was only allowed one shower and only one change of clothes. Id. ¶ 22. Mr. Levin's room was not heated and he nearly froze during the cold winter nights. Id. ¶ 17.

8. Mr. Levin developed several life-threatening illnesses as a direct result of his poor living conditions, hygiene, and diet, including hepatitis and a severe ear infection that harmed his hearing in both ears. Id. ¶¶ 23-27, 49-51; Trial Tr. at 42:24-43:16, 45:14-20. When he contracted hepatitis, Mr. Levin became critically ill, suffering from severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea. Jerry Levin Affidavit¶ 23. When he soiled himself with his feces, his captors mocked him and yelled at him. He told them he could not help himself and asked to be allowed to go to the bathroom when he needed but his captors refused. As a result, for several months, he lived in his own bodily discharge while seriously ill. Trial Tr. 41:2-22. Eventually, his captors brought in a doctor to examine him. Id.; Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 23. Although the doctor left medication to treat Mr. Levin's symptoms, his captors withheld the medication and Mr. Levin's condition worsened. Trial Tr. at 41:23-42:19; Jerry Levin Aff. ¶ 23. Days later, after Mr. Levin had fouled himself again, his captors brought the doctor back and Mr. Levin was finally given medicine. Trial Tr. at 41:23-42:19; Jerry Levin Aff. ¶¶ 24-25.

9. In July 1984, while he was still ill, Mr. Levin was forced by his captors into a room and ordered to read a pre-written statement. After Mr. Levin read the statement aloud as commanded, his captor told him to read it as if he were not afraid and shoved his fist into Mr. Levin's face. Trial Tr. 53:3-16. Finally, Mr. Levin read the statement in what he hoped would appear to those viewing the tape as if he was being coerced. Id. at 53:20-55:9. The statement was videotaped and sent to the U.S. Department of State. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 32. The statement, as read by Mr. Levin, was that unless the Kuwaiti government released 17 terrorists who had been convicted and sentenced to death for the bombing of the U.S. and French Embassies in Kuwait in December 1983, Mr. Levin would be killed. Id. Mr. Levin believed that his captors would go through with their threat and kill him if their demands were not met. Id. ¶ 34. This led Mr. Levin to experience panic, terror, and a certainty that he was doomed, considering his belief in the improbability that the Kuwaiti government would concede to Hizbollah's demands. Id. ¶¶ 34-35; Trial Tr. at 51:7-52:17.

10. During the time that Mr. Levin was held, Hizbollah was engaged in a systematic kidnapping program under the supervision of Iran. Clawson Affidavit ¶¶ 15, 19-20. Several other Americans in addition to Mr. Levin had also been kidnapped and were being held hostage by Hizbollah. These individuals included Benjamin Weir, Peter Kilburn, Lawrence Martin Jenco, and CIA station chief William Buckley. Id. ¶ 19. For at least some period of time, these other Americans were held in the same place as Mr. Levin. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 28-29, 33, 38, 48. As a result of hearing the other prisoners being taken to and from their cells and hearing his captors give them orders in English, Mr. Levin knew that they were also Americans. Id. ¶ 28, 38. Mr. Levin was never allowed to see or communicate with the other hostages. Trial Tr. at 31:1-3.

11. On at least three occasions during his captivity, Mr. Levin was able to free himself from the chains around his wrist. Id. at 33:7-14. However, he was malnourished and weak. On two of these occasions, Mr. Levin was able to get the window open and look out. When he saw that he was more than 25 feet off the ground, he realized that if he jumped from the window, he would most likely break his leg or ankle. If he did injure himself, he knew that his captors would find him and kill him. Id. at 62:16-64:8. He testified that although it was unbearably difficult, he had to put his chains back on when he realized that a successful escape was not feasible. Id. However, he also testified that after he made the videotape, he knew that if he could not escape, he was going to die. Id. at 51:7-52:4. He therefore made a decision to prepare himself for death, whether it was the result of his trying to escape, or by being executed when the Kuwaiti prisoners were executed.

12. Mr. Levin testified that it was very important to him to keep track of the date, and that he made a mark on the wall every day, trying to keep a record of his days in captivity. Id. at 46:14-47:8. On February 14, 1985, Valentine's Day, Mr. Levin finally escaped. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 39. He had been moved to a new house and this one had a balcony with rails. After working free of his chains, Mr. Levin waited until what he thought was midnight, climbed out of the small window in his cell, which was over 20 feet high above street level, and slid down blankets he had knotted together and tied to the balcony. Id. ¶ 43; Trial Tr. at 67:5-11. He was barefoot, without money or papers, and in a remote area in the mountains above the Bekaa Valley. He knew he was in the region occupied largely by Islamic religious fundamentalist Shiites, who were extremely hostile to the United States. He knew this in part due to his coverage of the area as a journalist. He also knew this due to the fact that he had purchased a three dimensional map before he was taken hostage. Trial Tr. at 15:5-16:5. He had placed the map in his office at CNN in order to learn about the geography of the region where he was sending reporters. Due to his study of the map, he knew the Bekaa Valley was over the mountains from Beirut and also that a main road ran through the Valley. Id. at 66:13-18. When Mr. Levin jumped out of the window of his cell, he saw that he was in front of barracks used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to train Hizbollah in terrorism activities. The gate to the compound was only one block from the house he had been held in although no one from the barracks saw him escape. Id. at 66:1-12.

13. Mr. Levin walked barefoot through the underbrush looking for the main road. His plan was to find a Syrian Army checkpoint, which he knew the Syrians had throughout the area. Id. at 68:4-69:18. Even though the United States and Syria did not have diplomatic relations at the time, and in fact Syria was on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism against Americans, Mr. Levin believed that there was some chance the Syrian army would not kill him or turn him back over to Hizbollah and that they would instead take him to their senior officers, with whom he could plead for sanctuary. Id. He felt alone, weak, and frightened as he looked for Syrian soldiers. Id. Mr. Levin climbed down through the mountains in the middle of the night, hiding and listening. After several hours, he finally reached the main road in the Bekaa Valley. He was still at a very high risk of getting caught by Hizbollah members or supporters and returned to his captors. He was dressed in torn and dirty clothes, and had an eleven and a half month old beard.

14. Once Mr. Levin reached the road, he heard voices from several directions and saw flashlights. He also heard dogs barking and thought his captors had found out that he had escaped and were coming for him. He also thought that he might be mistaken for a burglar or a terrorist himself and shot as a result. He saw an area where trucks were parked, and he ran and hid underneath one of the trucks. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 45; Trial Tr. at 73:4-74.6. As he lay on the ground, people converged on him shouting in Arabic. He surmised they were saying something like, "Come out with your hands up." Mr. Levin testified he did not want to come out with his hands up because this was the way a criminal acts and he was not a criminal. However, he wanted to give some signal that he was not a threat. When he crawled out from the truck, he stood up, held his arms and hands out perpendicular to his body, and in French said, "Help me, help me." Trial Tr. at 74:22-75:22. He could see nothing through the blinding flashlights that were being pointed at him.

15. The people who found Mr. Levin were in fact Syrian soldiers. Mr. Levin told them he had been a hostage, that he was a reporter with CNN, and that he wanted to go to their commander. It was now approximately 4:00 a.m. The soldiers seemed to know about him and asked where he had been held. He pointed to the mountains. Id. at 76:12-77:16. The soldiers agreed to take him to their commander. However, the soldiers first led Mr. Levin to a metal warehouse with a pull down, locked gate. Inside the warehouse were approximately 100 dirty, frightened people packed together in the dark. The soldiers told Mr. Levin to go inside although he pleaded with them not to put him inside and said, "You told me you would take me to your commander." The soldiers kept saying, "You go in there," and eventually Mr. Levin crawled in and was wedged between two men. Id. at 77:22-78:23. The warehouse was a local jail without lights or windows. Everyone was kept in one area. When Mr. Levin asked if anyone spoke English, he learned that a few individuals did. Using his limited knowledge of French, Mr. Levin was able to learn this was the holding place for the drunks and other disturbers of the peace who were picked up by the soldiers. The people in the jail asked Mr. Levin what his story was and appeared to have heard about his kidnapping. Id. At 9:00 a.m. the next morning, the soldiers came back and opened the gate to the warehouse. Mr. Levin was then taken to a colonel in the Syrian army. Id. at 78:24-79:13.

16. Mr. Levin was interrogated by the Syrian colonel. The colonel asked him where he had been held and if "the others" were there too. Mr. Levin asked the colonel if more Americans had been kidnapped, and the colonel told him of Father Jenco and the others. The colonel asked Mr. Levin if he could take the Syrians back to the house where he was held. Mr. Levin testified that he did not want to go back, but that he felt he must do anything he could to help the other hostages. He was afraid to trust the Syrians and did not know if they were really just going to turn him back over to Hizbollah, but he had to take the chance. Id. at 82:13-83:19. Mr. Levin took the colonel and other soldiers by truck to the place he was held and pointed it out. However, the soldiers did not go into the house, and told Mr. Levin they were going to take him to Damascus. Id.

17. Although he escaped from Hizbollah, Jerry Levin continues to suffer the effects of the torture and deprivation he suffered as well as the illnesses he contracted during his captivity. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 49-52. As a result of the severe ear infections, Mr. Levin is substantially deaf in both ears and has to wear hearing aids in both ears. Id. ¶ 27. He has also had three complete eardrum replacement surgeries and three additional procedures to have drainage tubes inserted into his ears. Id. ¶ 49. Since his release, Mr. Levin has had to see an ear doctor regularly and requires frequent antibiotic treatments. Id. In addition, Mr. Levin has sought the help of psychological professionals in order to cope with the stress and trauma of his kidnapping. Id. ¶ 51.

18. Mr. Levin has also been damaged professionally as a result of his being held hostage. After his release, Mr. Levin was never again promoted at CNN, and eventually CNN let him go. Jerry Levin Affidavit ¶ 52. His career as a major broadcast journalist was essentially over. Id.

B. Dr. Levin

19. Dr. Levin was in Beirut when her husband was kidnapped. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 1. On the morning of March 7, 1984, she kissed him good-bye and agreed to meet him at the CNN offices for lunch. Id. ¶ 3. When she arrived at the CNN offices later that day, she was told that Mr. Levin had never showed up for work and was missing. Id.

20. When Dr. Levin learned of her husband's kidnapping, she was devastated, depressed, terrified, and filled with anxiety and grief. Id. She did not know whether her husband was dead or alive. She was living in a foreign country in the middle of a Civil War. She did not know anyone or speak the language and feared for both her husband and for herself. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. She went to the police station for help, but was told that Mr. Levin had probably run off with another woman. She went to the hospital and checked beds full of injured and sick people to see if Mr. Levin was there. Finally, she went to the morgue, where she had to examine dead bodies to determine if her husband was one of them. Trial Tr. at 97:15-98:14.

21. Despite her fear and desperation, during the entire 343 days of Mr. Levin's captivity, Dr. Levin worked tirelessly to gain information about where Mr. Levin was being held and who was holding him. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 4; Bolling Affidavit ¶¶ 5-6. She depleted the family savings traveling to seek help and garner support, and payed informants for any bit of information about Mr. Levin's whereabouts in order to secure his release. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 5; Bolling Affidavit ¶¶ 6-7. Dr. Levin and her family members spent nearly $200,000 paying con men that promised her information about her husband but never delivered on their promise. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 9; Trial Tr. 107:5-108:21.

22. Dr. Levin's fears and anxieties only increased when she found out that her husband was being held by Hizbollah. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 6-7. Dr. Levin learned that Hizbollah was threatening to kill the American hostages unless 17 Shiite prisoners in Kuwait were released immediately. Id. ¶ 6. In June 1984, Dr. Levin learned from the U.S. State Department that the Kuwaiti government had set a date for the execution of the Shiite prisoners. Id. ¶ 7. She was absolutely terrified that her husband would be killed and worked frantically with friends and family to get in touch with the Kuwaiti government. Id. The State Department told her that the Kuwaiti government had never before stayed an execution. Id. Despite this, the impossible was accomplished and the Kuwaiti government ultimately agreed to stay the prisoners' execution. Id.

23. In July of 1984, Dr. Levin received a call from the State Department; they had received a videotape from Mr. Levin's captors. Id. ¶ 8. When Dr. Levin watched the video, she saw her husband looking tired, weak, severely ill, and desperately thin. Id. She heard him say that his life was dependent on the lives of several prisoners in Kuwait. Id. Dr. Levin was filled with anguish, terror, and anxiety. Id. She felt absolutely helpless. Trial Tr. at 109:13-110:10.

24. Dr. Levin redoubled her efforts to obtain Mr. Levin's release. Dr. Levin Affidavit¶ 9. She went to the broadcast media and told her story to "The Today Show." She contacted and met with foreign dignitaries and officials, such as Ross Perot, Jesse Jackson, Princess Dina of Jordan, and Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk al Sharaa. Id. ¶¶ 9-10; Bolling Affidavit ¶¶ 8-18. When Dr. Levin went to Syria, she was told by the Government that she would be in danger and that she was on her own. Trial Tr. at 112:14-24. Despite her efforts, Dr. Levin felt she was getting nowhere on obtaining Mr. Levin's release, and she grew more depressed, desperate, anxious, exhausted, and terrified that she would never see her husband alive again. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 10. Mr. Levin's family told Dr. Levin that since Mr. Levin was Jewish, he was no doubt going to be killed. Trial Tr. at 112:3-8. She feared greatly that Islamic extremists would not hesitate to torture and kill her husband because he was Jewish.

25. Dr. Levin also suffered financial and other stresses due to Mr. Levin's kidnapping. For example, Mr. Levin had always been in charge of the family finances and bills, which were sent to him in Beirut. On one occasion, American Express had a restaurant employee cut up Dr. Levin's credit card and tell her, "You don't have any credit." Id. at 102:8-25. In addition, Mr. Levin had the check for his life insurance in his coat pocket when he was kidnapped, and as a result, the insurance company tried to cancel his insurance. Id. at 101:6-102:7. These incidents caused additional anxiety for an already devastated wife. Dr. Levin testified that she was in a state of psychological limbo. She would not allow herself to believe Mr. Levin was dead, and therefore could not mourn. Even when people told her that her husband was almost certainly dead, she could not "get on with life." Id. at 103:11-22.

26. In November of 1984, Dr. Levin returned to the Middle East to continue her efforts. Id. at 112:12-13; Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 10. At this time, she did not know whether Mr. Levin was still alive or if he had been murdered. She did not know if he had died from his injuries, illness, or starvation. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 10. She sought an audience with Syrian President, Hafez Assad, and met several times with the Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk al Sharaa, who promised to make inquiries and be in touch. Id. Dr. Levin remained in Syria for more than a month, and met several more times with the Foreign Minister, and with several anonymous strangers that Princess Dina, missionaries, and Middle East specialists sent her way. Id. When nothing seemed to come of her efforts, Dr. Levin became more and more depressed. Id. She fell and severely injured her ankle, and in early December, she collapsed. Trial Tr. at 114:20-115:8. Dr. Levin received medical care in Syria and after recovering, decided to return to the United States. Her elderly mother was dying of cancer in Alabama. She flew on Christmas Eve of 1984, feeling alone and defeated. Id. at 115:18-116:2.

27. Throughout the next months, Dr. Levin endured a repeating cycle of false hope followed by severe disappointment, until she finally sought psychological help. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶¶ 10-11. After her husband's release, Dr. Levin has had to continue receiving regular, professional psychological care, including medication, to help her deal with the trauma of her and her husband's ordeal. Id. ¶¶13-18; Trial Tr. at 118:9-120:11. She has been diagnosed with Reacting Clinical Depression. Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶14; Trial Tr. at 119:12-20. In addition, both Mr. and Dr. Levin have had to see a marriage counselor to deal with the stress that Mr. Levin's kidnapping and subsequent illnesses have placed on their marriage. Dr. Levin Affidavit¶ 16.


28. Jeremy Levin was taken hostage in 1984 by Hizbollah, a radical Shiite group.*fn1 See Clawson Affidavit ¶ 15; see also Jerry Levin Affidvait ¶¶ 30-31; Dr. Levin Affidavit ¶ 6; Bolling Affidvait ¶ 16; U.S. Dep't of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism 1985, at 18 ("Hizballah factions kidnapped nearly a dozen Westerners in Lebanon in 1985, although two Americans - Jeremy [Jerry] Levin and the Reverend Benjamin Weir, both seized in 1984 - escaped or were released."). Mr. Levin testified that he was held by Hizbollah terrorists trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Trial Tr. at 23:2-25:12, 50:8-51:6. Mr. Levin testified that he was imprisoned in the Bekaa Valley, which was a stronghold of the radical Islamic fundamentalists, Hizbollah. Mr. Levin's final prison was across the street from the Revolutionary Guard barracks. Id. at 66:1-12.

29. One of the defendants, Iran, has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism pursuant to section 6(i) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, 50 App. U.S.C. 2405(i), and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, 22 U.S.C.§ 2371, since January 19, 1984.

30. The other two defendants, MOIS and IRGC, are both Iranian intelligence and military services that function within and beyond Iranian territory. The MOIS and IRGC have been major institutions through which the Iranian government has provided financial, technical, and material support for terrorism, including the holding of hostages such as Jerry Levin in Lebanon. Clawson Affidavit ¶ 15.

31. Hizbollah was trained, supported, aided, abetted and funded by the Iranian government through MOIS and IRGC, and otherwise would not have had the expertise and skills needed to hold Jerry Levin captive while eluding the extensive search efforts of the U.S. and others. Id.

32. Jerry Levin's capture and incarceration was part of a systematic plan orchestrated by agencies of the Iranian government, in particular MOIS and IRGC. The MOIS and IRGC funded, supported and trained Hizbollah, directed their hostage-taking activities, and provided "cover" for Hizbollah so that the hostages would not be discovered. Id. ΒΆ 20. Mr. Levin was the first in a long line of hostages ...

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