United States District Court, District of Columbia
KEITH STANSELL, et al. Plaintiffs,
REPUBLIC OF CUBA, Defendant.
P. Mehta United States District Judge.
American citizens held hostage by a terrorist group and the
family members of a fourth American citizen killed during the
hostage-taking filed suit against the Republic of Cuba under
the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act
(“FSIA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. Plaintiffs
allege that Cuba provided material support to the Fuerzas
Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, a designated foreign
terrorist organization commonly known as “the FARC,
” which made possible the FARC's shooting down of
their aircraft, extrajudicial killing of Tom Janis, and the
hostage-taking and torture of Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves,
and Thomas Howes. Stansell, Gonsalves, and Howes seek money
damages for the pain and suffering they endured during their
1, 967 days of captivity. The widow and children of Tom Janis
seek solatium damages for the emotional trauma of losing
their husband and father.
has never entered an appearance in this action. The Clerk of
Court entered an order of default against Cuba, and
Plaintiffs moved for an entry of default judgment. After
thorough consideration of the evidence and briefing
presented, the court grants Plaintiffs' motion.
court begins with a summary of the factual background leading
up to the terrorist acts at issue, a description of those
acts, and the procedural history of this case. To do so, the
court draws upon the allegations in the Complaint, affidavits
from Plaintiffs, the sworn testimony of two expert witnesses,
and the official Central Intelligence Agency and United
States Department of State annual reports on state
sponsorship of terrorism worldwide. Additionally, the court
takes judicial notice of the Stipulated Statement of Offense
entered in United States v. Herrera and incorporates
that statement as part of its findings of fact. See
Stip. Stmt. of Offense in Supp. of Guilty Plea, United
States v. Herrera, No. 10-cr-339-15 (D.D.C. 2014), ECF
No. 64 [hereinafter Stmt. of Offense].
Cuba's State Sponsorship of Terrorism
FARC is a designated foreign terrorist organization existing
and operating primarily in the Republic of Colombia.
See 8 U.S.C. § 1189(a)(1); Pls.' Notice of
Filing App'x Vol. I, ECF No. 16 [hereinafter Pls.'
Ex. List I], U.S. Dep't of State, Patterns of Global
Terrorism: 2001 (May 2002), ECF No. 16-20, at 6. The
group's predominant goal is to overthrow the Colombian
government. Throughout its years of existence, the FARC has
sought to destabilize the existing government through acts of
violence, including murders, hostage takings, and bombings.
See Stmt. of Offense ¶ 2; Pls.' Ex. List I,
U.S. Dep't of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism:
1997 (Apr. 1998), ECF No. 16-16, at 4; Decl. of Expert
Witness Pedro Roig, ECF No. 15 [hereinafter Roig Decl.], at
12. In 1964, the FARC became inspired by the Cuban Revolution
and sought assistance, advice, and support from the Cuban
government. Aff. of Expert Witness Luis Miguel Cote
Gómez, ECF No. 14 [hereinafter Cote Aff.], ¶ 27.
the time period relevant to this lawsuit, Cuba was led by
Fidel and Raul Castro. Id. The Castro brothers
exercised complete control over all matters of government,
which made them, in effect, the Cuban government.
Id. Consequently, the brothers' “decisions
to provide support and resources to . . . the FARC and to
destabilize democracies in Latin America were . . . decisions
made . . . [by] the Cuban government and state.”
See id.; Roig Decl. at 5.
supported the FARC in a number of ways. For example, Cuba
provided military, explosives, and weapons training to FARC
members in camps organized in Venezuela. Cote Aff. ¶ 31;
Roig Decl. at 24. Through their Cuban allies, the FARC also
gained communications training and expertise in intelligence
gathering techniques. See Cote Aff. ¶ 30.
Havana served as a safe haven for FARC members. Id.
¶ 28; Roig Decl. at 14-15. Additionally, through its
relationship with the Venezuelan government, Cuba facilitated
the FARC's ability to move across the
Colombian-Venezuelan border undetected, which made it easier
not only for Cuban officials to provide resources and advice
to the FARC, but also for FARC members to access
international flights, engage in drug trafficking, and evade
international efforts to thwart their operations. Cote Aff.
¶¶ 43, 47; Roig Decl. at 16, 19-20, 25.
Events of February 13, 2003, and Subsequent Years of
Captivity and Torture
February 13, 2003, an aircraft performing a counter-narcotics
surveillance flight over Colombia on behalf of the United
States Embassy came under fire from the FARC and experienced
engine failure. On board were four American civilian
contractors-Tom Janis, Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves, and
Thomas Howes-and one Colombian citizen, Luis Alcides Cruz.
All five passengers survived the crash landing. Shortly
thereafter, FARC members surrounded the aircraft and took the
men hostage, separating Stansell, Howes, and Gonsalves from
Janis and Cruz. The terrorists marched the first group of men
into the jungle, where they would be held captive and
tortured for more than five years. Janis and Cruz were shot,
execution-style, and their bodies left near the crash site.
See Stmt. of Offense ¶¶ 6-7, 8-12, 15;
Cote Aff. ¶¶ 20, 44, 45(a)-(b); Pls.' Notice of
Filing App'x Vol. II, ECF No. 17 [hereinafter Pls.'
Ex. List II], Ex. 1, Aff. of Keith Stansell, ECF No. 17-1
[hereinafter Stansell Aff.], ¶¶ 2, 10; Pls.'
Ex. List II, Ex. 2, Aff. of Marc Gonsalves, ECF No. 17-2
[hereinafter Gonsalves Aff.], ¶¶ 2, 9; Pls.'
Ex. List II, Ex. 3, Aff. of Thomas Howes, ECF No. 17-3
[hereinafter Howes Aff.], ¶¶ 2, 10.
of the FARC informed the hostages that their continued
detention would increase international pressure and allow the
FARC to leverage concessions from the Colombian government in
exchange for their release. Stmt. of Offense ¶ 10. In
late July 2003, the FARC sent a videotape of the hostages to
media outlets in the United States to prove the hostages were
still alive. On the video, the FARC demanded that, in
exchange for the release of the American hostages, Colombia
release all FARC members held in Colombian prisons and create
a demilitarized zone for the FARC. Id. ¶ 11.
their time with the FARC, Stansell, Gonsalves, and Howes
experienced extraordinarily cruel and dehumanizing treatment.
The terrorists forced their hostages to march for miles in
the jungle without the benefit of proper equipment or rest,
going to great lengths to conceal their location and the
hostages' identities. The hostages lost substantial
weight and the pads on the balls of their feet were worn to
the bone as a result of carrying heavy weight on their back
while trekking miles each day in rugged terrain without
proper footwear. Stansell Aff. ¶¶ 4(i), 5;
Gonsalves Aff. ¶¶ 4(i), 5; Howes Aff. ¶¶
4(i), 5. To control the hostages, the FARC used “choke
harnesses, ropes, chains, padlocks, and wires to bind the
[hostages'] necks and wrists.” Stmt. of Offense
¶ 15. The terrorists then chained the hostages to trees
or one another for months or even years at a time. Stansell
Aff. ¶ 4(vi), (x); Gonsalves Aff. ¶ 4(viii); Howes
Aff. ¶ 4(ix). The food the hostages received was rotten,
tainted with gasoline, and stored in containers previously
used to store agricultural chemicals. Howes Aff. ¶ 11.
hostages lived in traumatic and unsanitary conditions. The
FARC kept the men in tight enclosures-such as wooden boxes or
barbed wire cages-without toilet facilities of any kind. If
one of the hostages needed to relieve himself, then he had to
ask permission; the FARC members often humiliated him for
asking or denied permission altogether. The men regularly
were forced to defecate where they were chained, causing the
enclosures to become covered in feces. Stansell Aff. ¶
4(xii); Gonsalves Aff. ¶¶ 4(vii)-(viii); Howes Aff.
Gonsalves, and Howes each suffered from a plethora of
debilitating illnesses. For example, on four different
occasions, Howes suffered from fly larva growing under his
skin that had to be killed by cigarette nicotine and squeezed
from his flesh. Howes Aff. ¶ 4(ii). The water and food
the men received were dirty, causing them regular digestive
problems. Gonsalves Aff. ¶ 4(ii); cf. Stansell
Aff. ¶ 4(i); Howes Aff. ¶ 4(ii). More seriously,
Gonsalves and Howes developed a skin rotting disease called
leishmaniasis. Despite having the medication with which to
treat the infection and seeing the men in great need, the
FARC repeatedly denied them the medication. Gonsalves Aff.
¶ 4(v); Howes Aff. ¶ 4(ii), (v).
medical attention the hostages did receive sometimes caused
more harm than good. For example, Stansell's hip became
infected as a result of receiving spoiled medicine, causing a
baseball-sized cyst to grow, rot, and burst. The FARC cut the
cyst out of Stansell's hip using a scalpel, without any
anesthetic or other pain medication. Stansell Aff. ¶
4(iv). Similarly, although Gonsalves ultimately received the
leishmaniasis medication, the FARC re-used needles for his
treatments, causing him to contract hepatitis. Gonsalves Aff.
¶ 4(v). In an effort to treat the hepatitis, the FARC
injected Gonsalves, against his will, with a variety of
unknown drugs that caused him additional pain and suffering.
members also regularly punished their hostages. Sometimes
they added chains or padlocks to the already heavy chains the
hostages wore. Howes Aff. ¶ 4(ix). They also starved the
hostages while subjecting them to exhausting marches through
the jungle. Gonsalves Aff. ¶ 4(iv); Howes Aff. ¶
4(iv). In one instance in particular, after a fellow hostage
escaped, the FARC punished Stansell, Gonsalves, and Howes by
requiring them to stand in a small space filled with large
drums of gasoline and sealed off by thick gauge black
plastic, forcing them to inhale the gasoline fumes. Gonsalves
Aff. ¶ 4(viii).
addition to harming the hostages physically, the terrorists
also inflicted extreme mental pain and suffering. They forced
Stansell, Gonsalves, and Howes into solitary confinement and
prohibited them from speaking with anyone for months on end,
causing the men to grow hoarse from not using their vocal
chords. Stansell Aff. ¶ 4(v); Gonsalves Aff. ¶
4(iii); Howes Aff. ¶ 6. Although the hostages'
families tried to contact them by sending messages through
the United States Embassy, these messages were never
delivered. Stansell Aff. ¶ 6. Additionally, despite
having access to radios, the terrorists only permitted some
of the men to listen periodically to hear messages from their
families. See Stansell Aff. ¶ 6; Howes Aff.
¶ 6; cf. Gonsalves Aff. ¶ 4(iii). The FARC
also kept the Americans segregated from others, further
isolating them. See Stansell Aff. ¶ 5.
each of the men can recount specific acts that haunt him.
Gonsalves recalls one time being forced to carry a fifty-five
pound backpack across a fallen tree “bridge” at
gunpoint; the bridge gave way while he was halfway across,
causing him to fall more than four meters to the rocky bottom
of a gully. Gonsalves Aff. ¶ 4(i). Despite suffering a
concussion and being unable to move one arm, the FARC forced
Gonsalves to continue to carry the backpack another 15 miles
through the jungle the following day and for the next several
months. Id. Stansell testified that, one night,
while being held in a cage and hearing helicopters overhead,
FARC members stood beside the cage and began discussing how
to kill the hostages. Hearing this, Stansell approached the
terrorists and asked that the FARC members shoot them
cleanly, rather than spray them with gunfire and cause
painful, non-lethal wounds from which they would suffer while
dying. Stansell Aff. ¶ 4(xii). Lastly, Howes remembers
the terrorists threatening to kill not only the hostages, but
also any civilian with whom they came in contact.
Consequently, he testified to the emotional horror of
accidentally encountering a family of five in the jungle and
then later learning that the FARC murdered them all.
See Howes Aff. ¶ 4(vii).
three men lived in constant fear of death. The FARC required
at least one of its members to be physically near the
hostages at all times, and the hostages were explicitly told
that, in the event of a rescue attempt, the guard would shoot
them. Stansell, Gonsalves, and Howes often saw helicopters
flying overhead and witnessed the guards prepare their guns
and position themselves to fire upon the hostages. On other
occasions FARC members approached each hostage and directly
threatened to kill him, sometimes even dry-firing a weapon to
simulate an execution. Stansell Aff. ¶ 4(ix); Gonsalves
Aff. ¶ 4(vi); Howes Aff. ¶ 4(vi).
1, 967 days in captivity, the men were rescued on July 2,
2008, by the Colombian military. Pls.' Ex. List I, Ex.
27, U.S. Dep't of State, Patterns of International
Terrorism 2008 (Apr. 2009), ECF No. 16-27 [hereinafter
Country Reports on Terrorism 2008], at 2.
Victims and the Claimants
Stansell, Marc Gonsalves, and Thomas Howes, are all American
citizens presently residing in Florida. Stansell is a former
United States Marine and served as the mission commander on
the February 13, 2003, counter-narcotics surveillance flight.
Compl., ECF No. 2 [hereinafter Compl.], ¶ 6. Gonsalves
is an electronic surveillance systems specialist and was the
chief counter-narcotics analyst and collection officer on
board. Id. ¶ 7. Howes is a highly experienced
pilot and was second-in-command on the flight. Id.
Janis was an American citizen and, at the time of his death,
a resident of Alabama. Id. ¶ 9. He was a
retired United States Army aviator and spent 11 years as the
Fixed Wing Commander of the U.S. Army's Delta Force.
Janis was the pilot of the plane on which the FARC opened
fire on February 13, 2003. At the time he died, Janis was in
peak physical condition and had a routine of daily physical
fitness. He left behind a spouse of more than 30 years,
Judith Janis, and their four children-Christopher, Greer,
Michael, and Jonathan. Pls.' Ex. List II, Ex. 4, Aff. of
Judith Janis, ECF No. 17-4 [hereinafter Jud. Janis Aff.],
¶¶ 3, 5-7, 14; Compl. ¶ 10-14.
Janis is an American citizen and resident of Alabama.
Christopher Janis is an American citizen who recently retired
from active duty with the United States Army and also resides
in Alabama. Michael Janis is an American citizen currently on
active duty with the United States Army, serving overseas in
Afghanistan. Jonathan Janis, also an American citizen,
resides in California. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11, 13-14. At
the time this lawsuit was filed, Greer Janis was an American
citizen residing in Colorado, but she is now deceased. Her
mother, Judith Janis, represents her estate in this lawsuit.
Suggest. of Death and Unopp'd Mot. to Subst. Proper
Party, ECF No. 22 [hereinafter Mot. to Subst.]; Mot. to
Subst., Death Certificate, ECF No. 22-1 [hereinafter G. Janis
Death Certificate]; Mot. to Subst., Letters of Admin., ECF
22-2; see Van Beneden v. Al-Sanusi, 709 F.3d 1165,
1166 & n.2 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (permitting legal
representative of a deceased petitioner to continue a suit
under the FSIA terrorism exception on behalf of a deceased
Injuries Sustained by the Victims and the Claimants
Stansell suffers from premature deterioration of the discs in
his spine, sensitivity in his feet, and permanent pain in his
right torso as a result of the long, forced marches he had to
endure, at times with broken ribs. He struggles with ongoing
digestive problems, and he had to undergo months-long
treatment for the flesh eating virus he contracted in the
jungle. His time with the FARC left him permanently
disfigured. The flesh eating virus scarred his neck, crotch,
and legs, and the heavy chains he was forced to wear scarred
his neck and shoulders. He still has a knot under the skin on
his right hip where a cyst burst and had to be excised.
Stansell's pain and suffering is not limited to physical
ailments. He mourns the time and life experiences the FARC
stole from him-he missed the birth of his twin sons, many
years of family memories and holidays, and time spent with
loved ones. Lastly, he continues to struggle emotionally with
managing the psychological pain caused by his captivity and
isolation. Stansell Aff. ¶¶ 11-13.
Gonsalves also experiences ongoing physical and emotional
scars as a result of being held hostage. He has physical pain
in his knees, legs, back, and shoulders, as well as frequent
migraines. Gonsalves's short-term memory has been
dramatically reduced, which affects his ability to perform
day-to-day tasks. In addition to insomnia and nightmares,
Gonsalves suffers from various “triggers”-often
sounds or smells-that induce extreme anxiety and nervousness,
as though he is once again being held captive. Helicopters,
in particular, incite panic and make Gonsalves feel as though
he is about to be killed. He cannot be in small spaces or
amongst even moderate-sized groups of people indoors.
Gonsalves's marriage failed as a result of his emotional
instability, and he no longer lives with his children. He
laments the time he could have spent with his children as
they grew up and the active role he wishes he could have
played in raising them. Gonsalves Aff. ¶¶ 10-12.
Howes, too, suffers physically and emotionally as a result of
his time in captivity. He has lived for years with intestinal
parasites, deteriorated eyesight, constant sore throat,
esophageal erosion, leg cramps, and constant pain in his
knees, ankles, and neck. Further, he finds himself consumed
with stress, unable to stop worrying about how his experience
in South America with the FARC will affect his relationships
and professional career. The emotional trauma he suffered
caused his marriage to fail, and he grieves the lost time
with his family. Particularly painful for Howes was the
passing of his father while he was being held by the FARC.
Howes was very close with his father, and in addition to
losing the opportunity to say goodbye to him, Howes is
emotionally scarred by the fact that his father suffered in
his last days from knowing his son was kidnapped. Howes Aff.
Judith Janis were married for more than 30 years, and Tom was
“the love of [Judith's] life.” Jud. Janis
Aff. ¶ 8. The couple raised four children together, and
Judith was proud to be Tom's wife, “knowing that no
matter what life would bring [they] would get through it
together.” Id. ¶ 11. Although Tom
traveled frequently for work in Colombia, the couple never
spent more than 10 days apart. Judith frequently traveled to
Colombia to visit Tom. On the day Tom was murdered, Judith
had been visiting; the couple kissed goodbye in the morning
at the Colombian airport, and Judith boarded a commercial
flight home to Alabama. Id. ¶ 10. Judith
remembers his smile, their kiss, and Tom saying: “See
you in 10 days honey girl.” Id. Judith learned
Tom's plane had crashed from two voicemails left on her
answering machine while she was traveling that day.
Thirty-six hours later, the president of Tom's company
flew to Alabama to tell Judith in person that her husband had
been killed. Id. ¶ 16. Judith spent years
investigating the details of Tom's death. Only upon
Stansell, Gonsalves, and Howes returning to the United States
did Judith learn that the FARC had ordered Tom killed.
Id. ¶ 17. Judith thinks of her late husband
every day and continues to grieve his death, 13 years later.
When she learned of Tom's passing, she “really
didn't believe that life could go on, ” and today
still feels “the other part of [her] is missing.”
Id. ¶ 16. Tom's absence is particularly
pronounced on holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings.
Id. ¶ 19. Judith has not remarried.
Id. ¶¶ 3, 16.
Janis was 30 years old when his father was murdered.
Pls.' Ex. List II, Ex. 5, Aff. of Christopher Janis, ECF
No. 17-5 [hereinafter C. Janis Aff.], ¶¶ 2-3. He
had a “close and loving relationship” with his
father while growing up, and followed in Tom's footsteps
by enlisting in the Army. Id. ¶¶ 4, 9. In
addition to teaching Christopher to drive and to water ski,
Tom shared a special relationship with his son over their
parallel military service. Id. ¶¶ 4-6.
Christopher's last memory of his father is from early
2003, when Tom drove Christopher to the assembly point for
Christopher's deployment to Kuwait. Christopher remembers
his father waving to him through the window of the truck,
smiling. Id. ¶ 7. Christopher learned of his
father's plane crash while in Kuwait, on February 14,
2003. While in the Atlanta International Airport,
Christopher's wife told him his father had died. See
Id. ¶ 11. The news caused Christopher to
immediately lose his breath, become weak in the knees, and
break down crying. He still hates the Atlanta airport today
because of that memory. Id. Christopher's grief
is continuous, particularly now that he has retired from the