United States District Court, District of Columbia
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case arises from the kidnapping, torture, and murder of S.F.
in Baghdad, Iraq in May 2006. The estate and family members
of the deceased claim that he was kidnapped, tortured, and
murdered by the Badr Organization of Reconstruction and
Development (“Badr Organization”). Proceeding
under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
(“FSIA”), Plaintiffs allege that Defendant the
Islamic Republic of Iran (“Iran”) formed,
trained, funded, supplied, and directed the Badr Organization
and accordingly should be held liable for the kidnapping,
torture, and death of S.F. The Court agrees.
has not answered or otherwise participated in this
litigation. The case accordingly proceeded in a default
setting. The Court held a liability hearing on December 5,
2019. Upon consideration of the pleadings, the relevant legal
authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court now
determines that Plaintiffs have established their claims by
evidence satisfactory to the Court. Accordingly, the Court
will GRANT default judgment against Iran as to all Plaintiffs
with the exception of Plaintiff B.S. The Court has made
findings as to the effects of S.F.'s kidnapping, torture,
and murder on Plaintiffs. The Court will refer the issue of
specific money damages to Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey.
filed this lawsuit on August 10, 2018. Compl., ECF No. 1. On
the Court's order, between August 2018 and May 2019
Plaintiffs filed a series of status reports updating the
Court on their efforts to effectuate service on Iran. ECF
Nos. 11, 17, 21, 24. On May 10, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a Status
Report informing the Court that they had completed service
through foreign mailing and diplomatic service. ECF No. 24.
Plaintiffs requested entry of default which was granted by
the Clerk of the Court on May 10, 2019. ECF No. 25.
Court held a liability hearing on December 5, 2019, at which
Plaintiffs offered documentary evidence, and presented the
testimony of fact and expert witnesses. The two fact
witnesses were Plaintiffs M.S. and S.S., S.F.'s two
eldest sons. The two expert witnesses were Stuart Bowen and
Michael Pregent, both senior fellows on intelligence
operations in the Middle East with the Hudson Institute. This
hearing primarily concerned Defendants' liability.
However, the two fact witnesses also presented evidence as to
their damages. The remaining Plaintiffs have filed affidavits
as to their damages.
entry of default judgment is governed by Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 55. “The determination of whether a
default judgment is appropriate is committed to the
discretion of the trial court.” Hanley-Wood LLC v.
Hanley Wood LLC, 783 F.Supp.2d 147, 150 (D.D.C. 2011)
(citing Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C.
Cir. 1980)). Before granting default judgment, the Court must
satisfy itself of its jurisdiction, and “[t]he party
seeking default judgment has the burden of establishing both
subject matter jurisdiction over the claims and personal
jurisdiction over the defendants.” Thuneibat v.
Syrian Arab Republic, 167 F.Supp.3d 22, 33 (D.D.C.
the FSIA specifically, this Court cannot enter default
judgment against a foreign state “unless the claimant
establishes his claim or right to relief by evidence
satisfactory to the court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e);
see Roeder v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 333 F.3d
228, 232 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (“The court . . . has an
obligation to satisfy itself that plaintiffs have established
a right to relief.”). “[T]he FSIA leaves it to
the court to determine precisely how much and what kinds of
evidence the plaintiff must provide, ” Han Kim v.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 774 F.3d
1044, 1047 (D.C. Cir. 2014), and “[u]ncontroverted
factual allegations that are supported by admissible evidence
are taken as true, ” Thuneibat, 167 F.Supp.3d
FINDINGS OF FACT
following Findings of Fact recount horrific events. They
detail the kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killing of
an Iraqi contractor purposefully targeted because of the
services he was performing for the United States. As
discussed further below, in addition to expert testimony
received by the Court, two of S.F.'s sons, M.S. and S.S.,
testified at the Court's December 5, 2019 hearing
regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of S.F. as
well as the effect that his death has had on their lives. The
Court appreciates that testifying was extremely difficult for
both witnesses, as it required them to publicly revisit what
was likely the most tragic event in their lives. The Court
further expresses its admiration for the witnesses, both of
whom faced extraordinarily difficult circumstances and have
gone on to become United States citizens and productive
members of our society. Both witnesses explained that, in
bringing this lawsuit, they hoped to “honor [their]
dad's legacy.” Tr. 103: 20-21. They further
expressed that they “believe in [the] rule of
law” and seek to hold Iran responsible for their
father's kidnapping, torture, and untimely death through
the United States justice system. Tr. 103: 19. The Court
hopes that the results of this lawsuit may provide Plaintiffs
some measure of closure moving forward.
The Court's Findings of Fact
Court's Findings of Fact are based on testimony presented
at the liability hearing held in this matter on December 5,
2019, as well as evidence submitted at and prior to that
hearing. The Court's findings fall into two overarching
categories: (1) the Badr Organization and Iran's material
support for it, and (2) how that support resulted in the
kidnapping, torture, and death of S.F.
Iran's Material Support for the Badr
Court finds that Iran provided material support to the Badr
Organization throughout the relevant time period. In making
this determination, the Court considers the testimony of
experts Stuart Bowen and Michael Pregent as well as the
expert affidavit of Mr. Bowen. Having considered the
requirements set forth in Federal Rule of Evidence 702 for
the admission of expert testimony, at the December 5, 2019
hearing, the Court qualified Mr. Bowen as an expert in the
following areas: Iraqi politics after the overthrow of Saddam
Hussein, including Iraqi political factions and the influence
of the Shia militias; the history of the Shia militia
insurgencies in post-invasion Iraq; and Iranian influence in
Iraq, particularly through the Badr Organization. Tr. 174:
17-25. The Court also qualified Mr. Pregent as an expert in
the following areas: Shia militias in Iraq, including the
Badr Organization; and Iranian influence within the Iraqi
government following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Tr.
called the Badr Brigade, the Badr Organization was founded by
Hadi al-Amiri in 1982 as the military wing of the Supreme
Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq
(“SCIRI”). Expert Affidavit of Stuart Bowen, ECF
No. 29-1, ¶ 15. Al-Amiri had dual citizenship with Iraq
and Iran. Tr. 178: 17-18. Initially, Al-Amiri and the Badr
Organization fought for Iran against Iraq in the Iran-Iraq
War from 1981 through 1988. Expert Affidavit of Stuart Bowen,
ECF No. 29-1, ¶ 17; Ex. 13, Colonel Joel D. Rayburn et
al., The U.S. Army in the Iraq War: Volume 1 2003-2006 14
(2019) (explaining that the Badr Organization was
“[f]ormed by the Iranian regime during the Iran-Iraq
war”). The Badr Organization received support from
SCIRI and its leader, who was exiled in Iran. Expert
Affidavit of Stuart Bowen, ECF No. 29-1, ¶ 17. The Badr
Organization was further “funded, equipped, trained,
and initially led by Iran.” Id. at ¶ 37.
All members of the Badr Organization must swear loyalty to
the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. Tr. 178: 5-7.
the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Badr Organization supported
efforts within Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and the Sunni
ruling class. Iran continued to provide support to the Badr
Organization in these efforts. Ex. 13, Colonel Joel D.
Rayburn et al., The U.S. Army in the Iraq War: Volume 1
2003-2006 181 (2019). Iran directly sponsored the Badr
Organization's activities in Iraq, including the
gathering of intelligence and acts of sabotage and subversion
in the Shia South of Iraq. Id. at 14.
2003, a coalition army, led primarily by the United States,
invaded Iraq and ended the rule of Hussein. During this time,
the Badr Organization attempted to take advantage of
Hussein's overthrow and the power vacuum which remained.
The Badr Organization developed lists of Hussein loyalists to
target and organized death squads to hunt and kill Sunni
leaders as well as Shias who collaborated with the United
States and its allies. Id. at 125-26. Iran continued
to fund and support the Badr Organization during this time.
Expert Affidavit of Stuart Bowen, ECF No. 29-1, ¶ 37.
Iran saw advantages to the fall of Hussein and his Sunni
ruling majority, Iran intoned that “it was unlikely
that the United States would establish a new Iraqi Government
friendly to Iran.” Ex. 13, Colonel Joel D. Rayburn et
al., The U.S. Army in the Iraq War: Volume 1 2003-2006 187
(2019). “To Iranian eyes, if the United States retained
a close relationship with a democratic Iraq, the new Iraq
might become an American platform for targeting the Iranian
regime.” Id.; Tr. 176: 11-13 (“I think
the strategy from Iran was to establish a Shia crescent
across the norther Middle East from Persia, Iran, through
Iraq”). In order to prevent a new Iraqi government from
allying itself closely with the United States, Iran developed
a strategy to tie itself closer to Iraq while simultaneously
separating Iraq from the United States. Id.
“This strategy involved creating instability inside
Iraq, placing the responsibility for the chaos on the United
States and its Iraqi partners, and ensuring pro-Iranian
politicians dominated the new Iraqi Government.”
Id. In order to further this strategy, Iran
supported Shia political parties and militias, such as the
Badr Organization. Id. Through its long-standing
relationship with the Badr Organization, Iran already had an
extensive support network within Iraq which was used to sow
instability and hinder the United States' efforts at
was particularly successful in infiltrating Iraqi law
enforcement, including the local, national, and special
police, through Bayan Jabr in his position as head of the
Ministry of the Interior (“MOI”). Tr. 226: 11-12
(explaining that “the Ministry of Interior continues to
this day to be a Badr entity”). Jabr had been a member
of the Badr Organization since its inception. He fought for
Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and is a dual citizen of Iran
and Iraq. Tr. 172: 22-23; 178: 23-25. As head of the MOI,
Jabr cleared the MOI of any Sunni leaders, killing many of
them. Tr. 182: 1-12. Jabr further brought many of his Badr
Organization associates “to work for him in the
Ministry of the Interior and many of them carried out his
lethal and illegal business.” Tr. 172: 24-173: 1. Under
Jabr, the MOI developed special police forces that formed
death squads and killed Sunnis as well as Shias who were
working with the United States. Tr. 184: 1-16; Expert
Affidavit of Stuart Bowen, ECF No. 29-1, ¶ 22
(“Iraqi leaders later related to me that Minister Bayan
Jabr approved the torture and killing that occurred under the
MOI's aegis”). In addition to killing, the MOI also
engaged in torture and “the use of power drills was
infamously associated with the [MOI's] torture.”
Tr. 190: 5-7.
the relevant period, Iran continued to exert its influence
over the MOI through the Badr Organization. Iran trained Badr
Organization members in Iran. Tr. 186: 12; Ex. 13, Colonel
Joel D. Rayburn et al., The U.S. Army in the Iraq War: Volume
1 2003-2006 392 (2019). Following training, some members were
sent back to Iraq to work with Jabr in the MOI. Tr. 186:
13-17. Additionally, Iran provided weapons to the Badr
Organization. Tr. 186: 18-19. Throughout this time, there was
“direct Iranian influences over Iraqi-Shia militant
activities, ” including over the activities of the Badr
Organization. Expert Affidavit of Stuart Bowen, ECF No. 29-1,
the attacks on Sunnis and Shia Iraqis working with the United
States throughout the relevant period were directed by Iran
through its influence over the MOI and the Badr Organization.
While Iran did not launch direct attacks in Iraq, its support
for the Badr Organization allowed it to “exact revenge
on Sunni leaders and manipulate the new Iraqi
Government.” Ex. 13, Colonel Joel D. Rayburn et al.,
The U.S. Army in the Iraq War: Volume 1 2003-2006 392 (2019).
Iran operated with the goal of exerting its influence over
Iraq and weakening the United States' power in Iraq.
The Badr Organization, Materially Supported by Iran,
Kidnapped, Tortured, and Killed S.F.
the Court finds that the Badr Organization, supported by
Iran, is responsible for the kidnapping, torture, and death
the relevant time period, S.F. owned and operated a
contracting company based in Baghdad, Iraq. Dec. of M.S., ECF
No. 29-2, ¶ 9. S.F.'s family, who are Sunni Muslims,
were actively involved in his company. In addition to being
medical doctors, S.F.'s two eldest sons, M.S. and S.S.,
worked at the contracting company with S.F. Id. at
¶ 13; Dec. of S.S., ECF No. 29-4, ¶ 7. His third
son, B.A., worked with the engineering team at S.F.'s
company. Dec. of B.A., ECF No. 29-6, ¶ 7. And,
S.F.'s youngest son, S.A., had a paid internship with the
company. Dec. of S.A., ECF No. 29-5, ¶ 8.
2003, following the fall of Hussein, the company began
working with the Coalition Provisional Authority,
particularly the United States, to assist in the rebuilding
of Iraq. Dec. of M.S., ECF No. 29-2, ¶ 14. S.F. and his
family knew that it could be dangerous to work with the
United States based on the antipathy some Iraqis felt towards
the United States. Tr. 23: 20-25. Nevertheless, S.F. decided
to take on this work because “he believed this [was
his] opportunity to rebuild the country, [and] help the
Americans to establish … a democratic system.”
Tr. 23: 8-10.
company began its work with the United States by constructing
a new building for the Commission on Public Integrity
(“CPI”). The purpose of the CPI was to target bad
practices and corruption in the Iraqi government. Tr. 24:
11-15. S.F.'s company built two projects for the CPI.
S.F. “believed that it [was] a good legacy for him to
engage with [anti-corruption], even though [he would] not
have any profit” from the projects. Tr. 24: 16-20.
These projects were built inside the green zone in Baghdad,
and S.F.'s participation in the construction, as well as
the purpose of the buildings, was known to few. Tr. 25: 6-26:
2. One department in the Iraqi government knew of S.F.'s
role in the projects-the Ministry of Housing and
Reconstruction. Tr. 26: 24-25. The head of the Ministry of
Housing and Reconstruction at the time was Jabr, a known
member of the Badr Organization who later became the head of
the MOI. 27: 7-13.
S.F.'s company successfully and timely completed their
work for the CPI, S.F. was encouraged to apply for other
contracts with the United States. Tr. 31: 10-15. Ultimately,
S.F.'s company was given a multiple award task contract
to complete reconstruction work in Iraq on behalf of the
United States. Tr. 31: 20-23; Ex. 1 (multiple award task
order contract). Under the contract, S.F.'s company was
given multiple tasks in furtherance of the reconstruction
effort. Each task was valued at a certain amount of money,
and if the task was completed on time, the company would be
compensated and could move to the next task. Tr. 33: 7-18.
The tasks primarily related to rebuilding and refurbishing
the electricity grid in Baghdad. Tr. 33: 21-22.
company began working on the multiple award task contract
with the United States in early 2006. The year 2006 was a
particularly bad time for sectarian violence in Iraq. Expert
Affidavit of Stuart Bowen, ECF No. 29-1, ¶ 21. During
this time, the situation in Baghdad was volatile due to the
bombing of one of the holiest Shia sites. Id. at
¶ 34. Attacks between Shias and Sunnis escalated as did
attacks on United States personnel. Id. S.F.'s
work on the electrical grid was particularly dangerous
because Iran, through militias including the Badr
Organization, was attempting to sabotage the United
States' reconstruction work in Iraq. Id. at
¶ 35; Tr. 40: 9-15. S.F. was aware of this increase in
violence and took precautions in an attempt to secure the
safety of his workers, his family, and himself. Tr. 38:
these precautions, shortly after beginning work on the
electrical grid, one of S.F.'s chief engineers was
kidnapped by the Badr Organization. Tr. 40: 25, 44: 11-16;
Ex. 9 (emails regarding kidnapping). Witnesses reported that
the kidnappers were wearing clothing with an emblem on their
shoulders identifying them as part of the Badr Organization.
Tr. 47: 11-19. After paying a ransom, the engineer was
eventually released. Tr. 44: 6-10. The engineer was told that
“if he continue[d] to work on the electricity grid he
[would] lose his life and his family's life as
well.” Tr. 44: 8-10. The engineer quit and moved his
family from Iraq. Tr. 44: 18-19. Importantly, the engineer
was Christian, creating an inference that he was targeted for
his work with the United States rather than based on
sectarian violence. Tr. 41: 6-8. In addition to the
kidnapping, a car bomb was set off near the company's
offices. Tr. 48: 10-16; Ex. 10 (emails relating to the car
bomb). Again, the car bomb was linked to the Badr
Organization's attempt to force S.F.'s company to
stop working with the United States. Tr. 50: 4-11.
these attacks, S.F. and his family decided “to move
forward … with the projects and help the
Americans.” Tr. 45: 4-5; Ex. 9 (“we still want to
work with you in[ ]spite of all the risks taken”).
However, the company continued to take more steps in an
attempt to make the working environment safer. Tr. 45: 17-23.
the sectarian violence and continued disruptions in Iraq, in
April 2006, S.F. realized that he would require another
supplier in order to have secured access to the materials
needed to rebuild the electricity grid. Tr. 53: 2-11. S.F.
contacted his longtime friend, Abu Ali, for assistance in
locating a new supplier for the materials. Tr. 54: 8-10. Ali
worked with Turkish companies who could access safer routes
to deliver the necessary materials. Tr. 55: 3-16. In late
April 2006, S.F. and Ali began negotiations for a contract
for these supplies. Tr. 55: 17-21.
11, 2006, the date of S.F.'s kidnapping, S.F. planned to
meet Ali for lunch at Ali's office in order to finalize
an initial agreement for the materials. Tr. 55: 22-56: 4.
Following the morning at work, S.F. sent his son, M.S., home
so that S.F. could go to lunch with Ali and a Turkish
representative. Tr. 56: 8-19. M.S. took a taxi home and left
the family car with S.F. so that he could drive to his lunch
at Ali's office. Tr. 57: 20-21; Supplemental Dec. of
M.S., ECF No. 31-1, ¶¶ 10-13.
family first became concerned when he did not arrive home at
his usual time in the late afternoon. Tr. 58: 3-5. S.F.'s
family repeatedly called his cellphone, but S.F. did not
answer. Tr. 58: 11-13. The family then called Ali, but Ali
reported that S.F. had failed to show up for lunch. Tr. 58:
16-17. M.S. worried that S.F. had gotten into a car accident
on the way to Ali's office and began calling the
hospitals. Tr. 58: 18-24.
asked Ali to send one of his workers to check near the office
to see if an accident had occurred. Tr. 59: 6-8. Ali later
told the family that S.F. had been stopped at a police check
point and had been taken. Tr. 59: 11-13. Ali learned this
information by walking the streets and asking shop owners if
they had seen anything. Tr. 63: 1-7.
the evening of May 11, 2006, S.F.'s family continued
making calls to his cellphone. Eventually, someone picked up
S.F.'s cellphone and stated that they had S.F. The person
further instructed that he would call back and that ...