The family of a naturalized American citizen who was arrested, tortured, and executed in Iran, have won a $466 million judgment in U.S. federal court against the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the intelligence ministry, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Former Iranian air force officer Siavash Bayani was executed in August 1997, two years after returning to Iran to care for his terminally-ill mother.
He was repeatedly tortured during his detention in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, according to testimony by family members presented during emotionally-charged court hearings in Washington, DC.
A government newspaper, Salam, alleged that Bayani was executed because he had worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.
But according to U.S. District Court judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., Bayani “was never employed by the Central Intelligence Agency or any other U.S. government agency and never received money from the U.S. government for information about the Islamic regime in Iran or for any other services.”
The judgment, handed down on December 28, comes on the heels of more than $6 billion in compensatory and punitive damages awarded victims of state-sponsored terrorist acts in U.S. courts, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service.
“This judgment sets several precedents,” said Zohreh Mizrahi, a Los Angeles attorney who represented the Bayani family in the lawsuit against Iran.
“This is the first case involving a U.S. citizen who was killed by the Iranian government on Iranian soil. It is also the first case against the Revolutionary Guards Corps since they have been designated as a terrorist entity by the U.S. government. “
Judge Kennedy awarded the Bayani family $400 million in punitive damages. “That is the highest amount ever awarded to a victim of Iranian-government terrorism,” Ms. Mizrahi said.
Judge Kennedy was visibly affected when Fatemeh Bayani recounted how she and her husband had returned to Iran in February 1995, believing that the government of “moderate” president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani would uphold its pledge to allow exiles to return home.
Upon arrival at Mehrebad airport in Tehran, the authorities confiscated Siavash Bayani’s United States passport.
Five months later, he returned home from a job interview and told his wife it was no longer safe for her to stay in Tehran.
She left Iran on July 17, 1995. The next day, Siavash was arrested and taken to Evin prison, where he was held incommunicado for over a year.
In the months before he was killed, the prison authorities lured Bayani and his family into believing that they could buy his freedom.
Fatemeh and Bayani’s mother “collected the family’s life savings, withdrew the maximum amounts from their credit cards, and took out loans from friends and relatives,” Judge Kennedy wrote in his account of the case. “These efforts yielded $95,000,” which Fatemeh sent to Bayani’s mother in Tehran, “so that she could pay government officials.”
When she was allowed to visit her son in prison, she was stunned because he had lost nearly half his normal weight, and his body was covered in bruises.
Bayani was hung by the neck in prison only hours after his mother died and could no longer make payments to prison officials.
Until now, the Iranian government has refused to appear in court and has pretended not to notice the lawsuits.
When notice of the judgment was presented to the offices of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security in Tehran last week, an official wrote that he “could not accept” service, and signed his name.
“That sure sounds like getting served to me,” said Thomas Fortune Fay, a lawyer who successfully litigated on behalf of the family of Alisa Flatow, a 20-year old university student from New Jersey who was killed by an Iranian-backed suicide bomber in Gaza in 1995.
Since the Flatow case in 1996, fifteen other defendants have won judgments against the Islamic Republic of Iran and received partial payment out of Iranian government funds that had been frozen by the United States Treasury since 1979.
The largest pool of frozen assets was Iran’s Foreign Military Sales account, which was paid out in December 2000 to the victims following strongly bipartisan legislation.
On December 14, Congress passed new legislation as part of the Defense Authorization bill that would expand the right of victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue those governments and their agents
“The tangible effect is to allow us to go after real estate,” said Fay. “Going after anything else is like trying to shoot a speedy pigeon with a BB gun, they’re moving things around so fast.”
President Bush indicated on December 28 that he intended to veto the bill because the terrorism-related sections “would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at a crucial juncture in that nation's reconstruction efforts and because it would undermine the foreign policy and commercial interests of the United States.”
Fay, who helped draft those provisions, pointed out that they only apply to countries on the terrorist list, “and Iraq was taken off the terrorist list in 2003.”
President Bush said he intended to work with Congress to find a solution to shelter the Development Fund of Iraq, the Central Bank of Iraq, and “commercial entities in the United States in which Iraq has an interest” from potential lawsuits dating from the Saddam era, indicating that he would allow the main elements of the law to stand.
So far, the Iranian government has not been forced to make good on the $6 billion price tag the terrorism-related lawsuits have brought, because it has moved its assets to countries that do not recognize the U.S. court judgments.
But lawyer Thomas Fortune Fay believes that the leadership of the Islamic Republic “is having second thoughts whether they should continue” the wide-open support for terrorist groups that has been their trademark.
“They are trying to bury anything that would identify them as the ones who did it,” he said.
Dr. Kenneth Katzman, an Iran analyst with the Congressional Research Service, believes that combined with United Nations economic sanctions, and U.S. efforts to restrict Iran’s access to international financial markets, the pressure is beginning to have an impact.
“Business owners are having to deal in cash, because they can’t get banks to issue letters of credit. The Oil ministry is finding it harder to find international partners for their development projects. So far, it’s all anecdotal evidence. But there is a lot of it,” Dr Katzman told Newsmax.
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