Washington Babylon — February 14, 2008, 3:47 pm

Department of Irony: United States backs Iran in lawsuit over murdered American

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) makes it difficult to sue foreign governments in U.S. courts for crimes committed against American citizens, including murder and torture. The U.S. government has frequently cited the FSIA in opposing lawsuits against foreign regimes, saying it would open the door to similar cases against American government agencies, like potential lawsuits against the CIA for renditions.

In one high profile case, Congress in the mid-1990s granted an exemption from the FSIA to two Americans who had been tortured by Saudi Arabian security agents. The Clinton White House stepped in at the last minute and reversed the exemption.

The Saudi case prompted a mild uproar, and Congress soon amended the FSIA so as to allow lawsuits against countries listed by the State Department as being sponsors of terrorism. In a curious twist, the Bush Administration is currently siding with Iran, which it has made Public Enemy No. 1, in a case involving a man allegedly killed by Iranian agents.

The case involves Cyrus Elahi, a U.S. citizen and Iranian dissident who in 1990 was shot and killed in front of his Paris apartment by Iranian operatives linked to Teheran. A decade later, Dariush Elahi, Cyrus’s brother, brought a wrongful death action against Iran in U.S. District Court in Washington. Elahi’s lawyer argued that the FSIA did not apply because the Iranian agents did not officially work for their government. The judge agreed and entered a default judgment against Iran for $11.7 million in compensatory damages and $300 million for punitive damages. (Note: the legal arguments in the case are complex and the summary included here is the “Cliff Notes” version. For those interested in the nuts and bolts, see “Plaintiff May Attach Iranian Default Judgment” from the website Embassy Law.)

Ever since then, Dariush Elahi has sought to collect the judgment, which Iran has rejected. In 2001, Elahi sought $2.8 million that the Iranian Ministry of Defense (MOD) had won in a lawsuit alleging breach of contract against an American weapons manufacturer, Cubic Defense Systems, in a deal that dated to the 1970s when the Shah was in power. Iran appealed but finally, last May, the 9th Circuit court ruled that Elahi had a right to the money, rejecting arguments submitted by the Justice Department on Iran’s behalf.

On Friday, the Supreme Court is supposed to decide whether it should review the case, as Iran has requested. Jonathan Mook, Elahi’s attorney, said that if the Supreme Court agrees to examine the case, the Bush Administration will almost surely file an amicus brief with the Court on Iran’s behalf, citing the FSIA. “The U.S. has fought tooth and nail and has done everything in its power to prevent collection” by Elahi, he said.

While the legal and political principles involved in the case are murky, the irony of the Bush Administration siding with Iran is indisputably striking.


This story was written with the help of Taimur Khan.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

Gateway to Freedom

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Guns and Poses

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Christmas in Prison

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Poison Apples

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Growing Up

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Beeper World·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The beeper, for a certain kind of Miami teenager in the Nineties, was an essential evolutionary adaptation.”
Photograph by Curran Hatleberg
Article
Hammer Island·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The place could have sprung from someone’s jealous dream about white people.”
Photograph by Emily Stein
Article
Growing Up·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The best coming-of-age stories have a hole in the middle. They pretend to be about knowledge, but they are usually about grasping, long after it could be of any use, one’s irretrievable ignorance.”
Photograph by Ben Pier
Article
Guns and Poses·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘It’s open shopping,’ he said. ‘A warehouse. The whole of Libya.’”
Map by Mike Reagan
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Amount that President Obama has added to America’s “brand value” according to the Nation Brands Index:

$2,100,000,000,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

A Utah woman named Cameo Crispi pleaded guilty to having drunkenly attempted to burn down her ex-boyfriend’s house by igniting bacon on his kitchen stove.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today