U.S. court rules against Iran, in favor of widow
By Tom Ramstack
January 1, 2008
The widow of a naturalized American citizen won a $466 million federal court judgment Friday against the Iranian government, which she accuses of torturing and executing her husband.
An Iranian military court said the man, Siavash Bayani, engaged in "disgraceful activities — spying for the Great Satan, America." He was hanged in August 1997 at Evin prison outside Tehran.
The judgment in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia raises political questions about the extent to which U.S. courts can exercise authority over foreign governments.
U.S. courts have issued several rulings against the Iranian government, including a $2.7 billion judgment for the families of Marines killed by the 1983 bombing of their barracks in Beirut, $13 million for the family of an American woman killed by a 2002 bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and $254 million for the families of Air Force members killed in a 1996 terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia.
U.S. court judgments against Iran for acts of terrorism total more than $6 billion, according to congressional records.
The State Department has not reacted to the Bayani ruling.
The federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act normally bars U.S. courts from judgments involving foreign governments. The law reserves political issues to the president and Congress. "This action is brought pursuant to the 'terrorism exception' to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act," U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. wrote. The exception gives U.S. courts authority over cases involving terrorism or torture by foreign governments.
Mr. Bayani was an Iranian who came to the United States as a college student but returned to Iran to join the Iranian air force. His government sent him to the United States in 1977 to supervise Iranian students studying at the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.
Mr. Bayani, his wife, Fatameh, and their two children were granted asylum in the United States in 1984 during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Mr. Bayani and his wife received American citizenship on Oct. 20, 1994.
The family returned to Iran on Feb. 2, 1995, as Mr. Bayani's mother became gravely ill. Five months later, he returned from a job interview to tell his wife that she should leave Iran immediately with their children. He gave no detailed explanation.
Mrs. Bayani and her children flew to the United States on July 17, 1995. The next day, her husband was arrested and accused of being a CIA informant.
"Siavash, in fact, 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 court's ruling said.
After Mr. Bayani's arrest, his family was unable to contact him for a year. In August 1996, he was allowed to telephone his family for "eight to 10 minutes" while interrogators listened in, the court record says. He told of being tortured and warned his wife not to return to Iran. He repeated the warnings in letters.
A few months after Mr. Bayani telephoned his family, Iranian "government officials contacted Siavash's mother and offered to help gain his release in exchange for large sums of money in U.S. dollars," the ruling said. Mrs. Bayani used the family's life savings, withdrew the maximum amount from her credit cards and took out loans from family and friends.
"These efforts yielded $95,000, which she sent to Siavash's mother so that she could pay government officials to gain access to Siavash," Judge Kennedy wrote.
"A few months later, Siavash's mother-in-law received a phone call from an Iranian government official, notifying her that Siavash had been hung by the neck until dead," Judge Kennedy wrote. "The execution took place only hours after Siavash's mother had died."
The court's judgment awarded $66.3 million in damages to the family, whom it characterized as suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. It went on to say, "Punitive damages shall be assessed against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp." for $400 million.