AP: Relatives of a former U.S. hostage held in Lebanon were awarded $91 million by a U.S. judge for emotional distress in
a lawsuit filed against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Associated Press
By MARY CLAIRE DALE
PHILADELPHIA Relatives of a former U.S. hostage held in Lebanon were awarded $91 million by a U.S. judge for emotional distress in a lawsuit filed against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The family of Joseph Cicippio expects to recover the award from the U.S. Treasury, as Cicippio and other former U.S. hostages have done, lawyer James J. Oliver said. The government retains the right to pursue the funds from frozen Iranian assets.
“I would gladly return to the way my family was before my father was taken, instead of going through all the trauma we went through,” David Cicippio, 45, of Royersford said Wednesday, recalling his father’s 1986-1991 captivity.
U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr., after a non-jury trial in August, issued a default judgment of $6.5 million to each of Cicippio’s 14 children and siblings. Iran did not respond to the suit, although a Georgetown University law team represented Iran’s interests on an appellate issue.
The Oct. 7 judgment is the latest against Iran for state-sponsored terrorist acts involving U.S. citizens.
Terry Anderson, the former chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, collected about $26 million for his nearly seven years in captivity. Cicippio and his wife, Elham, received $30 million as part of a joint 1998 judgment that awarded $68 million to three hostages.
Washington lawyer Thomas Fortune Fay is currently seeking billions in damages from Iran for a 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut that killed 241 Americans. He has recovered $75 million from frozen Iranian assets for terrorist acts in Israel, Lebanon and elsewhere, he said.
The lawsuits rely on a 1996 U.S. law that allows Americans to sue nations that the State Department lists as sponsors of terrorism. In 2001, the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia ruled that first-degree kin can also sue under the act for duress and loss of companionship, Fay said.
Joseph Cicippio Sr., a Norristown native who worked as a controller for American University in Lebanon, was kidnapped on Sept. 12, 1986 and held until his release in Syria on Dec. 2, 1991. His captors had ties to Hezbollah, the paramilitary group financed and controlled by Iran, U.S. courts have found.
After the kidnapping, Cicippio’s family watched as fellow hostage Lt. Col. William Higgins was executed on television and the captors repeatedly threatened to kill Cicippio next. In one TV appearance, Cicippio read aloud a goodbye note.
Family members said they put their lives on hold for six years, gathering in Norristown when Cicippio was paraded on TV and campaigning tirelessly for his release.
Joseph Cicippio, who lives in the Washington area, did not return a telephone message sent through his family from The Associated Press.
“My father came back in pretty good shape,” David Cicippio said.
One son, Richard, who was in the Navy at the time, still cannot bring himself to read his father’s book, “Chains to Roses: The Joseph Cicippio Story,” the suit said. Another son, Joseph Jr., died of a heart attack at age 35 before seeing his father released.
The State Department is expected to send a translated copy of the judgment order to Iran through diplomatic channels, according to the judge’s order.
“A lot of other hostage families have received it (the money), so we should be entitled to receive it also,” said Thomas Cicippio, 82, who served as a family spokesman during his brother’s ordeal.
The extended family has no idea when it might see the money, and no specific plans for its use, David Cicippio said.
“That was like a hurricane that beat upon our family,” he said. “You felt it from the time you woke up in the morning — you saw it on the news, you saw it on the street with people talking to you, it was the last thing you thought of before you went to bed.”