Imprisoned Americans Awarded Millions From Iraq

Four Americans who were imprisoned for up to six months by Iraq after the Gulf War are getting revenge against Saddam Hussein's regime — by hitting it in the pocketbook.

A federal judge in Houston has ruled that Iraq owes David Daliberti, Bill Barloon, Chad Hall and Kenneth Beaty and their wives a collective sum of almost $19 million for the pains the men suffered in captivity.

All four men were civilians when they were imprisoned, and say they never intentionally trespassed on Iraqi soil. One says he was kidnapped from Kuwaiti territory and taken across the border.

All four say they have post-traumatic stress syndrome from their time in prison. "Their lives have been shattered," said Andrew Hall, a lawyer for the four men. He is not related to Chad Hall.

The men say they have found it hard to work or find work, suffer from nightmares, are unable to maintain close relationships, and have phobias.

Beaty was awarded $4,235,441, Daliberti $3,848,559, Barloon $2,942,285 and Chad Hall $1,797,004. Each of the men's wives received $1.5 million. The judge ruled the wives were due financial damages for the effect the men's ordeals had on their marriages.

"I don't think this is compensation for what I went through, but it would help with financial security for my wife and children," Beaty told The Associated Press after the court ruling on Tuesday.

Andrew Hall was more congratulatory. "Today is a great day for Americans who are the victims of terrorism," the lawyer said after the judgment. "We now have a tool where we can fight back."

Tales of Their Ordeal

Daliberti and Barloon say the nightmare began for them on March 13, 1995.

The two were working as civilian defense contractors for the government of Kuwait when they say they mistakenly crossed a border checkpoint from Kuwait into Iraq.

When they realized where they were, they immediately tried to turn around, but the border guards refused to let them exit, and they were imprisoned for illegal entry into Iraq, they say.

They were sentenced to eight years in prison, held under horrible conditions — blindfolded, interrogated and subjected to physical, mental and verbal abuse, according to their suit.

Daliberti had a cocked gun placed against his head, and suffered seizures in prison from lack of medical attention, he says.

They were freed after 126 days, after then-Rep. Bill Richardson met with Saddam to secure their release.

The Tease of Freedom

Beaty had been working as a drilling rig supervisor on April 25, 1993, when he says he was taken captive by Iraqi boder guards.

But Beaty's imprisonment was especially torturous. He says he was confined at one point for 11 days in a prison cell with no water, toilet or bed.

Eventually, he got a trial, and was found not guilty of illegal entry and espionage. But when he returned to prison to retrieve his personal belongings, he was ordered back to the courtroom and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Beaty spent 205 days in captivity, and was only freed when his wife raised a ransom of $5 million worth of medical goods to obtain his release.

The lawsuit's final litigant, Chad Hall, a former major in the U.S. Army working as a civilian bomb disposal specialist in Kuwait, spent five days in Iraqi captivity.

He says he was kidnapped at gunpoint in Kuwait, and taken into Iraq, and confined in a prison cell for four days with no lights, window, water, toilet, or proper bed.

A Change to Long-Held Beliefs

The four men's judgment against Iraq is a rare occassion, because international law has long held that foreign states were immune to lawsuits by individuals.

But in 1996, Congress amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to allow lawsuits against foreign nations for committing acts of terrorism.

Since then several people have won judgments. The first went to families of three American pilots in the anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue. The families won $183 million after the Cuban military downed the pilots' planes in 1996, killing them.

Soon after, the family of American college student Alisa Flatow won $247.5 million in damages from Iran, after Flatow was killed in a suicide bus bombing in the Gaza Strip in April 1995.

The payments were made after Washington released money from assets belonging to the governments of Cuba and Iran that had been frozen by the U.S government for decades to pay the lawsuits against those countries.

Some have criticized the nature of these awards, because the countries in question aren't punished when the United States takes the damages out of frozen accounts.

Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Eizenstat told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 27, 1999, that awards like the ones given to Brothers to the Rescue might discriminate against thousands of other Americans with long-standing claims against Cuba.

And collection can be difficult. Washington has traditionally worried that seizing foreign properties in the United States could lead to retaliation against U.S. diplomatic properties abroad.

"There's no circumstance more draconian or nightmarish than to provide a remedy and then to say having relied on our system of justice, 'congratulations but it was just an exercise in futility — but there's no money for you,'" Andrew Hall said.