Alec Collett

CASE SUMMARY

Collett v. Socialist Peoples’ Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – Civil Action No. 01-2103 (RMU)

  • A four-minute videotape was dropped off at the offices of Beirut-based newspaper An-Nahar, purportedly depicting the execution. Collett’s wife, Elaine, his son, David, and daughter, Suzie Grant, were skeptical about the tape’s authenticity.
  • While the defendants successfully argued that claims could not be pursued against Muammar Qadhafi and the ESO based on certain portions of the law, others were permitted to proceed.

New York-based British-born writer Alec Collett was on temporary assignment for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in Beirut when he was abducted while stopped at a militia checkpoint south of the city in March 1985.

At one point during the time he was held hostage, his captors released a message to the British that Collett’s life was in extreme danger as a result of his kidney issues and that the appropriate medication was needed. This request was ignored.

More than a year later, Libya bombed a West Berlin dance hall that American servicemen were known to frequent. In retaliation, the United States and Britain bombed Tripoli and Benghazi. To answer that attack, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems, known also as the Abu Nidal Organization, hanged Collett, who was at the time 64.

A four-minute videotape was dropped off at the offices of Beirut-based newspaper An-Nahar, purportedly depicting the execution. Collett’s wife, Elaine, his son, David, and daughter, Suzie Grant, were skeptical about the tape’s authenticity. They felt that conspicuously absent from the tape was video of the victim’s hands. This was significant because Collett had only nine fingers.

In 2001, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Michael Engelberg in effectuating the amendment to 28 U.S.C. § 1605 (the Flatow Amendment) allowing victims and their families to pursue solatium and punitive damages for the acts of terrorism they suffered sponsored by foreign states, Mrs. Collett sued the Socialist People’s Arab Jamahiriya (Libya); the Libyan Security Organization; Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi; the Abu Nidal Organization; and certain officials, employees, and agents of Libya, whose exact identities were unknown at that time.

Libya and the other named defendants responded by filing a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, essentially putting forth the argument that the courts and citizens of the United States could not legally judge them as financially responsible for the abduction, confinement, and possible execution of Collett.

The plaintiffs, the collective Colletts, were allowed to amend their complaint, which the defendants again tried to dismiss. While the defendants successfully argued that claims could not be pursued against Muammar Qadhafi and the ESO based on certain portions of the law, others were permitted to proceed. The plaintiffs wished to depose certain defendant witnesses; when this didn’t happen, the plaintiffs sought sanctions and later the court’s permission to file a second amended complaint. Such a filing would have, to a certain degree, pushed the progress of the case back to 2001, when it began, albeit still having gained wisdom and experience from the seven (7) years that had by this time elapsed. 

A decision as to the plaintiff’s request to amend the complaint would not be forthcoming. On July 31, 2008, Congress passed the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, on October 31, 2008, the President issued an Executive Order regarding the settlement of claims against Libya, and on December 5, 2008, the parties stipulated to dismiss the action.

The story was not yet over, as the body of Collett has never been found. The lack of action on the part of the United States, the Collett’s home for the last 20 years that Mr. Collet lived free, still disturbed Mrs. Collett deeply.

Dr. Engelberg, along with a British non-profit organization, took the fight of Mrs. Collett to Parliament, successfully lobbying for the establishment of a resolution compelling the British government to make efforts to find Collett’s body. That same year, Collett’s remains were found and confirmed to be his through DNA testing.

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