Higgins

CASE SUMMARY

William Richard Higgins v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., Case No.: 99-00377 (D.D.C. 2000)
The Colonel

  • Dr. Engelberg used his intelligence connections to collect facts about the involvement of the Iranian, Syrian, and Russian governments in the atrocities and the methods used to extract information, bolstering the case and supporting the amount awarded.
  • It was not clear at that time if a member of the armed services would be eligible to bring suit against those responsible under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. 
  • By order dated September 21, 2002, as compensation for the 529 days he was held and tortured, Lt. Colonel Higgins, along with her daughter with Colonel Higgins, were awarded $57 million.

Colonel William Richard Higgins, a highly decorated career Marine from Kentucky, had one more tour in Vietnam than he had master’s degrees (three and two, respectively). His wealth of experience and education resulted in his selection as the right person to go to Lebanon on a peacekeeping mission for the United Nations. 

On February 17, 1988, the Colonel was driving down a dusty road, when another vehicle suddenly pulled in front of his car, abruptly stopped, and blocked his path forward. The Colonel, who was driving alone, was forcefully abducted by armed members of Hezbollah, a Palestinian terrorist organization materially supported by Iran.

Despite the positive nature of his duties, he was declared an enemy of Lebanese and Palestinian Islamic organizations and deemed a participant in American conspiracies against Muslims. Members of Hezbollah brutally tortured the Colonel for 15 months, until the time of his murder at their hands. A video of his execution by hanging was released to the U.S. media by his captors.

Colonel Higgins’ widow, Major Robin Higgins, as well a Marine, engaged Dr. Engelberg to act as her advocate based on his work as a vocal supporter of justice for victims of terrorism. It was not clear at that time if a member of the armed services would be eligible to bring suit against those responsible for the Colonel’s torture and execution under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Despite this potential hurdle, in February of 1999,  at the direction of Dr. Engelberg,  Major Higgins filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Iran for their support of Hezzbollah and associated role in the Colonel’s torture. Dr. Engelberg used his intelligence connections to collect facts about the involvement of the Iranian, Syrian, and Russian governments in the atrocities and the methods used to extract information, bolstering the case and supporting the amount awarded.

By order dated September 21, 2002, as compensation for the 529 days he was held and tortured, Major Higgins, along with her daughter with Colonel Higgins, were awarded $57 million. This is one of the largest awards for a US terrorist victim that has been collected to date.

As a result of the change in law championed by Dr. Engelberg, permitting punitive damages to be awarded to family members of victims of terrorism, Major Higgins returned to court in 2008 seeking supplemental relief. While not ultimately successful for technical reasons, throughout her fight for further justice, Dr. Engleberg was present with Higgins’ window as her advocate and a supporter of justice for victims of terrorism.

Colonel Higgins was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (posthumous), Bronze Star with combat “V”, Purple Heart (posthumous), Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with bronze star and combat “V”, Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with silver star, Staff Service Honor Medal, United Nations Medal, and numerous unit commendations and campaign ribbons. On Mar. 18, 1992, President George Bush awarded Col. Higgins the Presidential Citizens Medal (posthumous).

The impact of the torture and death of her husband propelled his widow, Lt. Colonel Robin L. Higgins, to serve as Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs under President George W. Bush. 

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