Surette (William Buckley)

CASE SUMMARY

Surette v. Islamic Republic of Iran – Civil Action No. 01-0570 (PLF)

  • As CIA Station Chief in Lebanon, he was a most valuable commodity should he be captured; he was the highest-ranking agent in Beirut on March 6, 1984. 

  • From then forward, for the next 444 days, Buckely would know no comfort; solace would be a constantly fading concept, present only in his mind. There was only torture, ever-present, and the swath of time that existed from one almost unendurable session until the next.

  • On the other hand the psychological torture from the promise of release being offered, then quickly snatched away never having really been there in the first place, occurred with sickening frequency.

1984 Beirut was saturated with chaos and fighting; the currency had suffered a 567% reduction in value. The city was characterized by the constant threat of bad actors seeking victims to kidnap, kill, or both. 

William Buckley arrived against this backdrop in the summer of 1983; his mission was to clean up the mess that was U.S. intelligence after the loss of key CIA employees in the Embassy bombing that had occurred three months earlier.. Buckley, a Massachusetts native, earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and served in both the Korean War and Vietnam. As station chief for the CIA, he was a most valuable commodity should he be captured; he was the highest-ranking agent in Beirut on March 6, 1984.

On that day, during the 8 a.m. hour, Buckley took the elevator down from his 10th-floor apartment and headed to his car. The man who had boarded the elevator after Buckley got off at the garage level too, walking behind him. Without warning, the man struck him in the head with a briefcase full of rocks. At the same time, a white Renault pulled in front of him. Scooped off the ground, he was thrown into the Renault, which sped off to a Hizbollah safe house.
From then forward, for the next 444 days, Buckely would know no comfort; solace would be a constantly fading concept, present only in his mind. There was only torture, ever-present, and the swath of time that existed from one almost unendurable session until the next. Buckley was kept blindfolded, firmly shackled to the floor, strewn with the detritus of living, suffering from terrible stomach issues brought on by his distress and a near starvation diet he was kept on. Bathroom breaks occurred occasionally, along with the threats of imminent death. On the other hand the psychological torture from the promise of release being offered, then quickly snatched away never having really been there in the first place, occurred with sickening frequency. He was beaten, interrogated, and denied medical care and sufficient water. He suffered worse torture than even that.

Three videotapes of Buckley were released during the time he was held, each depicting a man’s increasing suffering and dwindling stature and mind. He didn’t want to die that way, preferring to go in a “botched rescue attempt” rather than wasting away alone.
In May 1985, David Jacobsen deduced the hostage held next to him in an area separated by plywood partitions, was Buckley after hearing of his kidnapping, and then hearing their captors calling him William. On what is best estimated to have been during the night of June 3, 1985, Jacobsen noticed Buckley’s suffering increasing without particular torture. Jacobsen heard dry heaves and a steady cough coming from Buckley, along with a gurgle and the muffled noise of a gun. Buckley’s actual cause of death is unknown, but the United States National Security Council declassified a note indicating their position was that he died from a heart attack.
On May 13, 1988, a public memorial service for Buckley was held, and he was given a 21-gun salute. Then, in 1991, the Lebanese police received an anonymous tip that led to the discovery of a plastic bag containing bones, teeth, and evidence of horrific torture. The contents of the bag, all that was physically left of Buckley, were flown to Andrews Air Force Base, arriving on December 28, 1991, along with the body of another hostage and torture victim, Colonel William Richard Higgins. They were both honored with a joint memorial service at the Air Force Base and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Beverly Surette was a longtime companion of Buckley; the two met each other in 1961 at a Memorial Day parade in Lexington, Massachusetts, eventually sharing a home for over twenty years.

While Hizballah was the public face of the kidnapping of Buckley, it was Iran through its Revolutionary Guard Corps (RGC) and  Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) that dispatched the videotapes of Buckley, Iran that was on the other end of the failed negotiations for his release, and Iran that provided resources to, formed, trained, organized, directed, and funded Hizballah.

In 2001, utilizing Dr. Engelberg’s extensive experience legally assisting and emotionally supporting families that have been victims of terror pursue justice, Surette commenced a lawsuit against Iran, the RGC, and MOIS. Terrorism in Iran is run as a department of government, much like the Department of Transportation or Interior is to Americans. Among the functions of the RGC are the training and supply of weapons, while MIOS supervises and directs terrorist activities, all in an effort to expand Islam and reduce the influence of the West. It is reported that Iran annually distributes approximately $100 million to Hizballah, the application of which is determined by Iran’s agencies.
The defendants never appeared to answer the lawsuit, despite proper notification, resulting in a default judgment in favor of Surette on behalf of herself and Buckley’s estate, and against Iran and its agencies.
The court concluded that there was

extensive evidence that Buckley was unlawfully abducted and held for over fourteen months in cruel, inhumane conditions, denied sufficient food and water, subjected to constant and deliberate demoralization, physically beaten, possibly subjected to gruesome physical torture, and denied essential medical treatment. The court concludes that Buckley was tortured within the meaning of the FSIA.


Furthermore, the court finds that these conditions caused and exacerbated Buckley’s severe illness and, ultimately, caused his death. last 444 days of his life, and none should have to die as he did — alone, in pain, and deprived of his freedom. 

In 2001, utilizing Dr. Engelberg’s extensive experience legally assisting and emotionally supporting families that have been victims of terror pursue justice, Surette commenced a lawsuit against Iran, the RGC, and MOIS.

The court issued judgment to the estate of William Buckley for lost income in the amount of $1,021,284; for pain and suffering in the amount of $5,440,000; to Beverly Surette, $10,000,000 in solatium (consolation damages) and $300,000,000 in punitive damages; and $2,500,000 to Buckley’s sister, Maureen Moroney, in solatium.

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