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Hekmati sues Iran for torture and hostage-taking

Amir Hekmati steps off a plane at Bishop Airport in Flint.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Amir Hekmati

Amir Hekmati has sued the government of Iran for torture and false imprisonment. The complaint was filed this week in federal court in Washington D.C.

The U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Flint native was held for four and a half years in Iranian prisons until his release four months ago as part of a prisoner exchange between the governments of Iran and the U.S.

Hekmati was charged by Iran with spying. According to the lawsuit, he was in Iran to visit his grandmother and other relatives.

The complaint says Hekmati was subjected to extreme physical and psychological abuse during his imprisonment, including solitary confinement for 17 months in a 3- by 5-foot cell.

According to the complaint, “the torture that Mr. Hekmati endured included being whipped on the bottom of his feet, struck by an electric Taser in his kidney area, forced to stay in stress positions for hours at a time, and hit with batons. Prison guards threw water on his cell floor to prevent him from sleeping. A very bright light was kept on 24 hours a day to invoke sensory deprivation.

Mr. Hekmati’s captors would force him to take lithium and other addictive pills and then stop giving him the pills to invoke withdrawal symptoms. He was denied proper medical care and suffered severe malnutrition.”

Professor Steven Ratner of the University of Michigan Law School said it is possible for the case to be heard in federal court even though the defendant is a foreign government.

“Normally you can’t sue a foreign government in U.S. courts for their official activities – especially when they take place on their own territory. But Congress passed a statute a number of years ago that actually allows suits like this against a small number of states that the State Department has designated as so-called state sponsors of terrorism,” said Ratner. “And Iran is one of those states. And the statute specifically allows for a case to be brought concerning things like torture and hostage taking. So, yes, the case very much has legs.”  

According to Ratner, it will be more complicated to collect damages. “There’s no guarantee they would actually get the money even if they won the case,” he said.

The lawsuit is seeking economic, compensatory, and punitive damages.

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