Marine veteran sues Justice Department for denying victim’s funds

by Tommy Grant

A Marine veteran held hostage in Iran for more than four years has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Justice after FBI allegations reversed a decision that had awarded him $20 million from a fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism.

Attorneys for Amir Hekmati filed the federal civil lawsuit on Dec. 19. They claimed that Hekmati has been denied his due process rights to counter claims made by the FBI and they challenged the decision of the special master who oversaw the victim’s fund. FBI agents claimed that Hekmati gave misleading answers when interviewed after his release and four unnamed sources indicated that Hekmati approached Iranian officials and offered them classified information from his work as a defense contractor after his military service.

Hekmati has denied the accusations for years and has never been charged with a crime.

“I have never witnessed such a complete breakdown of the rule of law. As a citizen of this country, Mr. Hekmati was entitled to certain fundamental rights of due process,” Emily Grim, one of Hekmati’s attorneys, wrote Marine Corps Times in an email statement. “The government deprived him of those rights by revoking his award based on false, anonymous, hearsay allegations. This, from a Fund that is intended to compensate victims of terrorism — not revictimize them.”

Justice department spokesman Terrence Clark declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Hekmati joined the Marines in August 2001. His primary MOS was a rifleman, but he spoke Farsi and was trained in Arabic while in service. He deployed to Iraq in 2004 as a translator. Hekmati left the Corps as a sergeant when his enlistment ended in 2005.

After his discharge, Hekmati started a translation company, Lucid Linguistics, LLC in 2006. He later worked on multiple defense contracts as a civilian and served on an Army Human Terrain Team with U.S. units in Iraq and Afghanistan from September 2010 to May 2011.

Hekmati was born in the United States, but his parents are from Iran. Because of his background, he held dual citizenship in both countries. In 2011 he applied for and was granted permission by Iranian government officials to travel to the country to visit his ailing grandmother.

During the visit he was arrested by Iranian officials, who claimed he was a CIA spy. “He was imprisoned, brutally tortured, and sentenced to death by hanging,” according to court documents.

After being held for four and a half years by Iran, he was released along with other detainees in January 2016 as part of the Iran nuclear deal.

Later that year, Hekmati sued the Iranian government in federal court and received a $63.5 million judgment. He applied for compensation from the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund. The fund’s then-Special Master Kenneth Feinberg granted him an award of $20 million, the maximum payout available. Feinberg approved an initial payment of $839,000 in December 2018.

In the most recent lawsuit, Hekmati and his attorneys are arguing that the special master’s reconsideration violated his constitutional right to due process because he was not able to counter accusations made against him by the FBI’s sources.

“[Hekmati] had no chance to confront or interview these ‘sources,’ or to address basis for their accusations,” Grim wrote. “The Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act guarantee him the right to do all of these things. Mr. Hekmati is asking for new proceedings before the fund that provide him with these protections.”

Feinberg previously oversaw fund payments to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The fund was created to compensate victims of state-sponsored terrorism using funds and assets seized by the justice department from state sponsors of terror such as Iran.

But the payment never came.

Hekmati’s attorneys contacted the justice department and were told the department was seeking a reconsideration of the award.

“Mr. Hekmati served his country bravely in combat,” Grim wrote. “He was falsely imprisoned and brutally tortured in Iran for nearly five years. He was able, under U.S. law, to hold his Iranian captors to account, and he was awarded just compensation by our court system. Now, when he is trying simply to move forward with his life, he is being victimized again by his own Government.”

In January 2020 Feinberg reversed his decision, revoking Hekmati’s award, saying that information provided by the justice department alleged Hekmati had visited Iran to sell classified information.

Hekmati has denied those allegations. Over the following months, Hekmati’s attorneys queried the justice department about the basis for the decision and information that supported the allegations.

FBI agents interviewed Hekmati after his release from Iranian custody in 2016 and later claimed that he gave “evasive, false and inconsistent statements.”

In the documents, FBI officials also claimed that four anonymous sources indicated that Hekmati approached Iranian officials and offered them classified information.

Hekmati and his attorneys deny this and point out that he has never been charged with a crime, which is what such acts would be considered, they argued.

The first of two lawsuits, brought in federal claims court, argued that the law did not allow the government to reconsider an applicant’s eligibility for payment from the victim’s fund after the special master made the initial decision.

In late 2022, the federal court ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to rule on matters involving the special master’s decisions on the victim’s fund.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

Read the full article here

Related Posts