By ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – A judge dismissed a lawsuit against a former Marine incarcerated in Iran for more than four years and then denied a multi-million dollar payout from a special US government victim fund following an FBI espionage investigation into his travels .
Judge Richard Hertling of the Federal Supreme Court said in a ruling on Friday that the court had no jurisdiction to overturn decisions made by the special master overseeing the fund. A lawyer for Amir Hekmati said Tuesday he was disappointed with the verdict.
“We will of course promptly and vigorously file an appeal and are confident that the facts will ultimately prevail,” said attorney Scott D. Gilbert.
Hekmati, who was released in 2016 as part of a prisoner exchange, initially received a default judgment after Iran failed to deny allegations that he was wrongly detained and brutally tortured there on suspicion of spying for the CIA.
Such awards come from a fund for victims of state sponsored terrorism administered by the Justice Department through a special master that limits payments to $ 20 million, the amount Hekmati and his lawyers claim to have received.
At the end of 2017, he was informed that his claim was eligible for payment from the fund. But no money came, and the Justice Department told Hekmati’s attorneys in 2019 that it plans to reconsider its previous position that Hekmati should be eligible for an award. Kenneth Feinberg, known for overseeing payments to victims of the 9/11 attacks, was reappointed the Fund’s special master to investigate Hekmati’s claim.
In January 2020, he informed Hekmati’s lawyers that he had come to the conclusion that Hekmati was not eligible for a payout. He cited documents that revealed a decade-long FBI espionage investigation into whether Hekmati traveled to Iran with the intent to sell classified information.
Feinberg said the record raises questions about whether Hekmati misled the US government when he said his main purpose on his trip to Iran was to visit his ailing grandmother.
Hekmati has vigorously denied the suspicion of espionage and has never been charged.
Hekmati’s lawyers, who grew up in Michigan and served as an infantryman and interpreter in Iraq before he was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2005, say any suggestion he might have been a spy for Iran goes with the way how he was incarcerated cannot be reconciled there tortured. They discover that he originally received a payment from the Fund long after the FBI investigation was ongoing and that he has never faced any charges.
The judge’s 18-page decision did not go into the details of the dispute, but merely revolved around a question of legal jurisdiction.
“The special master administers the fund, and only the special master is authorized to determine whether a claim is eligible,” wrote Hertling.
Hekmati’s attorneys plan to continue fighting before a federal appeals court to reverse what Gilbert called a “shameful attempt by the Justice Department to deny him the compensation he is clearly entitled to.”
“Make no mistake, Amir Hekmati is an American hero, and the actions of our Justice Department on this matter are anathema to all we hold dear and that Amir and all other members of our armed forces risk their lives every day.” Gilbert said in a statement. “We will never stop until justice is done for Amir Hekmati.”
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