WASHINGTON (AP) — A judge has thrown out a lawsuit from a former Marine who was jailed in Iran for more than four years and then denied a multimillion-dollar payout from a special U.S. government victims' fund after an FBI espionage investigation into his travels.
Judge Richard Hertling of the Court of Federal Claims said in a ruling dated Friday that the court did not have jurisdiction to overturn decisions of the special master who oversees the fund. A lawyer for Amir Hekmati said Tuesday that he was disappointed in the ruling.
“We will, of course, pursue a prompt and vigorous appeal, and we are confident that ultimately the facts will prevail,” said the attorney, Scott D. Gilbert.
Hekmati, who in 2016 was released as part of a prisoner swap, was initially awarded a default judgment after Iran failed to contest his allegations that he was wrongfully imprisoned and brutally tortured there on suspicion that he was spying for the CIA. Such awards are made through a fund administered by the Justice Department that caps payments at $20 million, the amount Hekmati and his lawyers say he was eligible to receive.
But the Justice Department told Hekmati's lawyers in 2019 that it was reconsidering its earlier position that Hekmati was eligible for payment from the fund. The fund's special master at the time, Kenneth Feinberg, cited documents showing a decade-old FBI investigation into whether Hekmati had traveled to Iran to sell classified information.
Feinberg said the documents raised questions about whether Hekmati had misled the government when he said his primary purpose in traveling to Iran was to visit his ailing grandmother.
Hekmati has never faced criminal charges and has vigorously disputed the espionage suspicions. Lawyers for Hekmati, who was raised in Michigan and served as an infantryman and interpreter in Iraq before being honorably discharged from the Marines in 2005, say any suggestion that he could have been a spy for Iran is impossible to square with the way he was imprisoned and treated there.
The judge's 18-page order did not delve into the specifics of the dispute and instead simply turned on a legal question of jurisdiction.
“Make no mistake, Amir Hekmati is an American hero, and the actions of our Department of Justice in this matter are anathema to everything we hold dear and that Amir and all other members of our armed forces risk their lives for every day.” Gilbert said in a statement. "We will never stop until justice for Amir Hekmati has been achieved.”
Eric Tucker, The Associated Press