Expatriates Can’t Sue|Iran for Torture

     (CN) – A federal judge declined to reconsider her dismissal, for lack of jurisdiction, of a case accusing Iran of torture, because plaintiffs’ request is “at odds with the very notion of legitimate, democratic governance that they purport to vindicate.”
     U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled in June that a group of former Iranian nationals who say they were tortured in a Tehran prison cannot sue their homeland in the United States because they weren’t Americans at the time of the abuse.
     Three plaintiffs, who claim they were brutally tortured after their arrest for protesting the Iranian government, are now U.S. citizens.
     “The physical torture consisted of … flogging the brothers with cables, hanging them from the ceiling by their hands for hours on end, depriving them of sleep, exposing them to the elements in their prison cells, burning their genitals with a cigarette lighter, and beating them to the point of unconsciousness,” Howell wrote said in her June ruling, summarizing the complaint.
     Howell said she was moved by plaintiffs’ stories, but that their “claims must be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that any of the enumerated exceptions to immunity contained in the FSIA [Foreign Sovereignties Immunities Act] apply to this case.”
     The plaintiffs asked Howell to reconsider, claiming that unless the court “find[s] a legal basis to side with the victims,” there will be a “general collapse of the judicial institution,” and many will “question this government’s true devotion to safeguarding basic human rights.”
     The court “must not and cannot forsake the issue of human rights and crimes against humanity by dismissing this case … as a result of a minor and unjustifiable ‘technicality,'” the plaintiffs said.
     But Howell didn’t buy it.
     “That the plaintiffs invoke platitudes of the rule of law as the basis for their motion is deeply ironic. Indeed, their characterization of this court’s jurisdiction as a ‘technicality,’ is at odds with the very notion of legitimate, democratic governance that they purport to vindicate. ‘Federal courts cannot reach out to award remedies when the Constitution or laws of the United States do not support a cause of action.’ The limitations on the jurisdiction of federal courts ‘are an essential ingredient of separation and equilibration of powers’ in our system of government, and those limitations cannot be brushed aside as mere technicalities,” Howell wrote.
     Quoting the Federalist Papers, Howell continued: “As [Alexander] Hamilton observed at the time of the Founding, ‘liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have every thing to fear from [the judiciary’s] union with either of the other departments.’ Hence, the separation of powers, embodied by the creation of courts of limited jurisdiction, is what imbues our government with its legitimacy and enduring stability. It is not the province of this court (or any court) to upset that constitutional scheme.” (Parentheses in original.)
     Howell acknowledged plaintiffs’ counsel’s “persistence and creativity,” in attempting to save the case from dismissal, but found the efforts “unpersuasive.”

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