Mariposa Woman fights Iran; U.S. Justice Department

September 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
In March, Action News told you the story of a Mariposa woman taking part in a lawsuit against Iran for the 1983 Beirut, Lebanon bombing. Cleta wells and hundreds of other victims and family members were awarded $2.65 billion dollars in a federal courtroom in 2007, but collecting from Iran has not happened yet. Now Cleta has another obstacle keeping her from justice, the U.S. government. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
March 2009 Story: Mariposa Woman's Lawsuit against Iran, Unique Fight for Justice
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Tandy Walker Wells was one of 241 U.S. service members killed by a truck bomb during a peace keeping mission in Beirut on October 23rd, 1983. His widow, Cleta, now lives in Mariposa.

"In the evening, when the families are together, there's no one. It's just a part of you is gone," said Cleta Wells.

Victims' families filed a civil lawsuit in 2001 against Iran for masterminding the Beirut bombing through Hezbollah. The judge entered a default judgment after the plaintiff attorneys presented evidence in court and awarded the victims and their families $2.65 billion dollars.

Here at her mariposa home, Cleta Wells is giving a deposition to the lead attorney in the terrorism case, Thomas Fay. He's here from Washington D.C. to get a victim's statement and add it to the dozens of others already on file.

"They murdered 241 of our people. All we're doing in retaliation is collecting money. There hasn't been a drop of Iranian blood spilled," said lead Attorney Thomas Fortune Fay.

But collecting that money just got much more difficult.

The Department of Justice is on the side of Iran in federal court, even though Iran has never presented a defense. Department of Justice attorneys asked for the case to be dismissed and it's now in the hands of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Cleta is outraged her own government is opposing her in court. "I was angry, upset. I couldn't understand how our government or justice system could defend the country, the people, who actually killed my husband and the other military people.

The Justice Department would not speak to Action News on camera, only saying their position is in their summary of argument presented to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In it, the Justice Department attorneys argue the victims cannot claim the $2.65 billion dollars from third parties with assets in the United States which do business with Iran such as oil and shipping companies.

That's a problem for the victims and their families because collection attorney David Cook knows Iran will not pay. So he's going after Iran assets in the hands of the third parties.

ABC 30 legal and political analyst Tony Capozzi said the White House, through the Justice Department, will not let that happen. "The Department of Justice, the U.S. government is saying, we're taking their position, coming in, to oppose what's going on here because it may affect their relationship, not only with Iran but with other countries around the world."

Basically, the argument by Department of Justice attorneys is this will hurt foreign relations with Iran and other countries, and puts United States' assets at risk overseas.

"What does Iran learn from this? Do they really take the United States seriously when they know that just upon request the executive will send the Department of Justice to court on behalf of Iran against American citizens who have been injured?" said Fay.

But finding one politician to speak up on behalf of Cleta and the other victims and family members is difficult.

Action News spoke with or left messages with the media representatives for several senators who have been helpful with the case in the past according to Thomas Fortune Fay. Not one wanted to make a comment about the case.

Cleta's Congressman in Mariposa, George Radonovich, did not want to speak about the case but did issue this statement. "The 1983 Beirut bombings were despicable and cowardly acts of terrorism. I am very grateful for Mrs. Wells' husband's service to his country and I feel terribly for her loss. My doors are always open if Mrs. Wells needs assistance during this difficult process."

Capozzi is not surprised politicians are avoiding talking about the case. "You're not going to find a politician that's really going to get into this because there are sympathies to those people hurt because of the bombings, family members having been killed but yet they would feel that they should be helping them. But under the rules, they can't, because of the foreign affairs."

Even though no politician is willing to tell her why, Cleta Wells said she will never stop asking until some type of justice is done to the people responsible for killing her husband more than 25 years ago. "We don't deserve another delay, we don't deserve another denial. We waited 26 years for our government or someone to give us some kind of closure to hold someone responsible for this and they never done it."

The victim's attorneys said this issue will most likely end up in the Supreme Court. But for Cleta, judgment has already been passed and it's time for Iran to pay.

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